Posted on behalf of Stephen O’Hanlon, Public Narrative Coordinator for the Western MA team
After getting caught in a thunderstorm on our way from Holyoke, we received a warm welcome at the Amherst Episcopal Church on the afternoon of July 3rd. At our first stop in Holyoke, our schedule was largely planned for us. That meant that Amherst was the first town where we had to plan our own events. Over the holiday weekend, we scrambled to plan, find space for, and then publicize our event: a presentation and discussion about Kinder Morgan’s proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline expansion project and its connection with fracking and climate change.
Key learning: the real world operates on a much longer timeframe than college campuses, which is where most of us have organizing backgrounds, and we should have planned and publicized our event sooner. However, we were lucky enough to meet Susan Rice and Anne Perkins from the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst after two of us attended their Sunday Service. Even at the last minute, Susan helped us secure meeting space at the church and Anne offered to host the event with us.
In the days leading up to our event (even including the day before), we seriously considered cancelling it. We felt that we hadn’t had enough time to do adequate outreach and that the large amounts of time that we would need to put into fine tuning the content and doing further outreach wouldn’t be worth it if no one came. We felt that we were going to waste Anne’s time, or that of Kim and Tim of Climate Action Now, whom we had invited to talk about their work. We decided to have the meeting and after frantically finishing our presentation plan, we set out down Pleasant Street, fully expecting only one to attend.
Anne greeted us upon our arrival and as we set up the room, we decided to put out only a few chairs. Better to add more rather than take them away, we thought? My frustration and discouragement fused into elation as people trickled into the room; we added chairs until we had over 20 out. Although that might not seem like much, it well exceeded our expectations. We had great discussions about what we need to do to mitigate climate change and, more specifically, what role people in Amherst, which is not directly threatened by Kinder Morgan’s proposed fracked natural gas pipeline, could take to help stop it.
The rollercoaster of emotions that I experienced before, during, and after our event is representative of those that I’ve experienced throughout Climate Summer and is probably similar to those most organizers experience. Especially when we are facing powerful fossil fuel corporations like Kinder Morgan and are trying to create systematic change, it is easy to feel dis-empowered, depressed, and hopeless, similar to how I felt when I thought our meeting would be a failure.
With work to build a grassroots movement, it can take a really, really long time for us to see the impact of our work. It isn’t like our meeting where we put mere hours of preparation into a presentation and outreach and were able to see the results within a few days; rather, the stakes are much higher. Organizing can mean pouring your life into a campaign in the face of uncertainty for years without seeing the results.