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Local Artist Katy Spence kindly donated the artwork for this piece.

Local Artist Katy Spence kindly donated the artwork for this piece.

By Andrew Van Gorp on 7 December, 2014

One of my friends stated that they felt like they didn’t know how to begin in environmental advocacy. In fact, I’ve heard this from many different people- that they just needed to figure out where to start.

This list is basically what I wish someone had written for me when I started out as an environmental advocate.

Carry forward with you that which resonates.

What I learned while writing this list, is that in order to be a strong environmental advocate, you have to do a lot of upfront work on who you are as a person. Without a firm foundation of personal development, one can not be affective in any life pursuit, let alone environmental advocacy.

 1) Without a purpose, you are nothing and no one.

Learn the difference between these two concepts.

Meet righteous fury:

This little character is something that BURNS you, in a good way. You could talk about this topic for hours and hours to anyone and never get tired. You can’t burn out when you pursue your righteous fury, because it is the very flame that keeps you going. It’s what makes your heart pound when you realize the world is not the way you think it should be- and that furthermore you have a unique opportunity to make it a little better.

Meet mission statement:

This is why you have that righteous fury. What drives you to go on living? You either choose that there is some purpose in this life, or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re lost. If you do- ask yourself, what is that purpose? What makes you care? This is what you do or do not value. This is what you do or do not believe.

No matter who you are, or where you are in life, writing out your mission statement (in full) is one of the best ways to empower yourself. Your mission statement is the great starting point for your environmental advocacy. Also write down all of your personal strengths. Once this list of mission statement and personal strengths is written out, post it where you get up in the morning and read it daily. This will help to give you direction.

2) Find your righteous fury: listen to your spark questions

For some people, finding that “righteous fury” starting-point issue that pulls on their heart doesn’t feel obvious and easy. If you’re the type of person that doesn’t really know what burns you, try this: intentionally force yourself to see the world with new eyes. Allow the curiosity you had as a child to begin to return to you. Question peculiarities, and don’t be lazy by ignoring that voice that whispers, “I wonder why…” or “why not…” This is your spark question! This “why/why not” is your pathway toward becoming an affective environmental advocate, should you choose to follow it. Keep a journal nearby at all times, and write down all of your spark questions the second they come to you. I promise you they will be the clues that lead you to your righteous fury.

3) Pick a righteous fury and stick with it.

Once you’ve discovered your righteous fury, you will probably immediately begin to doubt yourself about it. NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON YOUR RIGHTEOUS FURY. When you turn your back on your righteous fury, a little piece of your soul dies. Just don’t question it too much, don’t over-analyze. Never doubt your righteous fury’s motives- we don’t have time for environmental advocates to be doubting themselves. Note: if you’re someone with multiple righteous furies, pick one and put the others to the side, you can get to them later. We don’t have time for wishy washy environmental advocates either. Stop over-thinking things: no one and nothing is perfect- get over your fear of all the very probable failures you will have.

4) Stop pretending.

Basically every single person on this planet is capable of pretending to care about an issue and then retreating to their creature comforts. Don’t be one of those f*****g people. Once you find your righteous fury, lean into the discomfort. There is a pride in the burn you feel in your legs after biking up a hill. There’s a sense of culture and identity in that patch of carrots you planted in the Spring. Only losers pay lip service to what they know in their gut is truth without doing anything about it. Have some integrity and commit to something uncomfortable for you- and then actually do it, like…actually.

5) Find someone who shares your fury.

I promise you that no where in the world is there a place where there is absolutely no one who shares the same righteous fury as you. Be patient. Also, if no one seems to get the “whole picture,” that’s ok too. Environmental advocacy makes for odd bedfellows. Be willing to partner with someone who doesn’t share all of your righteous furies, and celebrate in the collaboration.

6) Together, stoke fires already burning.

Tap into established resources and aid in their growth. Whether you are patronizing a local coffeeshop, or a gas station with a “local news” bulletin board, or visiting your local Historical Society- grow the network. And don’t be stupid and forget people’s names. When you meet someone who shares your righteous fury- exchange contact info. You never want to explain to your grandchildren you let the planet die because you were too embarrassed to make a new friend. Momentum happens when we work together. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Vote. Attend Town Hall meetings. Meet your neighbors. Volunteer and donate locally. Build up your community, even if it’s a temporary community for you. Learn the ancient art of creating gifts for people with your own two hands. But don’t just give crappy gifts made of plastic and glue from a factory. Give gifts that affirm relationships, that are useful. Also, immerse yourself in local and global news. Don’t be the loser who is the last to find out about the coal-fired power plant being built two doors down and don’t be the loser who didn’t hear about how a town far away successfully brokered a deal to replace a coal-fired powerplant with a wind farm- saving taxpayers millions (and possibly their lives). Be aware.

7) Shout your fire, hone your craft.

The war at hand is a media war. There is an absolute vacuum of media of authenticity and integrity on this planet. We need more voices- find yours and prudently raise it. Only ever vomit up conveniently digestible rhetoric or dialogue points scripted by the media machine about celebrities, sports, movies, or cats online if they will garner someone’s acceptance of you as someone who is not too “out there”. These topics are designed to keep the public occupied and distracted, and yet somehow people are so wired to feel at ease when talking about them- they can serve as a useful tool to segue towards more meaningful dialogue.

8) Know your sh*t.

Read and commit to memory all that pertains to your righteous fury. Don’t make all of us look bad by half-quoting a poorly written and unreviewed article you may have read the headline of. Don’t partake in tabloid environmentalism. Also, in a scenario in which you will be proposing your ideas to someone who could actually make them happen (powers that be), listen around first. Listen to those who know more about the topic than you- those who are naysayers and supporters. For naysayers: educate yourself until you know more than the person who knows the most and then slam their rhetorical arguments against your righteous fury to the ground. (With respect of course).

Expand upon your strengths list we talked about earlier. If you’re good at painting- then paint the heck out of every moment of free time you have to help your righteous fury movement. You asked how to be an affective activist, and this is how you do it. Every waking moment should be dedicated to your cause. It’s ok if you have a job you hate- you have to pay for your righteous fury somehow. Just plot while at work if you can, so that when you get home you can hit the ground running.

9) Be brave, lean into conflict.

You are a grown-*ss human. I have full confidence that you can have a peaceful dialogue with someone who disagrees with you. Don’t debate, that means there has to be a winner. Dialogues provide for an exchange of ideas and pleasant smiles as you walk away. If someone is a total idiot- take the interaction as an opportunity to understand how someone else’s mind works. Actually listen. This will help you to understand people’s hold ups, and how to word things in ways that are more embraceable for those who aren’t Earth-thumping eco-peeps.

10) The ends justify the means.

Prove to your community you can benefit the economy, environment, and social health of the community- at the same time. The mighty dollar is the False God of today, so make sure to pay homage to it, all the while promoting a better world. “Sure huge corporation, you want to monopolize the wind power market? Great. As long as the human species doesn’t go extinct, we’re good”. Find the triple-win, they exist I promise! Also, if you have to make a compromise, like buying a new pantsuit in order for your community to take you seriously, but you know the suit was probably sown by near-slave child labor in Sumatra: weigh the amount of good created by the amount of evil created. If you decide to buy that suit- you better do f*****g great things in that suit to make it worth the suffering you’ve supported. You now have a debt upon your head to pay back to society for harming children in Sumatra. Don’t forget that, and don’t feel guilty about making compromises for the long-term goal. Just because you bought that pantsuit, it does not mean you’re a sellout- as long as you are keeping with your longterm goals and mission statement.

11) Stay balanced and healthy- body, mind, spirit.

In today’s society, we exist in a system that is basically human farming, minus the being eaten part. It’s important to spend time with the sacred, whatever restores your spirit. Don’t allow yourself to get worn out or overwhelmed- then you’re of no good whatsoever to your community. Know that your health matters.

12) Don’t hog the podium.

The more privilege you have been bestowed in this world, the greater your responsibility  to leverage that privilege to create a better world. The ultimate privilege is not using the opportunities you’ve been given in order to help others. Privilege is well spent on humbly elevating disempowered voices across many intersectionalities throughout your community: Women of the Community, People of Color, the Youth, the Elders, People of the Queer Community, People of Varied Physical Abilities, etc.

13) Support each other, especially on the stupid things.

If your friend has what you consider to be a really stupid idea to make a better world- like creating buttons with slogans or something- and that really really isn’t your righteous fury- if you say you will support them, you better support the heck out of them. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a stupid idea- in fact some times it’s twice as powerful to support people in stupid ideas. Some day they will realize that it’s a stupid idea themselves and they’ll be all like, “awwww, they supported me even when I had a really really stupid idea- what a good friend”. It will strengthen your relationship.

14) Eliminate your sense of entitlement 

It ain’t cute. Whoever told you that your life was supposed to be easy? The truth is: life is not easy. It never has been. It takes hard work to create a better world, and yes- sacrifice- late nights and sweaty afternoons. But you’re tough- you can handle it.

Good luck and Godspeed.


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