Whitman College Campus Greens
I spent this semester serving as Coordinator of the Whitman Campus Greens, a chapter of the Campus Greens. The Campus Greens is a student-run, grassroots, activist organization dedicated to affecting social change on the world’s greatest social and ecological problems. As coordinator, I am responsible for the general supervision of Greens’ activities, facilitating meetings, and serving as spokesperson for the organization. More specifically, I dedicate my efforts to recruitment, sustained membership, and leadership development as a means of strengthening the organization on campus in the long run.
Goals for this semester include the following, described in detail below: recruitment; leadership development; campaign planning and execution; and service. There are two types of recruitment, each achieved with different tactics. Mass recruitment seeks to involve and engage a large audience. It is used to get people to a first meeting, teach-in, rally, or other event. One-on-one recruitment is focused on the individual. It is the best way to recruit potential leaders, or to further involve someone who shows a particular interest in the campaign or organization. For one-on-one recruitment, an effort is made to build personal connections, learn a person’s values, and make them feel like the organization is theirs, and that their voice is important.
Leadership development is perhaps the most important and on-going goal, as it assures that any organization will remain alive and kicking after the current leader steps down or moves on. There is a simple process used to help build leaders called the Ask Inform Involve Thank cycle, in which you: find out what matters to the person (why they care/act); let them know how the group/issue relates to their thoughts, values, or interests; involve the person in the issue or project—give them something to do (also try to build personal connections by involving them in social events); and show your appreciation for their time or accomplished task.
Campaign planning is a process by which goals, targets, tactics, and events for a particular campaign/issue are organized on a timeline. Adherence to this process provides direction and focus to a campaign, and involving members in the process makes them feel like they are making change happen.
The service goal serves two purposes: 1) to make sure that we do not lose perspective on the greater community in which we work, and what we work for; and 2) to get our hands dirty! All too often, people start work on campaigns with long-term goals. It is easy to lose focus, get discouraged, and burn-out—especially during tough periods of the semester. A brief Saturday service project gets people out of the bubble and gives them a concrete task to achieve, the results of which they will see as soon as it is done. It is also a way to foster good relations between school and community, beneficial in and of their own right, and for future campaigns which may involve interaction and cooperation with the community.
Mass recruitment was mostly carried out at the beginning of the year, and was very successful. Tabling at the activities fair allowed us to reach out to new and returning students alike, and added more than fifty people to the listserv. Dogged promotional efforts yielded a first-meeting attendance of over forty people, including a young lawyer from Walla Walla who came simply because he saw posters and was interested. Over the semester, average meeting attendance was between ten and fifteen people, and a solid activist base of about ten people, give or take, was established and maintained. Individual recruitment was more broad and on-going. Various events, such as tabling, the candlelight vigil, and eco-caroling contributed to a sense of camaraderie. Meeting structure was never so rigid as to exclude socialization, which tended to be a problem in the past. Any social events we had were indirectly linked to some campaign or Greens activity (frisbee golf after the clean-up at Fort Walla Walla; having hot cocoa after eco-caroling), but they still accomplished the goal of building personal connections within the group. These instances allowed me to get to know members better and find out what interested them, why he or she chose to be an activist, as well as granting time for positive interactions between other group members. I observed that friendships between the first-year students, who comprised the majority of our (active) membership, grew over the course of the semester. Whether participation in the Greens fueled that growth, I cannot be sure, but it certainly lent to the general sense of community that we developed during the semester. It is said that very few people will return to an organization solely because they are interested in the activism—that something else (some sort of gratifying social interaction) must be in place to for membership to be sustained. I am pleased to report that the Greens, as we currently stand, are a solid core of activists and that a spirit of friendly cooperation abounds during meetings, projects, and actions.
While the ultimate leadership development goal of hosting an activist training here at Whitman was impeded by a lack of support from the national office, and thus not fully accomplished this semester, we were able to explore other avenues, and will be bringing an activist trainer to Whitman early next semester. In addition, I have not given up on my hope to have our membership participate in a solid, multi-day activist training. Though not ideal, and not the entire membership, we were able to send three members to a training run by the Sierra Student Coalition which focused on Fair Trade. What came of that (three individuals empowered to act and raring to go on a long-term campaign) was a partial fulfillment at least of a hope I had (have) for the whole group. The other aspects of the leadership development goal were largely successful. Two of our campaigns’ working groups were headed up by freshmen, two officer positions were held by first-years, and we had one Greens in the Freshman Senate and two others on ASWC committees. The Ask Inform Involve Thank cycle was employed at the Activities Fair, in the first few meetings, and continually as people volunteered time or completed delegated tasks. Though on one hand, dedicating the second and third meetings to talking about what interested and concerned people could be seen as sort of a slow start, I felt that it was key to keeping people around and involving them in campaigns; the lack of this last year, I believe, contributed to our stark decline in numbers after the first few meetings. By finding out what brought people to the meetings in the first place and then giving them some avenue to act upon that, we ended up with two freshmen more or less organizing and running campaigns which they wanted to adopt (and did), and others excited to participate in actions on various campaigns. Consequently, I, as a leader, was in the best place I could hope to be: not planning and running every event, but letting others to do so, and making sure things ran well and smoothly. This is the greatest testament to the success of leadership development in the organization. The goal of “supervising delegated tasks/heads of committees,” was certainly accomplished. At the outset of the internship, the possibility was discussed of my putting together some sort of guide for the next coordinator. Since so much of what I did (tactics that I employed) as Coordinator came straight from the Sierra Club organizing manual (and my training with that), I decided that creating another “leadership guide” would not be the most effective use of my time. In lieu of that (as it has been done before, and better) a, “Why you want to be Coordinator,” presentation was given to the membership at our final meeting, in hopes of stimulating interest in running for the position in the next Greens election (in January). I will also be creating a top-ten list (humorous encouragement to run for a leadership position in the organization) and sending it to the list-serv over winter break. Though it remains to be seen whether anyone will run for the position of Coordinator next semester, I am confident that a confident and dedicated membership is in place, and that the organization will not die when the current membership moves on or graduates.
The campaign planning process was, in the beginning, a frustrating aspect of the internship. Being coordinator did not give me the power (nor would I want) to simply choose what campaigns we would adopt and how we would attack them. That was, necessarily, a group effort (it ties in with the importance of making someone feel like the group is theirs in sustaining membership—and, obviously, an organization is no good if it is run be one person). People will be far less likely to act on an issue that they do not feel significantly educated about, and for the first few meetings, I fought the desire to drive things forward at a quicker pace just because I felt like we should be acting. We progressed, over the weeks, from talking about various issues and narrowing them down to the ones we wanted to/had the manpower to focus on, to finally establishing heads-of-campaigns and planning them out for the semester. At mid-semester, we had carried out some actions with a good degree of success, but were just at the point of diving into the semester plans. The second half of the semester saw successful progression of a number of campaigns. The Arctic campaign ended up focusing largely on group education and personal action, though there was action taken that involved the whole campus, in the form of a call-in table in the SUB. Long-term goals for that campaign can’t be said to have been met, however, as the campaign plan is year-long, and will continue into next semester. The One Sweet Whirled campaign (a campaign to increase global warming awareness) involved the campus and community in a way that others did not, with activists canvassing neighborhoods, tabling in the SUB, and going downtown to pamphlet in the Saturday morning crowds. Our “Peace” campaign (concerning the situation with Iraq) continues as the partnership between college students and community members develops (details in log). From the inception of this organization, a goal has been to have multiple working groups attacking different campaigns—this semester, that goal was achieved.
Besides contributing volunteers to the Northwest Renewable Energy Fair, we did a clean-up with Walla Walla 2020, an “environmental group that works on local projects to keep Walla Walla green.” The clean-up, which took place on a Saturday morning, got members off campus (some with their families) and into the community. The project was the first service project that the Whitman Campus Greens have engaged in independently, and proved to be an exceedingly positive experience. There was a high level of participation, and members and their families were possessed admirable energy in the cold morning as we delved into “the jungle” to clean up broken bottles, the remnants of homeless camps, and other assorted trash. After the clean-up, Dan Clark (of Walla Walla 2020, and the person who facilitated the clean-up) led us on a “tour” (we played a game) of the disc golf course, a fun reward for the work we’d done. In addition to being beneficial to the community and establishing a connection with the a member of the Walla Walla community who we have continued to organize with on other issues (the Iraq campaign), this experience was gratifying to members. At the final meeting of the semester, when I asked for comments or input about how the semester had gone for people, one girl commented specifically that she thought that project was fun. Given the success of the experience, I plan to have us repeat it again next semester, more than once if possible. The next location I have picked out, Juniper Canyon, will also provide recreational opportunities after we clean up.
As something which I am passionate about and which I would do anyway (outside of the internship), my position as Coordinator of the Greens here at Whitman was full of highs and lows. A particularly vibrant meeting in which energy was high and people were jazzed made my position very gratifying. On the other hand, our “Everyday Ecophiles” campaign petered out after Thanksgiving, and as the campaign lay in the hands of someone else, I did not have the control that I might have liked to jump-start is again. Additionally, having someone to whom I had delegated a task not follow through reflected on my leadership skills and was disappointing. One of the pluses of having the position as an internship this semester was to make me look at the whole experience more objectively than I normally do/would. I normally would have been chomping at the bit with the slow start our campaigns got. Objectively, I could see that we went through the process necessary to get people to the point where they were ready to commence action on an issue, and appreciated where we were and what we had accomplished, even if it was not so visible as a rally or teach-in. I found that being coordinator was less about accomplishing a certain number of tasks or working a set number of hours per week than it was a continual effort consisting largely of calling and e-mailing people to give guidance, reminders, thanks, making sure what needed to happen was happening, helping out with logistics without stepping in, and more reminders and prompting and contacting. After a couple of weeks, I stopped even keeping track of time spent, because it would have consisted of adding up the time spent on five e-mails at five different times during the day for most days. Time commitment also fluctuated based on how much prep time was necessary for the meeting and what actions we had going on during the week.
One of the biggest difficulties associated with my internship was relying upon an outside entity (specifically the national Campus Greens) for something I was trying to organize. While trying to work within a specific time frame, I had no control over when or how often my e-mails were responded to. I spent a lot of time waiting to hear back from Campus Greens contacts, enough time passing between when I e-mailed and re-mailed them that it was no longer possible to plan for a training session this semester. Only later did I learn that the internal political debates that were taking place were responsible for this delay of communication, and this turned out to be the most frustrating aspect of the internship, by far. This frustration is expressed in full in my log. As trying as it was, it was perhaps the greatest “learning” experience for me in the past three months—a true lesson in the politics of national organizations and the way in which ideals can become corrupted. The conclusion that I came to regarding the division within Campus Greens National was that I might be annoyed, concerned, disgusted, or complacent about the future of CG National, but ultimately, it did not need to effect the actions that we carry out in the Whitman Chapter. Aside from the complications associated with the training, we remained largely autonomous, and were successful as such.
I know that this internship was unique and will not ever show up on the list of possible internships. However, I believe it has value for another person, already involved with the Greens here on campus, who has the desire to serve as coordinator. If these circumstances arise again, I would recommend that the person read (and ideally, have been trained with) the Sierra Club Organizing Manual. Any kind of training in leadership, organization, campaign development, and delegation, I believe would be ideal, if not necessary to someone holding the position, as I relied heavily on this. My recommendation for the future is something which the reflection that went along with this internship inspired, and which I plan to implement, starting next semester. I believe that a successful and smooth transition of leadership is necessary to prevent mistakes from being repeated, and upheaval from occurring in campaigns, due to a shift of pace that is bound to come when a new leader is getting used to the position and establishing a rapport with the group. My proposal, which I will present to the group for feedback and, hopefully, approval, is that we make a change in our bylaws which will stipulate that, in the second semester of every calendar year, the Greens will be run jointly by two Co-coordinators, one of whom is the “out-going” (previous) Coordinator, and the other “in-coming.” In the fall semester, the in-coming half of the pair would serve as Coordinator, then go on to mentor the following semester. This happened by default in the first three semesters of the Whitman Campus Greens’ existence, and I think it would also serve to alleviate the trepidation one might feel at jumping into another’s shoes to do something with which they have little experience.
Despite some minor setbacks and difficulties, acting as coordinator of the
Whitman Campus Greens was a rich and gratifying experience for me. It was an
continual challenge to my people- and multi-tasking skills, and I would not
recommend it to anyone who doesn’t feel strongly about the ideals we strive
for, as those are ultimately what drive me forward. Working with such a great
group of kids and continuing to help the organization grow stronger for another
semester (and beyond), whether I continue to serve as coordinator or not, is
a prospect I find exciting.