Margie Alt has been a leading environmental activist and organizer for decades. As Director of the Climate Action Campaign, she leads a coalition of a dozen major national environment, environmental justice, and public health groups working together to drive ambitious, durable federal climate action based on science to address the climate crisis in ways that support justice, jobs, improved health, and quality of life for all.
Margie joined me this week to discuss her work, the digital tools that power the Climate Action Campaign, and the Earth Day rallies in Washington, DC, Phoenix, and Atlanta coming up this weekend.
Welcome Margie, and thank you for joining me today! Would you tell me about the Climate Action Campaign?
The Climate Action Campaign is a mighty coalition of over a dozen environmental, environmental justice, and public health groups, and we are single mindedly focused on winning real climate progress that’s durable, that’s equitable, that brings down pollution, and brings up clean energy, all at the federal level. So, we work on Congress, we work on administrative action, we do public education, we do mobilization of our groups’ members, which in total are about 15 million. In addition to our core groups, we work with about 70 other partners all across the country. We have state tables in key states, and we are about building and mobilizing political power to win on climate in equitable and long term ways.
Can you tell me about your journey to this work? How did you find yourself leading this large coalition?
I have been doing activist work since I was in college and from my very first job after I graduated from college. So I guess the easy way to say it is I used to be an angry young woman, and now I’m an angry old woman. I believe that we have problems that can and should be solved. We live in a democracy, so if we get enough people engaged to hold members of Congress or their other elected officials accountable, we should be able to create the world we all want to live in. And climate is the issue — if you were ever going to mobilize around anything — because it affects everything in the economy. It affects everything across every social strata. It is local, it’s national, it’s international. And we have the solutions right at our fingertips. We just have to use them.
How have Action Network and other digital tools made a difference to your program?
It’s been great working with Action Network! I’ve been doing this work for a long time, and when I started, we kept track of people on index cards, in shoe boxes, and then you had to dial the telephone to call them up, to try and find them at home. Action Network and other digital tools have made it so much easier and faster and cheaper and more efficient to reach many, many, many more people than we ever could before.
“Climate affects everything across every social strata. It is local, national, and international, and we have the solutions right at our fingertips. We just have to use them.”
Just to give you some examples, we have emailed literally hundreds of thousands of people to let them know about the Earth Day events we are part of on Saturday — a big event in DC, a big event in Phoenix, a big event in Atlanta. And as soon as people say they’re interested, we follow up with them again over email to ask them if they want to volunteer, if they can bring a friend, and if they can post it on their social media.
We follow up with them yet again and get to the point where people are as fully engaged as they can be. And that’s just for the Earth Day events! We also use Action Network to get people to be in contact with their members of Congress about climate issues. We use Action Network and our other digital tools to get people to put in a public comment to the Environmental Protection Agency to get cleaner trucks on the road. We use it both to organize people and to hear from people about what they’re interested in doing. And we use it to help provide people with real opportunities to be in touch with decision makers and change the outcome of these issues.
I’m really interested in what you said about the index card days, which really weren’t that long ago. But things have changed so much with Action Network and all these other tools, and I think people reading this would be really interested to hear a little bit more about what the process looked like before these tools. How did that work to organize and mobilize and get people out into the streets?
In the old days you had to know the people before you could reach them, right? You literally had to knock on somebody’s door or meet them at their church basement, or find them at the PTA meeting or get introduced by some other friend to find the person. They’d have to fill out something with pen and paper, with their name and address and phone number. And then you had to keep that and then keep following up with them. So almost everything was what I consider to be retail organizing. It’s like you had to do it personally, person-to-person. Now, to be honest, there was a benefit to that, because you can build a better relationship with people that way than you do by sending 500,000 emails at once. The problem though is it’s one by one by one and you can’t reach that many people.
And so now, because of Action Network and tools like it, we can reach literally hundreds of thousands of people at once, and we can find people’s names in various sources and we can slice and dice them.
For example, if there is a horrific wildfire in Oregon, we can figure out from our lists who are the 10,000 people that live within 20 miles of that, and we can email them and say we hope they’re well, we can figure out if we can help hook them up with aid and we can get them connected to their member of Congress to say why action on climate is so important to avoid future wildfires. We never would’ve been able to do that in the old days. Having tools like Action Network lets us reach millions of people over the course of a week. We would never have been able to do that in the old days.
What’s the best way for people to get involved in the big Earth Day events this weekend?
Oh my gosh, definitely get involved! You should definitely come to one of our events, especially if you’re in DC or Atlanta or Phoenix area, but there are lots of events around the country. Go to our website, and you can sign up right there. We would love to have you!
We’ll have folks out at the rally who are using digital clipboards to get people to sign public comments to the EPA on the heavy trucks rule to get trucks to be cleaner and electrify our transportation system. And then we’ll be able to follow up with anybody who signs up or comes and ask them to get involved in future actions. We would love to have anybody who’s interested get involved because with enough of us together, we really can win on climate and the time is now to do it.