Monday, April 17, 2006

On the First Day of Earth Week...

Happy Earth Week, all! As you might imagine, I've been getting all sorts of interesting information about various earthy activities and such happening this week, so I'm going to highlight at least one each day in the lead up to Earth Day. I wanted to start off with the organization that got the whole Earth Day ball rolling back in 1970: the Earth Day Network. I had a chance to spend an hour on the phone last week with the organization's president, Kathleen Rogers, and found out the Network's a unique and vital organization within the environmental community.

First off, I'll start off with a confession -- I did not know about EDN. It's been around for 36 years now, and, like Earth Day celebrations, the organization has a presence around the world in over 100 countries. Despite my cluelessness, they get 2-3 million unique visitors a month on their website. What impressed me the most, though, is EDN's organizational structure. Most of the big environmental organizations have a fairly centralized model, with main offices in DC or another world capital. EDN is a true network, though, of 13-15,000 smaller organizations working at the grassroots level. Rogers noted that these organizations and the network operate "as a true partnership in a genuinely cooperative process."

The most visible and public manifestations of that process are, of course, the Earth Day celebrations around the world. Rogers noted several times that she views Earth Day as a gateway event: "Every year, Earth Day introduces new people to environmentalism, and brings many of them into the environmental movement." The website hosts a database of ED events around the world, as well as resources for starting new events. This year kicks off a three-year focus on climate change (their second), and EDN has tools and information for activists to educate others about global warming.

EDN's work doesn't end on Earth day, though, and they're involved in some of the most innovative organizing tactics within the environmental movement. "Most traditional environmental organizations are white and middle-class," said Rogers. "We, on the other hand, continue to reach out to communities not represented there: African-Americans, Latinos, conservative Christians." EDN also reaches beyond the environmental community to form partnerships -- Rogers singled out groups such as the NAACP and ACORN as the type of groups with which EDN often partners, as political activism is at the heart of its efforts. "We're not satisfied with handwringing. Rather, we seek to build a network of activist organizations willing to struggle for political power. We believe that by educating people for action, we can create changes that will modify our current course." Rogers alluded several times to the Titantic as a metaphor for our current environmental state: "We want to build enough momentum to, at the very least, turn the ship one degree away from that iceberg." From mainland China, to city halls across the country, to public schools, the Earth Day Network works daily to educate a broad spectrum of people, and to direct their energies towards concrete action thay brings about measureable solutions to our environmental crises.

Rogers herself came across as the very embodiment of passion across the phone line, and my only regret was that I couldn't write down every single word she said. I appreciate her time, and hope we'll talk again. Make sure to check out their site, to read their Mission Statement and the specific actions it supports, and to get involved with local organizations supporting their mission. They've also started blogging, so join in the conversation!

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