Bringing new voices to the clean energy choir
By LEEANNE BERES
It seems like yesterday, but 16 years ago – in 1995 – I was hired as the first outreach director of the NW Energy Coalition.
More accurately, I was hired as the first organizing director of the Northwest Conservation Act Coalition. Both my title and the institution’s name changed in 1997 to better reflect the organization’s mission and our means of achieving it.
Although humorous, the occasional phone call seeking assistance in the art of small talk – “no, we’re not the conversation coalition … try Toastmasters” – showed that our message to those outside our inner circle was anything but clear. And when you want to reach new constituencies, clarity about who you are and what you stand for is key.
We worked hard to find that internal clarity and mission focus. Outreach staff had to make the arcane language of rate cases, decoupling, feed-in tariffs and the BiOp understandable for the average person. We went on a “plain language” outreach tour, giving scores of presentations to weatherization and human-service providers, salmon and river groups, utilities and renewable energy businesses, and environmental, faith, citizen and labor organizations around the Northwest.
In just a few years we more than doubled the Coalition’s organizational membership and through those groups brought thousands of new activists into the campaign for clean and affordable energy and wild salmon. NWEC has maintained that commitment to outreach and now boasts more than 110 member organizations in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.
Yet to be successful in the years to come, we must continue to grow and involve new constituencies.
As executive director of a faith-based environmental organization, I see on a daily basis how diversity adds power and depth to coalitions. Campaigns with many different messengers reach a broader public and better influence decision-makers. On energy and fish issues, seemingly non-traditional allies such as religious leaders, moms or health-care providers can reach across the aisle and inspire or win over otherwise hostile audiences by speaking a language of values and meaning.
The Coalition’s diverse and active membership makes it one of the Northwest’s most influential public-interest voices on energy policy. We must continue our long history of reaching out and bringing new partners into our work.
A friend’s grandfather always said: “We are stronger together than we are alone.” Over the past 30 years the NW Energy Coalition’s strength has come from its members and the many different voices united in calling for renewable energy, energy efficiency, low-income and consumer protection, and restoration of fish and wildlife on the Columbia and Snake rivers. As we move into our next 30 years, we can look forward to celebrating our future successes with old friends and with friends we have yet to meet.
Happy birthday, NWEC.
LeeAnne Beres is executive director of Earth Ministry in Seattle. Before that she was the Coalition’s first outreach director – serving from 1995 to 2000 – and then associate director of the Save Our wild Salmon coalition. She currently serves on NWEC’s executive board.