Environmental Leadership Institute

December 17th, 2008

Last week, the TLCV staff went to the Environmental Leadership Institute (ELI), a conference for nonprofit environmental workers which was held in Austin. ELI isnt always in Austin, so we considered ourselves very lucky to get the chance to stay close to home. I dont know about James, but I foolishly thought we might be able to go for scenic walks around town in our down-time. I was so wrong!

I think Im getting ahead of myself. The way ELI works is to take environmentalists from all over the country and put them in one of four groups working on mock campaigns. All of the campaigns are different. During the day, there are all kinds of presentations given by experts on various parts of a campaign and how to make them successful. At night hellish assignments are given to put the lessons dutifully learned into practice and to torture the members with lack of sleep and controversial tasks until they finally finish the assignments at 3, 4, 5 in the morning and fall into bed like so many dominos, to rise again before 8 to return to their lessons.

You can see what I mean about not having free time to explore. In some ways it was refreshing during this intense week to come out of the hotel where we spent every minute of every day and to realize that we were just down the street from the university, and our houses were close by. Im a mass transit kind of girl, and I would gaze down the street and picture all the buses that could have brought me home…

Part of the reason Im writing all of this is that this mock campaign was very realistic. The point of being overworked and under energized in some ways was to show just how much hard work goes into a campaign. Working with a group of people we didnt know was also realistic, in that this happens a lot in campaign projects, that people come together who have never worked together before. And theyre told to put together a complicated plan while learning each others quirks at the same time. Im sure under those circumstances the thought that ‘I could just go home and everything would be back to normal’ crosses everyones mind at least once, but theyre all there for a reason and if one leaves it hurts the morale and strength of the group.

Besides learning about the realities of working campaigns, though, there was another strong message we took away from this conference. Even while being torn between the haze of sleepiness and inner hum of productivity and raw, work driven energy, we began to appreciate each other. It was fascinating the first day to meet people from all over the country and have them all in one room (“I dont think Ive ever met someone from Alaska!”). By the end of the week, it became a far deeper admiration. It became, “Look at all of these people I didnt even know who care as much about the environment as I do.” It was the feeling that suddenly I wasnt one of the only ones fighting the battle against the corrupt, and working to conserve. It was a group effort, with invisible allies everywhere, and just a small fraction had just gone through the crazy experience I had.

We were better armed for the upcoming battles with everything we had learned, as well as each other there to make sure we make it through. The non profit world can be frustrating when every day is a struggle to convince people the environment is important so they will help the organization keep moving (a sure-fire way to feel like a lonely voice) and constantly battling for conservation. Its hard at times not to go home and decide not to come out until global warming is over. This conference armed us with the rejuvenating knowledge and a clearer grasp on what needs to be done to make a successful campaign, so we could go back to our world beyond the hotel with a firm grasp on our full binders and confidence for the road ahead.

Also, now we know who to call to hear someone talk about why they care about the environment. That kind of a reminder is even better than hiding under the covers.