Feel like you could benefit from a refresher course (or even an introductory session) in civic engagement? You're not the only one. According to Phil Mitchell, leader of Seattle's chapter of grassroots environmental action coalition Climate Dialogues, plenty of citizens are inspired to take action, they just aren't sure where to plug in.
Starting next month, a new action-oriented series of events will offer concerned residents a chance to take direct action on transportation issues, and network with neighbors and local representatives about what our next steps as a city could be.
We talked with Mitchell about his plans for the Climate Action Lab, which will kick off its first session in Columbia City on Saturday, July 12. Mitchell, who winces at the thought of being "talked at," intends to minimize time that attendees sit and listen to speakers, and arranged a schedule where most of the talking is done in small-group breakout sessions.
The initial session's theme is "Transportation Shift," so the topic-oriented small groups, co-led by experienced facilitators and climate experts, will discuss a range of transportation related issues: bicycling, land use, pedestrians, funding options, transit (with a heavy focus on Bus Rapid Transit), and climate change. The goal, Mitchell says, is to inspire groups to consider what's possible that does not yet exist in Seattle, familiarize individuals with the local transportation realities and identify the concrete leverage points for grassroots action over the next 6-12 months.
The lab is designed to funnel attendees directly into civic action that transcends signing petitions or even marching in the street. Participants will shape the primary agenda for action themselves, but the event will offer three "pre-fab" options for immediate action:
Adopt-a-Legislator: "By building relationships, well-informed constituents can bring information and resources to their electeds," Mitchell says. Political officials aren't experts on every issue, and a little bit of dialogue from someone knowledgeable can go a long way. Citizens who agree to "adopt" their local policy-makers will commit to making contact outside of a particular issue agenda, just to introduce themselves and their group, then form a relationship and stay in contact as issues come up.
LTE (Letters to the Editor) Team: Writing letters to the editor is a resourceful way to make an impact in the local press. This team will dedicate themselves to responding to current issues in a timely and persuasive manner.
Public Meetings and Campaign Stops: The issues that shape our city are often discussed in public meetings, which are open to anyone who would like to stop in. But when these meetings are poorly attended, special interests and companies who can afford to send people to voice their opinions get a disproportionate share of attention. This team will commit to attending public sessions, and speaking up on behalf of Seattle citizens concerned about progressive response to climate change.
The lab will offer plenty of other opportunities for participants to engage in the local sustainability scene as well. Representatives from City of Seattle government departments will be there, along with members of local action groups like Sustainable South Seattle and Seattle Great City Initiative. Should you feel compelled to plug some of your own time into volunteering with one of these organizations, you'll be in the right place to build your own connections.
Mitchell, a former software developer who holds a Ph.D. in cognitive science, is a founding member of the citizen's network 2people.org, a web-based connection forum that pairs people with ideas, groups and actions to combat climate change (and also currently provides the manpower behind Seattle's Climate Dialogues).
People already have the right ideas about what it will take to advance Seattle into a sustainable future. Now, Mitchell says, "we need to close the gap between intention and action."
Get more information about the Climate Action Lab, and sign up to attend (admission is free) by clicking here.
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