Book Excerpt from Tools for Grassroots Activists: Best Practices for Success in the Environmental Movement
We must tie our battles together under a grand overreaching vision of peaceful co-existence between human civilization and the whole wild diversity of native North American fauna and flora, a different vision than the world of malls and sleazy suburban development, clear cuts and parking lots that our opponents are offering. People of the entire continent need a new vision.
So I always go back to Aldo Leopold’s story. More than a hundred years ago, he graduated from the Yale School of Forestry with a master’s degree. He caught the train for the territory of Arizona to go to work for the newly created U.S. Forest Service. His first job in the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona was to cruise timber. At that time, the White Mountains, the Mogollon Rim, the Blue River country was a huge, wild place without roads. There was no way the Forest Service could log the forest. But they wanted to know how many trees were there so they could plan logging 30 or 40 years in the future. Leopold’s job was to go into the forest on horseback for two weeks at a time with a crew of men and calculate the standing board volume.
For over 20 years, Patagonia has organized a Tools for Grassroots Activists Conference, where experts provide practical training to help activists be more effective in their fight. Now Patagonia has captured Tools’ best wisdom and advice in a book, creating a resource for any organization hoping to hone core skills like campaign and communication strategy, grassroots organizing, and lobbying as well as working with business, fundraising in uncertain times, and using new technologies. Each chapter, written by a respected expert in the field, covers essential principles as well as best practices, and is accompanied by a hands-on case study that demonstrates the principles in action. Sprinkled throughout are inspirational thoughts from acclaimed activists, such as Jane Goodall, Bill McKibben, Wade Davis, Annie Leonard, and Terry Tempest Williams.
One day in 1909 on one of these trips, Aldo Leopold and his men stopped for lunch on a rimrock overlooking a rushing stream below them, and as they ate their lunch they saw a large animal ford the stream. They thought it was a doe because she had long legs. But when they saw a bunch of wolf pups run out of the willows on the other side of the stream they realized it was an old mama wolf.
In those days before World War I, any wolf you saw was a wolf you shot. Leopold and his men ran to their horses and pulled their 30/30s out of their scabbards and blasted away. Those of you who hunt know it’s hard to aim downhill. But Leopold and his men shot enough lead down the hill that day, and old mama wolf went down. And one of the pups dragged her shattered legs back into the willows to die a slow death. Leopold and his men mounted up and rode down the hill to skin the wolves and pack the pelts back to Springerville to sell.
But something happened that day. Leopold wrote about it decades later in A Sand County Almanac:
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and I’ve known ever since, there was something new to me in those eyes. Something known only to the wolf and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger itch. Fewer wolves meant more deer. I believed no wolves would mean a hunters’ paradise. But after watching the green fire die, I realized that neither wolf nor mountain agreed with such a view.
So more than one hundred years later, here we are. We need that green fire in the land. We need it in our own eyes. We’ve got to communicate that to the people of America. Leopold also wrote, “A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock and rolls down the mountainside and fades into the far blackness of the night. It’s a cry of wild defiant sorrow and contempt for every adversity on earth.”
A couple of years ago in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, I awoke in the middle of the night and the storm had stopped. There was a noise out there, it wasn’t loons, it wasn’t wind, it was a pack of wolves. Leopold was right. The howl of wolves is the cry of wild defiance, sorrow, and contempt for adversity. But it’s something else too. The sound of joy. It’s the music of this whole, glorious, fecund, buzzing, blossoming dance of life that we all love. It tells us why we’re in this. Why we’re fighting. Why we’re standing up for forests and wolves and parrots. Why we’re defending rangelands and rivers. Because of the joy in life. Because of the love we have for the evolutionary dance.
In Yeats’s poem about the center not holding and the blood-dimmed tide being loose, he says the best are without all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity. I think all of us today know that the worst are full of passion and intensity. And we know that they will win if the best—us—are without conviction.
We need nuts and bolts. We need the technical skills, but we’ve got to remember why we’re in it. Why we have conviction. Because of love for this beautiful dancing lovely Earth and all its species.