Coalition Report: Taking Action in Tough Times

By Caitlin Zera, education and outreach coordinator
Missouri Coalition For The Environment

It’s no secret that being involved in environmental issues can be overwhelming – especially in the current political landscape. From devastating disasters like intensified hurricanes and wildfires to the dismantling of the Clean Power Plan, it’s easy to feel discouraged, disempowered, and even disengaged. Even when you do feel called to action, sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment launched our People’s Guide to Environmental Action project in May 2017 as a tool to empower community members to stand up for their families, health, and environment. We wanted to provide a place to start.

The first iteration of this project is a booklet the size of a photograph called The People’s Pocket Guide to Environmental Action. This booklet provides step-by-step information for understanding political processes and government at the local, state, and federal levels. It outlines how to identify, record, and report environmental concerns in your community; how to request and use government sources to get more information; and how to begin grassroots organizing in your community. We see this guide as a sort of “Civics You Didn’t Get in School” to help community members through the tangible steps of government proceedings – like the process of filing a complaint or doing a Sunshine Request.

Government proceedings can be difficult to decipher; permitting procedures, public notice requirements, and special committee votes are often deliberately designed to disengage the community. We hope this guide will familiarize community members with how government systems work and how to follow the appropriate procedures. Understanding government systems is key for grassroots groups to build credibility, identify root causes of problems, and challenge the inequity of these systems when necessary.

Not every issue championed by engaged community members ends in victory. Indeed, for many environmental issues there is no discernible end, and the road to resolution is years in the making. Even so, the struggle to protect our communities and our environment is a worthwhile and important one.

As our state’s oldest grassroots environmental organization, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment has seen nearly five decades of community action that has led to meaningful change. For cases in which the win was not so clear, we can still take away important lessons learned, and we are encouraged by community members’ dedication and continued civic engagement.

If you care about environmental issues, you’re probably already engaging in small actions such as starting a backyard compost pile or biking to work. Consider adding a small civic action to your list: something simple like attending a council meeting or submitting a comment on a local issue. Your voice does matter. MOEnvironment.org for more information.

For information visit moenvironment.org.