Tackling Climate Change & Running for Office

by Jenn Wood EVT’18

I recently returned from my sixth Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Pittsburgh. Why have I repeated the same training program so many times? It’s an inspiring opportunity to learn first-hand from many of my climate heroes, not the least of whom is former Vice President Al Gore, about how to be a frontline agent for change. We will create that change by tackling the climate crisis head-on, engaging local communities, building networks of truth, and inspiring solutions and action.

This time I went into the training with another lens – that of my burgeoning plans to run for office and all that I am learning through the Emerge Vermont program. I immediately realized that there is so much overlap and transference in my efforts to stimulate action on climate with that of the path to serve as an elected official.

They both come with a wave of emotions and can be daunting, exhilarating, tiring, intense, rewarding, difficult, and so much more. But, I also realized that many of the skills and sources of strength needed to run for office are so connected to those I have been employing as a climate justice activist.

So, what have I learned related to both these ventures about which I am ever so passionate?

Whether trying to convince someone that climate change is real or that they should vote for you, stories are the glue. Especially stories that are heartfelt, values-based, compelling, credible, and relevant to the audience.

Equally as vital is building trust and coming from a place of connection and compassion.

‘Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes’ – while I am not sure the official origin of this quote,* it was said at both an Emerge training and at the Climate Reality training Pittsburgh. At the initial Emerge training, after my first ever sixty-second stump speech, I asked if the audience could hear that my voice was shaking…that is when I was reminded of this quote.

You won’t be surprised to know that in my 60-second speech, I talked about Al Gore – when I got the chance to both sit on a panel with him talking about climate action and then march with him in a climate change rally in Washington, DC. Hence, my message and call to action was about following your passion, because you never know where it might take you.

 

The other key ingredient to a good stump speech is a call to action – to donate to my campaign, vote for me, join a day of action, or ‘follow your passion’!

Telling stories is all well and good, but how? I say ‘how’ because I then learned the same statistics in Pittsburgh as I had in Emerge about how people perceive you and hear your message. Here is the breakdown:  Your Words - a lonely 7%; Your Tone of Voice - weighing in at 38%; and lastly, but with the most force, Your Body Language at 55%!  

What comes next, the very same thing that I cringed at when I heard it again in Pittsburgh is something that I know I will have to do and don’t want to – please don’t make me! Not just practicing in a mirror, which helps, but getting videoed while practicing your speech. Then, the worst part…watching it back to learn how you can improve!

Painful I am guessing, but a fruitful exercise so you can see where 55% of the attention is going – to your body language!

I found peace in also hearing the reiteration that having the same message, the same three points/ power-of-threes, and repetition are the key to success. So I just need to go through that traumatic video experience once with my key points and I am good right?!  For now. (Editor’s note: Jenn and her Emerge class will be videoed giving their stump speeches at our December training session!)

Lastly, but of critical importance was the overlapping message of self-care. Trudging on, especially these days, to promote diligent action on climate can be draining – just the same as running for or holding public office.

Making sure your mind, body, and soul are nourished makes all the difference. I was reminded of a quote in Pittsburgh by Edward Abbey, author and environmental advocate, which I will keep in my pocket on the campaign trail.

“Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure.”

I am so grateful for the opportunity for these amazing training programs and the connections they have afforded me as I seek to create meaningful change. I will continue to tell my story with passion and truth. I will end with a call to action. I will practice, practice, practice, even if it makes me uncomfortable. And, I will take care of myself. I hope you will join me in this important quest.

As Mr. Gore says, ‘Political will itself is a renewable resource!’ Let’s renew it together!

* Editor’s Note: This is part of a larger quote by Maggie Kuhn: “Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants. And do your homework.” Kuhn was the founder of the Gray Panthers, an organization created to work on issues of concern to the elderly.

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