Learning from each other

These stories, shared by members of the Future Ground Network, provide insight into organizing experiences within and outside the network. These shared anecdotes are helping us start to understand impact from the perspective of network members.  

These stories were shared during the Spring and Summer of 2021.

Below are some examples of real stories shared by members of the Future Ground Network

Think about a time when you felt successful in your organizing work. What happened?

Youth are game to help!

As a high school environmental club we felt successful when other organizations reached out through local networks to collaborate. We now have two members participating in a youth partnership initiative project where mentors meet with us on a regular basis and teach us useful skills such as how to run effective meetings and how to translate vision into action. It’s really exciting that other organizations have heard about us, found us valuable enough to provide support and had resources available to help us increase our capacity. It really made us feel like our work was being recognized. Because of this there’s a lot more connections in our community and we are even working with an organization to hold a fundraiser to engage as many high school students as possible to promote environmental action. It feels great to work with other organizations to show that youth want to make a difference and are game to help out and spread the word.

Courage in action

In a recent event our youth speaker was late. On impulse I passed the megaphone to a fifteen year old girl standing beside me. She spoke from the heart and was eloquent and clear and was very effective. Later I found she was afraid of public speaking and that she and her family were surprised by what she did. We all realized that when we are put to the test we can do what we don’t think we can if it touches us deeply and affects our future.

Talking About the Climate

It was a long process. It’s taken two and half years to develop Kitchen Table Climate Conversations and the goal is helping people to feel comfortable talking about the climate. The reason it felt successful is we were able to launch a website and hold four webinars this year. This was a culmination of all the work. We’re also holding support meetings where people meet to talk about the different approaches they’re developing. The idea is taking on a life in different communities in so many different ways, everything from a project in Africa to someone who’s started a local art club doing nature-based art exhibits connected to climate conversations. There’s a whole range of wonderful people. It took so long to develop but it’s amazing to see what people are doing. The life it’s taking on is making me feel successful. It’s not just what I’ve done but what everyone’s doing.

Connecting online

With the recent COVID restrictions we moved to using webinars to reach people and that has been very successful. We were able to pivot to a model where we held webinars with reading lists and a mini-course and it was very effective at getting people engaged and providing a means for follow through, much more so than the days of speakers where the audience leaves afterwards and you have no sense of whether you have effected a behaviour change.

Working Together

A time when I felt successful in my organizing work was with a project we were doing where nine adults became partners for our project. The purpose of our project was to fill a gap we identified in the school curriculum: we wanted to find a fun and engaging way to teach high school youths about climate justice and as well as how to solve it. The people who became partners represented different sectors such as school boards, municipalities, etc. They helped us do a test run for this education program we created. Getting the partners on board was the most successful I felt.

Grace’s Journey

During my time in high school, I was part of the Environment Club and the Social Impact Club and there was high engagement with the two clubs, we had high turnout rates and lots of people would participate. Some examples of programs we had were our recycling programs, lots of people would participate during their breaks and lunches. Because we had a high engagement level and were able to spread awareness and speak peer-to-peer, all these factors made our work successful.

I’ve also participated in the Climate strike in Sept 2019 and got to meet the Mayor of the town as well as meet key stakeholders and decision makers. I felt empowered participating in this event, a lot of people have said that participating in strikes is useless, but being able to be part of the conversation was impactful as my voice was heard and this is proof that youth voices do have a role in this conversation. I got to deliver a speech of 15-20 minutes during that time. There should be more engagement, more training and educational tools.

Working Together

We worked together to create a webinar that we delivered to hundreds of students in the entire school district. It was info-dense, had pre-recorded and live content, and was based on everyone’s levels of expertise. We connected with the school board and teachers from the whole school district to reach students from grades five to eight, and hosted the webinar twice over two weeks. It really made an impact; teachers said it was well presented and we gave out materials and assignments afterwards so that the students could continue learning about sustainability. It turned out well, ran smoothly, and was all virtual. Everyone contributed some piece of knowledge.

Target Climate Initiatives

This is a large, broad overview, but I feel that it has powerful impact. As a teacher working with three school boards, I realized that I could help to mobilize the community to target the climate crisis by getting school boards and municipal boards involved. There was positive interest on both sides to initiate action for climate literacy but policies and procedures would get in the way if it was coming from the top, so we decided to spark action from the grassroots up. In Nov 2019, we organized an event to gather students, politicians and community to share ideas and thoughts. By bringing people together into the same space at the same time, relationships were forged to have more meaningful conversations around local issues. The organization of the event was also done by students so students benefitted from leadership opportunities and a sense of doing something real and positive. I found this powerful, that students were so positively engaged and the grade that was involved in the organization of this event also showed better mental health. We want to spread this same initiative through schools across Ontario and even overseas to carry on this tradition of hosting 3 meetings a year by high school students to bring people together and talk about local climate issues. In such, we get a force and show politicians that there is public awareness and initiative while giving information and allowing for networking.

Listening to diverse voices

The first time I felt really successful was when we were forming the board. We made space for two Indigenous voices if they wanted it. They were originally supposed to be ex-officio directors but we realized through Future Ground Network that it would be better to have them participate in the normal process. We learned to give space to Indigenous members to decide how they wanted to participate. Also regarding Fairy Creek, we realized that you had to listen to voices from all sides and we heard from Indigenous Future Ground Network members that we shouldn’t sit in judgment of any voices.

The Power of Collaboration

Through previous advocacy work we had a connection with someone from the David Suzuki Foundation who introduced us to others, building connections from which we were able to establish a relationship with City Transportation. We were then able to provide education and outreach to various communities who were being given transportation infrastructure (e.g. bike lanes), which have historically polarized communities (as many people believe they cause traffic congestion, etc). Through our collaborations, we were able to expand our outreach through mail outreach programs and to work collaboratively with city staff to develop messages and activities that would help residents understand and support bike lanes. We also built another partnership with a non-profit, through which we received grants from the Department of Environment and Climate Change.

Tell us about a particular frustrating or challenging experience you’ve had in your organizing work lately.

Preserving energy and maintaining momentum after success is a balance

Covid has thrown a wrench in the works for a lot of organizations, and ours is no different. We have been part of a few big successes in last eighteen months, the biggest one being the new bike way and bike lane on Yonge street in Toronto. It was a huge breakthrough and opens the doors to more infrastructure in the under-served midtown city area. However, it also seems that because of the success, we’ve seen a drop-off in engagement as well which has been a little frustrating. Because of Covid, we haven’t been able to do outreach to bring new people in. We feel like we are kind of treading water. We’re planning how to go forward and rebuild, but we need fresh faces and fresh ideas and energy to work on these strategies. Although we managed to get the first leg of bike lanes opened, we need to continue with significant campaigns for other major routes in our area. We still have lots o f work to do, but first we need to ensure that we have enough. It seems with Covid that people are getting tired and overwhelmed, so we are still figuring out what is the best way forward to engage or re-engage volunteers and to look for other groups to collaborate with.

Connecting Community to our Endangered Forests

It is frustrating and difficult to get decision makers to listen and understand the value of our forests, and to take action. We do so much work, but there are still people who do not appreciate what’s left of our forests. It can also be difficult to reach out to the non-converted; we aim to reach beyond the supporters of the movement.

Freddie keeps coming back

I have had challenges in recruiting and training new volunteers. One of the biggest challenges is finding people with skill sets that combine good interpersonal skills and computing/technical skills. I also experience frustration with the sense we are not moving anywhere on these issues. We are battling a system but are using tools designed to battle individual issues – addressing things one at a time where the issues are linked and coming out of the same systemic problem. We are missing a super-creative solution to move forward. We are always responding to something as opposed to leading. We need to grab the steering wheel.

Leadership challenges

Our organization has existed for about a decade and we have seen varying levels of volunteer support during that time. Currently, we’re in a bit of a trough. Some of our long-time leadership is moving on and there seems to be a vacuum. I’d like to generate more energy around leadership within our group and I’m not sure what the most effective way to do that is. We used to have a lot of in person events and it’s been hard to replace those with online events. Though we have been successful to some degree with the online events we’ve done, there isn’t the same opportunity for in person connections and to recruit new volunteers.

Little Red Wagon

I was working with the David Suzuki Foundation-Butterflyway project in my neighbourhood to plant native flowers along the bike path. We were weeding and watering and we planted a lot of flowers along the bike path but it was a long haul to drag the jugs of water over to plant the flowers and the jugs quite heavy. I bought an old wagon, but it was quite old and luckily a young woman at one of our garden meetings was able to take it home and fix and paint it. So next time we will have the wagon to lug the jugs of water.

Understanding real needs

A challenge has been to try and make some people understand that Indigenous peoples have particular issues that must be addressed in seeking environmental solutions. We need to know what the reality is on the ground and respect and address that rather than push purely idealistic goals.

Community building

I get involved in small organizing initiatives, organizing volunteers in the community and putting together teams. COVID has changed the scenario dramatically and much has to be done virtually. I have frustration due to the apathy of people who indicate an interest in the issues, but don’t follow through. I also find it challenging to try to get other people to understand the issues. With COVID I don’t have the same opportunities to meet people and you don’t get the same response online. The successes I have had are through phone connection more than email connection.

Advocacy related struggle

To affect policy change a central pillar of our work has always been and continues to be political advocacy. However, lately we’re finding that our strategy of wanting to work with our elected officials, to get them to collaborate with us and other climate champions in the community to bring forward positive change via action, has been less fruitful than we hoped. Politicians will typically only agree to work together when there is an obvious benefit for them/their rep/their priorities and having to converse about/take charge on local climate action diplomatically has felt like we’ll never get to where we need to be. Another embedded issue is elected officials wanting to keep the extent of actions limited to being education-focused, etc. Whilst important, it’s certainly no way to treat a crisis (imagine if focus groups and panels were all that had been put together, again and again and again before things were actually decided for COVID).

Why is it important for you to be here today?

Why is it important for you to be here today?

To educate myself so that I can support Indigenous and other people of colour in achieving inclusion, equity and to promote anti-racism in my circle of family/friends and beyond.

Why is it important for you to be here today?

Although I have considered myself to be an anti-racism activist for a long time, when I’m being truly honest with myself I know that there is more that I could be doing as an ally. It was important for me to be here today to move beyond declarations and comfort and into the realm of action and uncomfortable conversations (because they need to happen!).

Why is it important for you to be here today?

More and more I am aware that we have to reconcile with Indigenous peoples and governments must make it a priority to achieve fairness and make amends somehow for all the injustices they have historically endured. The colonizers were good at killing and dominating and deceiving but sadly, in their arrogance and privilege, they missed the chance to learn from the wisdom of the Indigenous peoples. Now having dominated and destroyed the land and the planet we are forced to step back and hopefully learn humility and start over somehow.

Why is it important for you to be here today?

It is important to be here today, because learning about organizing from others increases relationship building and motivates me to continue my journey on the project I’m working on.

What’s an experience you’ve had in your organizing where you felt like the work you were doing was really seen and understood?

Show me your Light

Within the United Nations of Canada, there was a contest and we presented “Show me your Light”

While Canada represents diversity, there is a lack of sharing of diversity. With our concept of the “Show me your Light” social media, we wanted to create a platform where different people of different cultural backgrounds could meet and exchange ideas interculturally. It was greatly appreciated and we won the contest. Now we would like to include this concept with the Aid’Solis project.

The Importance of Leadership

I’ve been part of three councils for advocacy work on the environmental front. The first two said all the right things but did not translate that into action. I often hear that what I’m saying is important but that we don’t have the resources to do it and there are always excuses to not go through with certain plans. The third council actually turned these things into action. If you have the right leadership with political will and smart, creative people, you can move things faster than you ever expected. For example, in less than four months we installed permanent infrastructure for a bike lane on a street that has been highlighted for the project for a couple years.

Which moment most stands out to you?

Which moment during this webinar most stands out to you?

Facilitators sharing their knowledge. I learnt so much about the Pentlach nation and sincerely hope somehow their language is revitalized. A very safe space to share what it means to be just half muslim and to highlight the angst of what practising muslims must feel today while asking for solutions. I come away more learned and confident in the fact that we are in this together. More power to the organizers. Will not miss the next session for the world.