[Leaders of grassroots environmental groups from around the country (and the world!) gather at the Stanford Sierra Camp to learn the latest tactics and techniques to aid in their ongoing work. All photos: Tim Davis]
On the list of points of pride that come with working for Patagonia, the Tools for Grassroots Activists Conference is near the top. As an employee, I’ve known about it for years, but as with many of our environmental initiatives, it’s a largely altruistic affair. The tools presented at this conference are, after all, for the activists who are on the front lines of today’s environmental issues. And what this means for employees is this: most of us don’t get to go.
Every job eventually feels like a grind, and there are plenty of work days that can leave one feeling pretty far from things like “meaning” and “purpose.” But it's things like our Tools Conference that provide meaning and purpose to the work we do here. I haven’t always felt a part of the difference that I know is being made at the Tools Conference, but attending this year’s gathering changed all of that.
At its core, the Tools Conference was conceived with the belief that the ways in which grassroots activists confront and publicize issues, convince the public of their importance and motivate others to take action is not unlike bringing a product to market, promoting it and convincing the public that it’s the best. While a business like Patagonia might call it marketing, others may refer to this process with different words. Either way, delivering one’s message – whether it be about wicking underwear or imperiled Poorwills – in a creative, honest way can mean the difference between success and failure; for a product or an issue.
From the company perspective, our Tools Conference teaches Patagonia invaluable lessons that can be applied to our own mission to drastically reduce our environmental impact as a business while providing useful assistance to environmental organizations. This conference is a great way to give more than just grant money to the groups we support. And it’s also the perfect setting for learning about today’s front-lines environmental work and building close relationships with the people who are getting it done.
And it’s this final piece – the people and relationships on which our greater environmental movement is built – that makes the magic in each and every Conference we’ve held. More than anything, our Tools Conference serves as a much needed potlatch for a community of activists that are far too often working at great distances from each other, and with budgets too meager to make regenerative minglings feasible. The difference we make is directly related to our belief in our ability to do so; there's no question that it’s hard to keep that belief alive when the work grows long, and we feel alone. With so many activist groups working passionately on behalf of Earth’s natural resources, it’s easy to lose sight of our ultimate resource – each other.
Statements like that can sound like platitudes, until you’re sitting there in the middle of it.
As this year’s Tools Conference wound to a close, we gathered into small groups to discuss which tools we were most eager to put to use. The question arose, “What did you learn?”
Our group launched into a lively debate, almost missing the fact that we’d yet to hear from one of our members, Geraldine Thomas-Flurer, from Headwaters Initiative. That’s when we noticed her eyes – happily dancing in pools ready to shed tears. For a moment, no one spoke. Then Geraldine,
“I have been fighting for years for something that is impossible. How can First Nations people stop the tar sands when Canada’s own politician’s want it so bad?
But I have learned here that I am not alone. Now I know that, I can do anything. Together, we can do anything.”
Indeed. We can.
[The group gets warmed up before the square dance kicks into gear.]