Climate Action Guide

How to Strategically Organize for a Cause

Mobilizing people isn't enough. You need the right network and a plan.

This article is part of a special series from our fall 2019 climate issue on how you can level up your actions against climate change. Visit the full Climate Action Guide here

Passing legislation requires political muscle, and to develop that we need to organize a movement that brings people into the fold. “Organizing means we’re reaching out to people who are not yet with us, and that’s hard work,” says Jane McAlevey, an activist and union organizer, about running a successful advocacy campaign. “We need to get out of our comfort zones.”

Activists often make the same mistake, McAlevey says: “Rushing into campaigns without asking, ‘How are we going to win?’ ” The answer: power. And new allies can help build it. “Whether it’s how to protect migratory patterns for birds or regulations on air pollution, we can’t make change in the silo of the environmental movement,” she says. 

So how do you get others to join your cause? McAlevey advises groups to consider whom each member knows in the area you’re targeting. In other words, sort through your mental Rolodex of the people in your book clubs, sports teams, trade unions, parent-teacher associations, local media, clergy—and then chart the connections, mapping how they might be able to help and if they have related concerns. “Don’t just rely on who comes to the chapter meeting,” she says. “That’s not enough people.” Simultaneously, think about what you specifically want to achieve, and whom you need to influence to get there. 

Once your allies are united, it’s time to schedule meetings and talk policy with lawmakers. Try to arrange these gatherings in your own community. “It can be in a living room or at a synagogue, wherever you want to meet,” McAlevey says. “It’s harder for a policymaker to dismiss you when they’re actually dealing with people face to face.”

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