Terms of Engagement: Five Ways to Make a Movement
Having considered how the arts can be used to educate youth about the environment, as well as how small changes in school policy can spread across a student community, we can close with a question: what can we learn from these unique approaches to environmental engagement?
To figure this out, I sat down with two of the co-founders of The Green Medium, Elizabeth Gierl and Matt Gwozd. Like the Evergreen Theatre Company and the Green Commuting Challenge, the team at The Green Medium has approached engagement in their own unique way. By focusing on authors rather than readers, they flipped the narrative on what an environmental publication should do.
Together, the three of us had a passionate conversation full of friendly arguments and surprising conclusions. After a while, we managed to distill the many lessons learned by the team at The Green Medium into five key rules: the Terms of Engagement.
1) Come to people on their own terms
“You have to challenge people to take responsibility and have initiative,” says Elizabeth, explaining the core of The Green Medium’s approach. Rather than force those whom you wish to engage into a certain situation, you need to let people tackle the topic of environmentalism in a way that feels real and personal to them.
“Environmentalism is such a diverse topic that it allows people to come at it from a diverse range of interests,” adds Matt, “there’s oceans, there’s forests, there’s desertification, there’s fuel. I think there’s a little bit for everyone.” By considering personal interests, it’s possible to take one of the most difficult aspects of environmentalism – its scale – and use that to your advantage.
2) Have no barriers to entry
“How do we move this movement forward if we don’t disagree with each other?” asks Matt.
If a movement is not inclusive of diverse opinions or makes people afraid to participate, it will fail to engage. Rather than worrying about what makes a good environmentalist, it’s important to first cultivate a spark of environmental passion.
“I actually heavily disagreed with what some people wrote,” admits Elizabeth, “but we still gave everyone a safe space to express their opinions.”
3) Make it fun
“I never edited what people wrote too much because I wanted them to enjoy what they were doing, to have fun,” laughs Elizabeth, “to not feel ashamed of what they are doing.”
Elizabeth does not shy away from advocating for debate and disagreement within a group, but agrees with Matt when he says “nothing quashes enthusiasm like being shamed.” By offering overwhelming support to their writers, the team at The Green Medium made writing for their blog something that people were excited about, and in doing so built a base of deeply engaged writers.
“We’re not here to be experts,” says Elizabeth, “we’re here to learn something and share what we’ve learned”.
4) Make people proud of themselves
One of the most important parts of “making it fun” is building a movement people are proud to be a part of. This mindset is present even in the smallest parts of The Green Medium, such as the term “writers-in-residence,” which was chosen because it commands a certain respect.
Elizabeth remembers feeling deeply honoured when a friend asked her to write for an art zine. It was that feeling that inspired The Green Medium’s strategy: “I care about what you say, I think you’ll do a good job and I want to read it.”
Matt nods, pointing out that feeling respected is a powerful feeling, especially when you know you’re new to environmentalism. When you celebrate the efforts of others, they feel more comfortable sharing their environmental passion with friends and family. “Taking pride in your work is what keeps you in the movement.”
5) Engage them so they can engage others
Engagement should not end with you and your work – it’s a means to continue reproducing the cause. By helping people develop an environmental mindset, you can make life-long advocates who will go on to engage others.
“Good activism starts with good education,” says Elizabeth, “some of the writers [for The Green Medium] have gone on to become some of the best environmentalists I know.”
“Hopefully our work translated to people thinking about environmentalism more in every aspect of their lives,” concludes Matt.
(Cover image provided by the Alberta Emerald Foundation)