2,751 miles of climate action: The 2016 Southern Energy Freedom Tour

southern energy freedom tour, citizens climate lobby

One of the stops on the Southern Energy Freedom Tour was CCL’s regional conference in Jackson, Mississippi on October 22.

2,751 miles of climate action: The 2016 Southern Energy Freedom Tour

By Davia Rivka

Peter BrynMeet Peter Bryn. He is 33, one of the founding members of CCL’s Conservative Caucus, and after eight great years, traded in his career with ExxonMobil to work part-time for CCL. He’s a perfect person to bring the message of climate action to the south.

After watching the way Jay Butera put climate action on the map in Florida, in 2015 CCL volunteers in Texas decided it was time to get the rest of their state into the game. Like Florida, there were many congressional districts with no CCL presence. Peter took this on as a personal challenge. His initial thought was to do one-time events introducing CCL in identified cities across the state, but he quickly realized that driving eleven hours to El Paso for a one hour event didn’t make much sense. And that is how the 2015 Texas Energy Freedom Tour was born.

He and his girlfriend Sandy traveled the entire itinerary with other volunteers joining different segments in his 1999 Saturn, like wannabe rock stars but with cozier accommodations. Before they even left the driveway, though, there were strategy meetings, hundreds of phone calls, and weeks and weeks of organizing. Once on the road, they gave presentations, hosted group start workshops and sought out endorsements. The Texas Tour was a success—and it set the stage for the 2016 Southern Energy Freedom Tour to knock the ball out of the park.

In 22 days, Peter and the rest of the gang—Brett, Bill, Bishop, and Ricky—drove 2,751 miles to visit 22 cities. They gave 17 public presentations and 7 media interviews (resulting in articles like this one and this one). They had 35 meetings with businesses, political leaders, NGOs and other groups. They hosted 4 group start workshops and a regional conference. Oh, and they met with members of Congress 13 times, and generated a cool 245 letters to representatives.

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A full house for a movie showing in Pensacola on October 14

I can almost hear you thinking, “But I’m not Peter Bryn, and I could never do what he did.” Well, even Peter couldn’t do what Peter did without an entourage of support, a big imagination, and lessons learned from the Texas Tour.

The biggest change between the first and second tours was the organizing strategy. For the Texas Tour, they went for efficiency, with one person coordinating each area of interest for the whole state (e.g. a single scheduler for all Chambers of Commerce through the entire itinerary). What they gained in efficiency, however, they lost in building community. There was no go-to person invested in the success of any given city, town or community. There was nobody holding the flag. So, they changed things up for the Southern Energy Freedom Tour. They identified one “lead” in every town. It was the job of that person to hold the flag; to identify and grow leadership in many sectors of the community.

That worked like a charm; it increased engagement, strengthened community, and wove together seemingly disparate groups. Elli Sparks, CCL’s Field Development Director, remarks on the success of one particular event in Birmingham. “Wednesday, in the Deep South, is church night,” she explains, so hostess Joyce Lanning wasn’t anticipating more than 10 or 15 folks in attendance. Elli reported triumphantly, “She had 40.” Plus, the group was racially and religiously diverse.

Bishop Dansby, a Virginia-based volunteer originally from Alabama, also joined in the Birmingham efforts. “He has been wanting to do outreach in Alabama for years,” Elli said. “The Southern Energy Freedom Tour finally gave him the platform.” She jokes that he added “momentum and a real southern accent to the efforts.”

The lesson here is to identify your connections, your community, and engage them fully. Whether it’s a region-wide tour or regular, meaningful outreach in your neighborhood, your efforts will be rewarded with the numbers and the energy this movement needs.

Jay and his team are walking on water in Florida. Peter and his team are holding the flag in the south. It is time for all hands-on deck. You’re not expected to do exactly what Jay did. You’re not expected to do exactly what Peter did. But you can use them as inspiration. Let their vision light a fire under you, and then go do what you do best.

Davia Rivka is a Los Angeles-based climate change warrior who is hard at work on her second book: a collection of inspirational stories about the extraordinary work of Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers. Check out her blog at daviarivka.com.