1939 – 2019
Citizens’ Climate Lobby Founder Marshall Saunders created an organization that is providing perhaps the most essential ingredient for solving the climate crisis: political will. Marshall exemplified the notion of being the change you wish to see in the world. Always kind, always generous, and leading with love, he took it a step further, empowering tens of thousands to be the change. He provided not just hope and inspiration, not just practical skills and training, but an opportunity for transformation.
The story of how Marshall started CCL begins in 1994 when, as a volunteer with an advocacy group working on hunger and poverty called RESULTS, he attended his first lobby meeting on Capitol Hill. Years later, he would share the sheer terror of that first lobbying effort as he struggled to remember what he was supposed to say in that meeting:
Through RESULTS, Marshall discovered the power that a well-organized, properly trained group of citizens could wield to make the world a better place, participating in campaigns to increase U.S. funding that would save and improve the lives of tens of millions of people across the globe. During that time, he also discovered an innovative approach for lifting people out of poverty — microcredit — whereby the poor receive small loans to start or expand their own businesses. Inspired by the work of Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, Marshall started a micro-lending program in Mexico, Grameen de la Frontera, that has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of families.
In 2006, Marshall awoke to the climate crisis when he saw the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” Seeing that his efforts to help people out of poverty would be in vain if climate change made their homes unlivable, he began giving talks to audiences about climate change and the personal choices people could make to reduce their carbon footprint. He started to realize, however, that those personal choices were being dwarfed by policy makers in Washington who handed out billions of dollars to the fossil fuel industry.
During a presentation at a senior citizens center, a woman asked, “What should we do?”
Marshall responded, “What’s needed is thousands of ordinary people organized, lobbying their members of Congress with one voice, one message, and lobbying in a relentless, unstoppable, yet friendly and respectful way.”
“Why don’t you do that?” the woman asked.
Speaking at a conference, Marshall told the story of how that question led to starting the first CCL chapter in 2007:
Since then, the call for citizens to lobby Congress for climate solutions “in a relentless, unstoppable, yet friendly and respectful way” has resonated with nearly 200,000 supporters and participants in more than 560 chapters around the world.
Like many people, Marshall initially thought that the “people in charge,” the ones who run our government, would handle the problem of climate change. When it became clear that the people in charge were not up to the task, he took the advice of visionary Buckminster Fuller, who said, “The things to do are: the things that need doing, that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done.”
The thing that needed doing was to empower people to reclaim their democracy and engage their members of Congress to take action on climate change. As Marshall told CCL volunteers in 2013, we can’t sit around waiting for the cavalry to ride in and save the day — we are the cavalry.