CCL Tennessee Tour: Finding volunteers in the Volunteer State
By Don Addu, CCL Southeast Regional Director
In 2015, Citizens’ Climate Lobby staff and volunteers began conducting outreach through “tours” through whole states or regions of the U.S., spreading the message of climate solutions at every stop along the way. Browse the CCL Tour blog tag to read about past tours, and catch up with the latest one below!
The Tennessee tour was the first tour I attempted in which every city and town I visited had no CCL chapter, making it the most challenging to date. In true rock star fashion, this tour brought me to seven cities in seven days, across 1600 miles. It also reinforced some key truths about organizing, which I hope will be helpful to other CCLers planning their own outreach events or tours.
The team working on this tour included Don Kraus, the primary architect of the tour; Cliff Cockerham, the new TN State Coordinator who helped us drive turnout; Ryan Egly, the CCL Nashville group leader who hosted me and attended three events; and Flannery Winchester, CCL’s Communications Coordinator.
Social media isn’t enough
The first three stops on the tour were in smaller towns south of Nashville: Murfreesboro, Nolensville, and Franklin. Flannery secured the time and locations for each of these stops, and as she is originally from Nolensville, rallied her friends and family to come out to the events. “Most of the outreach I did relied heavily on social media—I created Facebook events and sent them to all my contacts from high school, as well as to local groups I thought would be interested,” Flannery explained.
But as I’ve learned over the years, and as these events ended up reminding us all, social media doesn’t usually cut it when it comes to organizing people. No one attended the Murfreesboro event, despite it being the most frequently shared of the middle TN stops and having more than 50 people invited via Facebook. The following day, we had two folks make it out to our event in Nolensville, including a conservative high school student. “I was really surprised at the modest turnout, even after all of the social media promotion I did for these events,” Flannery said. “It’s a good lesson for Millennials like me—sometimes you just have to pick up the phone, set up a meeting, and get connected in real life. That’s what makes things happen!”
The following evening we saw our best turnout to date at the Frothy Monkey in Franklin with over half a dozen folks. This turnout was thanks to Cliff making a round of phone calls the day before, connecting with local people and generating real interest in CCL’s message and presence in the area. The presentation went really well, and folks hung out afterward as the conversation continued over a few pints. This group agreed to form a small committee to launch a chapter in Franklin.
A tough crowd can still be a good crowd
Leaving the southern half of Nashville behind, I journeyed north to Clarksville, only four miles from the Kentucky line. I met the local Sierra Club chapter leader, JoAnn, for ice cream before we made our way to the library. Close to 20 folks from Sierra Club and Indivisible filled the room, and I anticipated a lively crowd. As I jumped into my talk I realized that was not the case as story after story fell totally flat. Not a laugh, not a smile—brutal.
However, after the Q&A I had several folks come up and tell me how much they enjoyed the presentation and wanted to get more involved. By the end, the group had agreed to launch a CCL chapter after election season wraps up. It just goes to show, the reactions you get from the room may not tell the whole story. Stick with it, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the response!
Nothing beats face to face conversations
In the immortal words of Johnny Cash, “I’m goin’ to Jackson,” where I had one of the best conversations I have ever experienced with two women, Ameera and Monique, who didn’t know much about climate change and were eager to learn. We started at the beginning, as it is CCL philosophy to always meet people where they are. We discussed the impacts of climate change and how fossil fuels contribute to global warming. From there, we quickly advanced to the complexities of Carbon Fee and Dividend. As we wrapped up the conversation over two hours later, Monique said that it reignited her fire for social justice and action. They have now formed a planning committee to launch a group in Jackson.
On to Germantown, a suburb just east of Memphis, which yielded a crowd of half a dozen engaged folks. After over an hour of Q&A, we secured a commitment to start a chapter both in Germantown and in Memphis. My presentation the next day in Memphis proper provided a lot of support to bring these chapters to fruition.
By every marker, the Tennessee tour was a success! It was wonderful to have such engaging conversations and to have experienced such hospitality across the state. We find folks all over, even in the rural south, who are eager and ready to engage Congress on climate change—all we have to do is open the door for them to take action.