Annie Leonard is Greenpeace’s new executive director! We could not be happier.
What follows is part 2 of our interview with Annie. Part 1 is right here.
JS: You have stated that success in the environmental arena requires working across a range of causes. What does it look like for Greenpeace to work across movements? How can Greenpeace better build bonds across the progressive spectrum?
AL: I have to say, THAT is the thing I’m most excited about. My mind is just spinning as I think through all the unlikely partners we haven’t worked with before. I think it’s going to require us deepening our systemic analysis. And by that I mean: it’s easy to focus on what our passions are. But it’s not enough.
My passion has always been pollution, environmental justice, and waste. Others’ might be climate, or forests, or oceans. It’s so easy for us to focus on our passion areas, because that’s what turns us on. But the better we uncover how all the issue areas we’re working on are symptoms of a deeper problem, the more we can see our success is interdependent with a broad range of groups on the progressive side.
If we can see the connections between our environmental concerns and the concerns of, for example, inequality campaigners, we see that a collaboration is not just a tactically better thing. It’s a much, much deeper acknowledgment that we really are going to fail or succeed together.
I also think it’s important to realize that our movement is diverse. We have to offer a diversity of ways to be involved. Some people might want to chain themselves to a fence or tree. Other people might want to provide childcare for the people chained to fences or trees. Some people might want to act on social media to get the word out about the fences and the trees and organizing childcare.
Finally, we have to have room for everybody in our movement, and that requires thinking more broadly about what it means to participate and embrace people for whatever they can contribute.
There’s this great quote from Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock that says, essentially, ‘If you like everybody in your coalition, then your coalition isn’t big enough.’
JS: You have proven experience establishing narratives that are inclusive, that permit lots of people to inhabit a movement and see it as theirs. As Greenpeace moves forward, it has got to find ways of harnessing that kind of inclusivity. What must we watch out for as online activists to make sure we’re being inclusive?
AL: Environmental campaigns have a tendency to talk past people. We have to be sure we’re taking the time to think deeply about who our audience is, and then we have to experiment.
For people who are feedback hungry— and I think everybody at Greenpeace is feedback hungry, because that’s how we get smarter — social media platforms offer us so many ways to get feedback about what parts of our communications strategies are working and what aren’t. Too often environmental campaigns get stuck waving our data and charts in front of people, and when they don’t respond we just yell louder or reprint it in color instead of black and white.
We sometimes think the responsibility and failure is with people out there, when what we’re not understanding is that the responsibility lies with us if we’re not making it relevant.
JS: Permitting yourself to fail, to say: ‘Oh well, that didn’t work. Let’s move on,’ that’s not an easy posture in a fast-paced media environment.
AL: I think that it is absolutely crucial that we are innovative and experimental. What we always said at ‘The Story of Stuff’ — and I’d love to bring this culture with me to GP —is, ‘We embrace failing, but we have to fail quickly and cheaply.’ It’s only a failure if you didn’t learn something from it, or if you take too long to change course.
My goal is to work smarter rather than harder.