Tools for Grassroots Activists – Book Review

Tools for Grassroots Activists Book CoverActivists are businesspeople. Or they should be. That thought kept recurring while I was reading Patagonia’s Tools for Grassroots Activists: Best Practices for Success in the Environmental Movement.

Perhaps if a greater number of people understood the business side of activism, we could accomplish more towards ensuring Earth remains habitable for us and other living creatures.

Published by outdoor clothing and gear company, Patagonia and edited by Nora Gallagher and Lisa Myers, Tools for Grassroots Activists brings the best of Patagonia’s Tools Conference activist training program to the public.

I have read other Patagonia books like Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman and The Responsible Company so I was expecting a thoughtful well-written and interesting book. It delivered.

The Business of Activism

In the introduction to Tools for Grassroots Activists, Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard tells the story of how the first Tools Conference came about in 1994. It was a way of bringing activists together with experts in fields such as campaign strategy, marketing, fundraising, lobbying, and working with business.

“While I am often embarrassed to admit to being a businessman—I’ve been known to call them sleazeballs—I realize that many activists could learn some of the skills businesspeople possess.”

—Yvon Chouinard

The book intertwines short essays written by keynote speakers from past Tools Conferences with case studies demonstrating activists putting the tools to use and achieving their goals. My copy has many colored Post-it™ flags marking ideas and passages I feel are particularly important to my environmental not-for-profit work and me. Here are a few things I found interesting:


Kristen Grimm begins her piece with a hilarious tale about what can happen when you lose sight of what you are trying to achieve. She acknowledges that good communication is difficult and gives readers some concrete suggestions.

While reading Grimm’s essay, I found myself thinking of times when the organization I belong to has jumped ahead to identify tasks before clearly defining the goal. I think I will start taking the book with me to meetings to remind me and the rest of the group to stay focused on strategy first and then tactics.

Changing the Climate of Public Opinion

Lois Gibbs shares the story of how a small group of people living on top of a toxic waste dump changed the climate of public opinion resulting in the United States government relocating hundreds of families. You may know the neighborhood is Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York.

This story resonates with me because it demonstrates how everyday people can not only change public opinion but also overcome governmental inertia and compel agencies to act.

Working with Business

John Sterling points out that many of us work in the businesses that sell the goods and services we all rely on in our daily lives, and that businesses need to make money to stay in business. He offers practical advice on how environmental activists can effectively engage businesses.

As a project manager, I understand the importance of getting all stakeholders to the table and working together ensuring the project stays on track and within budget. It seems to me that businesses are essential stakeholders in the environmental movement, but sometimes (maybe often) activists view them as enemies and treat them as such. I realize it is difficult to view a company that is dumping toxic effluent into a stream as a partner, but they are a stakeholder in the environment, too; it behooves us to engage them.

The Bottom Line

Patagonia is a global enterprise selling outdoor clothing, equipment, books, and food provisions. Patagonia’s mission statement is, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Putting on the biennial Tools Conference and sharing knowledge in Tools for Grassroots Activists is part of how Patagonia is fulfilling its mission.

While the essays and case studies in Tools for Grassroots Activists have an environmental theme, the ideas, advice, and tools are applicable to any type of activism from advocating for an after-school art program to saving a historical building from the wrecking ball. Businesses could learn a thing or two about topics ranging from strategic planning to employee retention.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m not an activist so why would I want to read this book?” Interestingly, many of the stories are by people who were not activists either. If you care about something—a person, a place, a cause—then read this book. Somewhere in its 254 pages, you will likely find an idea, a tool, or a story that inspires you.

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Love God, Heal Earth – Book Review

Love God, Heal Earth - click to buy at AmazonWhether you are a person of faith or not, Rev. Sally Bingham’s book Love God, Heal Earth is both interesting and thought provoking.

I first learned of Sally Bingham through the Interfaith Light & Power Campaign, a faith based initiative addressing global warming that she co-founded. I have been curious to learn more about her so selected Love God, Heal Earth as my second book to read this March in honor of Women’s History Month.

Book Review

Love God, Heal Earth: 21 Leading Religious Voices Speak Out on Our Sacred Duty to Protect the Environment is the full title of the book that contains essays written by religious leaders from a variety of faiths with an introduction and afterword by Rev. Sally Bingham.

A line from the introduction describes what the book is about.

“It is a snapshot of a moment in human history – Earth history – when the future hung in the balance and communities of faith came together out of love for Creation.”

Readers will find essays by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist religious leaders who incorporate environmental stewardship into their respective ministries and daily lives. A few examples are included below.

  • Rev. Fred Small participates in political activism and endeavors to engage people of faith in caring for Creation by framing supposed environmental issues as issues of justice and compassion.
  • Rev. Pat Watkins seeks to connect faith and the environment through Biblical scriptures.
  • Rev. Dr. Clare Butterfield leads the Faith in Place organization, which helps congregations make earth stewardship part of their religious life.
  • Laurel Kearns directs the Green Seminary Initiative that equips religious leaders with tools to help them lead their congregations to a more sustainable and just society that values a healthy planet.
  • Mary Evelyn Tucker studies and teaches in a university setting bringing together the fields of religion and ecology.

The following excerpt from the afterword succinctly wraps up the mission of everyone on Earth.

“Who are we, as human beings, if not caretakers of creation? Stewardship of the planet and our care for each other is our greatest moral duty.”

The Bottom Line

Rev. Canon Sally Bingham is an Episcopal priest and serves on the board of several environmental organizations and the Diocese of California Commission for the Environment. She is the founder and executive director of The Regeneration Project, whose mission is to deepen the connection between faith and ecology. Its main project is the Interfaith Power & Light Campaign, which helps congregations address global warming through energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

Although I did not learn as much about Sally Bingham as I would have liked, I was fascinated by the essays in Love God, Heal Earth. The authors approach the intersection between faith and ecology through the lenses of their own diverse backgrounds and religious beliefs, yet they are all on the same journey encouraging faith-based communities to care for Creation.

Love God, Heal Earth is about hope. Everyone should read it.

Reader Note: We are fans of checking books out of the library or borrowing from a friend. However, if you choose to purchase this book, please click on one of the links above and make your purchase via the Amazon Associates program. We receive a small fee, at no cost to you, which helps support this website.

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Diary of an Eco-Outlaw – Book Review

Diary of an Eco Outlaw Book CoverIn a way, Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth by Diane Wilson could be any woman’s story. A newspaper article and a telephone call changed the course of her life.

Diary of an Eco-Outlaw is one of the two books I chose to read this March in honor of Women’s History Month. After reading Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in March 2013, I decided to make it an annual tradition to read at least one book by or about a woman environmentalist every March.

Book Review

Readers you are about to become Diane Wilson’s time- traveling companion as you go back in time and accompany her to places near and far while carrying on a conversation that lasts for 243 pages.

Diary of an Eco-Outlaw recounts several interwoven stories involving Union Carbide, former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, Texas jails, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Formosa Plastics.

The book opens with Wilson describing her upbringing and life in Seadrift, TX, a small town on a bay in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Wilson her transformation from shrimp boat captain to environmental activist began with a newspaper article claiming Calhoun County (where she lives) was number one in the country for toxic waste disposal and contained half the hazardous waste generated in Texas.

After an explosion at a Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical) plant in Seadrift, Wilson received a phone call. Two weeks later she flew thousands of miles to witness a tribunal in Bhopal, India the site of a 1984 Union Carbide pesticide plant gas leak that exposed over 500,000 people to deadly methyl isocyanate gas instantly killing over 2,200 people and resulting in over 20,000 deaths since then.

Years later an email and a photograph from Bhopal landed in Wilson’s inbox and without a moment’s hesitation she embarked upon a month-long hunger strike and an act of civil disobedience at the Seadrift Union Carbide plant that landed her in jail.

Wilson’s tale of her efforts to bring Warren Anderson to justice is humorous and inspiring. Her story about protesting at a fundraiser attended by Dick Cheney and ending up in jail shows her ingenuity and fearlessness and gives a harrowing account of what it is really like to be in jail for several months.

Through Diary of an Eco-Outlaw, Wilson relays the stories of a seemingly unending stream of current and former chemical industry workers who make their way to her door armed with piles of documentation and real-life experience dealing with hazardous working conditions, knowledge of illegal company actions, and suffering from a myriad of illnesses and fear.

The book wraps up with Wilson’s trip to Taiwan to deliver Ethecon Foundation’s Black Planet Award to the Wang family during the 2009 Formosa Plastics annual shareholders meeting.

The Bottom Line

Diane Wilson is the author of An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas and was featured in the award-winning documentary, Texas Gold. She is a co-founder of the women’s antiwar activist group CODEPINK and founder of the Texas Jail Project an advocacy group for Texas jail inmate rights.

Diane Wilson strikes me as a courageous fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of gal with a seemingly limitless pool of compassion, creative civil disobedience ideas, and willingness to put herself on the front line of the fight for human rights and environmental justice.

One might expect a non-fiction book filled with tales of injustice, environmental degradation, corporate malfeasance, government indifference, and personal sacrifice to deliver a compelling, distressing, and sometimes shocking narrative. Diary of an Eco-Outlaw does that, yet readers will also find themselves smiling and sometimes laughing out loud.

Diane Wilson is a master storyteller.

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