09/24/2010 05:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

David Brought a Slingshot Not a Suit: Building a Climate Movement that Works

There's a reason David brought a slingshot and not a suit when he took on Goliath.

During the height of the legislative fight, in 2009, environmental groups spent a record $22.4 million on lobby efforts in DC, double the average expenditure between 2000 and 2008. Of course, that's chump change compared to Big Oil, who spent $175 million to tie up Congress. But $22.4 million isn't nothing. "Nothing" is just what that money got out of the Senate.

Everyone knows that to pass a bill or win an election in America, you need money. There's little debate about that. And there's no doubt that the hundreds of millions of dollars dirty energy companies have dumped into Washington, DC have had a poisonous effect. As Jason Mark recently wrote in the Earth Island Journal, "The oil spilled into the Gulf can be traced directly back to all of the money the fossil fuel industry pours into the Potomac River watershed every year."

But everyone also knows that the environmental movement (or the progressive movement, or the labor movement, or any other movement) is never going to be able to raise the same amount of money as Big Oil. As Bill McKibben is fond of saying, ExxonMobil makes more money than any other corporation in the history of money. When it comes to buying influence inside the beltway, we're never going to compete. $22.4 million may get you a weakened Renewable Energy Standard, but it's not going to get you a climate bill.

Which is why, as a new climate movement moves out of the wreckage of this summer and starts looking at the long road ahead, we need to start embracing something other than the insider strategy that the big green groups led last year. It's not that those groups were wrong. They did all the deal-making, cajoling, letter writing, and lobbying you're supposed to do to pass a bill in a functioning democracy. Too bad we don't live in a functioning democracy (that's a reality that most Americans clearly understand: when asked if Washington is broken, 73% respond yes).

It's time to start thinking less like lobbyists and more like David's.

When you're outmatched, you've got to outmaneuver. Duking it out ad for ad, lobbyist for lobbyist, isn't going to work. You've got to find a way to play to your strengths, bring the game onto home turf, and then fight like hell. And you need to fight with an open heart. As Van Jones used to say, we need the story of Noah just as much as the story of David.

That's why in just two weeks from now, on October 10, the campaign I co-founded,, is trying something a bit new. Instead of picking up slingshots, we're going to be picking up hammers, shovels, and caulking-guns.

As of this afternoon, there are nearly 4,000 events now planned in 166 countries for the 10/10/10 Global Work Party. Check back tomorrow and there should be a few hundred more. In fact, momentum is building so quickly that it looks like 10/10/10 will surpass last October 24's International Day of Climate Action that united over 5,200 events in 182 countries, what CNN called "the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history."

The idea behind the Global Work Party is simple. To build a grassroots movement that can challenge Big Oil and deliver real climate action, we need to root that movement in community solutions to the climate crisis. No one hates a solar panel, they just don't believe it will ever power their home. By making climate solutions real and visible, we can build broader support for the type of transformation we need. On 10/10/10 people around the world will be painting bike lanes, planting community gardens, raising wind turbines, putting up solar panels, and doing hundreds of other small things to show that change is possible.

Students in Nkambe, Cameroon prepare for 10/10/10

We'll be getting to work not because we think we can solve the climate crisis one light-bulb at a time, but because implementing solutions ourselves gives us a powerful way to challenge our politicians, as well. After people put down their shovels on 10/10/10, many will pick up their cell phones and call their elected officials to ask a simple question: I'm getting to work, what about you? Any legislative aid will tell you that a couple hundred angry (sweaty) phone calls from in-district makes more of an impact than most suit and tie meetings on the hill.

The more we start to act like David, the more we can make out Big Oil as Goliath. There are already growing efforts to reveal the insidious effect of dirty money on our democracy. Campaigns like and organizations like Rainforest Action Network, who consistently slam up against nasty corporations and achieve major victories, deserve all the support we can give them. The day a fossil fuel lobbyist is ashamed to walk down the street in Washington, DC is a day closer to a strong climate bill.

Here in the United States, there are more than 1,000 work parties planned with events in all 50 states. That dwarfs the dozen or so "Rally for Jobs" put on by the American Petroleum Institute. It's also nearly double the 642 Tax Day Tea Parties organized this spring. We don't expect to make the same sort of impact as the Tea Party. While we've got a lot of great allies like Greenpeace, 1Sky, 10:10 and others, none of them quite have the heft of Fox News. But it's a worthy comparison all the same: the movement for sanity and solutions is just as widespread as the Tea Party fervor, if not yet as powerful.

Building that power will take time, but as the Tea Parties demonstrated, political winds can shift quickly these days. Either way, we're going to need your help. Bloggers and tweeters can spread the word. Organizations can email their members. Journalists can whip up a story or two. And anyone can start or attend a work party on 10/10/10.

There are no guarantees any of this will work, I've got my doubts just like all of you. But I know what won't work: staying despondent and waiting for our politicians to ride to the rescue. At its best, 10/10/10 could mark a big step forward for a new, dynamic movement for climate solutions. At its worst, we planted a lot of new gardens, installed a few more watts of renewable power, and got to know some new neighbors. Either way, it isn't costing anyone $22.4 million, that's for sure.

Time to put away those suits and pick up some slingshots. Let's get to work.