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Dreaming About Taking Back America

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The week of October 3rd, I was in Washington, D.C. to cover the Take Back the American Dream Conference. Targeting the goal of "coalition-building" for those in the progressive reform space, one of their stated policy initiatives was to work toward "a healthy environment."

The major take-away from the three-day gathering was the point that each citizen must be proactive and cannot expect -- nor depend on -- President Obama to do all the heavy lifting around their advocacy concerns. This goes for environmental issues.

There were several sessions that specifically drilled down on "green topics." They included, "How America Can Revive Manufacturing in Green Industrial Revolution" and "From Clean to Green: How Activism Can Create Jobs -- and Save the Planet.

I sat in on the conversation, "Building Towards A Powershift." The dialogue included mobilizing on the Tar Sands Action, toxic coal ash, options for long-term solutions, building alliances, and new energy alternatives.

The speakers were connected by the commonality of their commitment to promote responsibility for the changes they envision. Green for All representative, Julian Mocine-McQueen, spoke about his group's underlying goal of building "an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty."

Phil Radford, from Greenpeace, underscored looking at the environment from a social justice point of view. Many of his family members had cancer as a result of pollutants in his neighborhood. He learned that there was a direct correlation between the incinerators on the West Side of Chicago and the rates to cancer. While still a student, he worked to shut them down.

Executive Director of the Energy Action Coalition, Courtney Hight, shared that she had left the White House when she realized that climate was not a priority. For her, the failure of the Climate Change Bill was a watershed moment. She now leads a coalition that is comprised of youth-led environmental and social justice groups.

Sarah Hodgdon from the Sierra Club, who comes from Kentucky, emphasized why people who work in industries like coal have to be taken into the equation. Not only do they require replacement jobs, they need to be brought into the process. She raised the reality of reaching out to a third generation coal worker, and openly addressing shifts in employment options -- to a clean energy track.

Moderator Phil Aroneanu, from 350.org, reiterated the importance of going hyperlocal. In building a grassroots movement to tackle the climate crisis, the methodology is to inspire people to create building blocks of one community at a time--starting in their own backyards. He gave an example of an outreach action sponsored in Portland, Maine, which informed people how they could retrofit their homes to become more energy efficient.

Within seconds of live tweeting direct quotes from the speakers, people sent me disparaging comments. Okay, so folks aren't going to see everything the same way, especially with the continual dialogue about the best interests of the economy being in conflict with the need to protect the environment. For some, it's a black and white dichotomy: Jobs versus clean air; business against regulation.

I say, let's keep the dialogue civil. We can reach out and try to explain to others why protecting the environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive.

Most importantly, don't count on your neighbor to be the one who is outspoken. Become part of an action movement, like Moms Clean Air Force, to address the problems. Contact your elected representatives to let them know that you do not approve of the TRAIN Act. Talk about the push to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, even if it is to one person at a time.

That's how you move the needle forward.

This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Airforce.

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