Marble Falls Anthropocene is one of those hard words to get your mouth wrapped around at first, as you have flashbacks to high school science classes, but it’s one we’re all going learn to say, happily or not. In short, it’s the name for our epoch, when humans rule the world, arguably without much regard for the world’s survival. It’s not a long period in time compared to others, but it has been both amazing and atrocious. The final report is not out on the Anthropocene period, but we will have to do a lot of work to pass these tests.
All of this was first and foremost on our minds, as I talked to Harriet Festing, the co-founder and executive director of the Anthropocene Alliance, or A2 for short, on Wade’s World recently. She explained that A2 is a relatively young organization at only a bit over five years and is essentially a coalition of what now number about 125 local community-based groups in 35 states around the country and hope to soon count 200, since they are growing rapidly. In the phrase popularized by Naomi Klein, A2 brings together frontline groups who are facing climate change, often at a catastrophic level. They operate as a coalition to support local struggles by connecting resources and assistance that communities need and demand. In different areas they have provided scientists, policy experts, tech, legal, and communications, along with direct grants and grant writing assistance, so much so that she allowed me to refer to A2 as a “one-stop shop” for climate-conflicted communities.
Being from Kent not far from London, Festing’s background and accent came from work in environmental protection in the UK until coming to the US a dozen years ago and working for one of the big-six enviro groups based in the Chicago area. We always say listening is the key to good organizing, and Harriet listened carefully to a dynamic, local woman in southern Illinois who was mad as heck about the fact that rising water from rain and whatever continually flooded her basement and the government was doing nothing about it. In dealing with that campaign, Harriet came to the fundamental insight that is foundational in community organizing, but so often missed in environmental and other work, and that is that the best and most effective warriors for the urgent need to deal with climate change are the victims of climate change whose voices cannot be ignored. Many of the core groups in the Anthropocene Alliance are groups around the country that have been victims of flooding from rivers, hurricanes, and whatever. More recently they have also been adding groups on the frontline of fires in the west as well.
A2 is a coalition, not a mass organization. The groups are on the frontlines, but often small, so adding the resources of the alliance is critical. Asking her for an example, she cited one where they were able to mobilize assistance from both FEMA and the US Army Corp of Engineers to address the issue. With some authority, I can say that almost never happens, so having an outfit able to breach the gap between communities at risk and huge agencies like those is invaluable. A2 is trying to leverage these groups facing common perils into policy debates and legislative proposals in Washington as well, where lawmakers might listen to what victims are demanding, even when they are well-practiced at ignoring the beltway experts.
It’s hard to predict the future for A2, but in a short five years they have raised significant resources for their work, and Harriet is brimming with new ideas for growth, regional centers, mutual aid programs, and more. Regardless, for now, they are in the right place at the right time, where the need is great, and the stakes are tremendous.