A step-by-step manual to Fossil Free local organising — from building a group to winning, learn how to pick a target, choose your demands, and plan your actions.
If you’re starting out, it’ll be helpful to have a read…
This campaign is powered by people like you, all over the world, and while every group is different, how we build Fossil Free groups and campaigns is from the same recipe. Like any recipe, you get to add to it if you want!
This campaign guide will be a go-to over the coming weeks and months as you get going. Once you have registered a gathering or group, you’ll be part of the global Fossil Free community – we’ll be in contact with useful resources and support to help get your group humming.
The Campaign Details: your starting point
What is Fossil Free?
Fossil Free is a decentralised global campaign for an energy revolution that stops the growth of fossil fuels by 2020 and accelerates the just transition to 100% renewable energy for all.
City by city, town by town, we are scaling up a powerful movement of citizens across the world who take away everything the fossil fuel industry needs to grow and survive: its social licence, its political licence, and its money.
We organise in our communities to stop or ban new coal, oil and gas infrastructure. We campaign for commitments by our local institutions for 100% renewable energy. Those commitments are not only transforming our energy system, but also support and retrain workers affected by the changes, and put the ownership of energy back with the people.
>> Read more about the Fossil Free campaign on the About page here.
What are the demands?
No new fossil fuel projects, anywhere.
We want a worldwide freeze by 2020, and move towards shutting down existing fossil fuel infrastructure, and building the new: a fair and just future for all.
Exploiting existing fossil fuel projects will already take us to well above the critical temperature threshold of 1.5c. We cannot continue to expand this industry, and must move towards the phasing out of all fossil fuel energy.
Not a penny more for dirty energy
Holding the fossil fuel industry responsible for its culpability in the climate crisis means divesting, defunding and rejecting the fossil fuel industry’s sponsorships.
By shifting public support away from the fossil fuel industry, we can break the hold that they have on our economy and our governments, while making way for a just transition.
A fast and just transition to 100% renewable energy for all
We are united in calling for local institutions to commit to a fast and fair transition to 100% renewable energy for all.
We need the transition to be fast enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and to be delivered in a way that doesn’t replicate the injustices and human right violations of fossil fuel extraction and energy systems. This will require leadership and planning from governments and communities.
How do the demands work together?
The three Fossil Free demands can be independent demands or integrated. You can start with one of the demands, win, and then work on the others, or combine them from the start.
The three demands strengthen one another – after all, one way of achieving a 100% renewable future is to phase out fossil fuels, yet that won’t happen if our cities, universities, schools or places of worship keep funding the fossil fuel industry.
Our movement is about both pulling hard on the brakes of the fossil fuel industry’s activities, while pushing hard on the accelerator of the transition towards a fair and renewable future for all.
Online Skill-ups: Get skilled-up with these online courses about climate change and what you can do about it. Each online skill-up uses interactive activities and multimedia to teach you skills you can use on organizing, movement-building, and climate change. Visit: trainings.350.org/online-skill-ups/
Through the rest of the campaign guide, you’ll find links to useful resources, and we’ll be in contact with new resources as we develop them.
Small, local teams are the people-powered engine rooms of our movement.
Working at the local scale means you can meet face to face as a group, and work to change the institutions within your immediate reach: whether that’s your village, town or city.
When thousands of us do this together, we can bring the transformational change we need for a Fossil Free world.
Working in local groups is about teamwork: bring curiosity and commitment, not egos.
Creating social change takes a lot more than one person with some good arguments, it takes each of us bringing our diverse skills and experiences, with a commitment to do the hard work to achieve our goals, and a curiosity to learn and grow our effectiveness.
As you start setting up your group (so long as there is no existing Fossil Free group in your local area), invite people who will bring commitment and curiosity. Most local groups start out with a minimum of 3 people.
It’s important that your group talks and agrees on your values and principles as a group.
As you form and register your group with Fossil Free, you will receive more information about the process.
The trainings.350.org website contains a range of training resources that can help you on your journey of developing an effective group.
Global Power Shift, 2013.
What is a campaign, what is strategy?
A campaign is a sustained effort toward a specific outcome, like getting a city to ban fossil fuel development or a public institution to commit to a just switch to renewable energy that communities have more control over.
Imagine your strategy as a bridge your group must built to get you from where you are to your end goal. Your vision is the sun that guides you, or how you want the world to look. Along the bridge are steps, or your tactics, the actions you take to build your power and bring you closer to victory. It’s also helpful to have milestones along the way, to show you how far you’ve come and how far you need to go.
Your goal is to create a series of actions and momentum that can build enough power to create the change you want.
A group with no strategy …. vs
A group with a clear strategy and goal
Getting started — 1. Setting goals
You don’t have to be an expert in finance to start a Fossil Free finance campaign, nor to be an expert in renewable energy to push for a commitment to 100% renewable energy for all in your local area.
The decisive element will be your capacity to demonstrate local people power: that your team represents a critical mass too great to ignore and that can convince your target that they should meet your demands.
Goals give you a direction, so start by setting some! They are the benchmarks by which you gauge progress. What will your campaign accomplish in 3 months? 6 months? When can you win? Set a realistic timeline and work backwards in planning what it will take to win.
Next, think about who your target is and what you’re asking them to do. Your target is the person who has the power to make the final decision to on your demand(s).
Every campaign must have a clear target – a person, a council, a board, etc. who can be forced to give you the goods. They are a decision maker. You need to be specific: your target should have a name, an address, a phone number – someone you can challenge and hold accountable.
In most cases your primary target will be local, so you can access and engage them directly through your campaign. If your target is not local, then you might want to identify indirect targets: people and institutions who have access to and who might influence your primary target.
3. Your demand(s)
The Fossil Free campaign has three key demands. Pick the demand(s) of your choice. Your demand(s) will be aimed at your target: ie the decision-maker who can create the change you are demanding.
Read the campaign guides for:
Remember: a successful campaign requires demands that are broad enough to trigger substantial change, but they also have to be achievable & specific.
Global Power Shift, 2013.
Recruit + Build Power
Engaging the public is essential to growing your supporter base and being able to demonstrate your collective power to your target, and force them to follow the people’s lead.
As you campaign you want to convert the public from passive or neutral observers to active supporters. Mapping your different communities and groups onto the Spectrum of Allies (see image below) is a helpful way to help you prioritise where and who to outreach to.
Recruitment is one of the most important and most challenging aspects of running a campaign. It’s like a heartbeat that brings life and energy into your organising. Without a heartbeat, your campaign can quickly fizzle out.
Every meeting, action, event, and conversation is an opportunity to recruit.
We can’t count on recruitment happening naturally, and we shouldn’t expect people to stay involved without a good plan. That’s why, like any good campaign, recruitment requires a vision of what you want to build to, a strategy for how you will grow your team, tactics to bring new people in, and people to do the work!
Why do we actively recruit?
To grow the campaign: Build power for the campaign by creating visibility and by bringing in new members.
To spread the word: Build relationships and share our vision with one-on-one conversations and broader recruitment like speeches, movie screenings, etc.
To strengthen our team: We’re not just after numbers — we want to find the people who will bring new skills, perspectives, and energy to our work.
To develop and retain new leaders: Recruitment gives people a chance to practice messaging, lead a recruitment team, and build commitment to our campaign. Nothing keeps people engaged like feeling responsible for the retention of the people they’ve just recruited.
You can recruit in your community: organise public events, rallies, speak to classes, community organisations, etc.
You can also recruit online: start a petition, organise an event and ask people to register, etc. This will be incredibly useful to keep in touch with people – your team will hear more from us about the digital tools available to help you campaign and recruit online.
The climate crisis doesn’t exist in a vacuum
It grows from the same cultural and economic roots as systemic racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia. If we’re going to take on the fight for climate justice and win, we can’t just focus on carbon in the atmosphere. We need a diverse movement committed to justice for us all, and that takes effort and intention to make our organising accessible to all.
For example, in Johannesburg, South Africa, youth groups, unemployed citizens’ groups, workers’ groups and environmental groups built their power by coming together to demand green jobs, including for fossil fuel workers. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in the next two decades will be created in the switch to renewable energy.
People's Parliament, Australia, 2015.
Challenge Your Target
As a local organiser, you have to identify moments that will allow you and your group to build and showcase people’s undeniable power. For that, you’ll need to flex that power through strategic actions. You and your core group should identify sequences of opportunities to take action, to meet or to influence your target.
You can also create your own opportunities – or join the ones opened by the global Fossil Free campaign: global days of actions are powerful moments to show your local targets that there’s a global wave of mobilisation.
One of the most powerful things to do is to force your target to choose on which side of history they want to be: create a decision dilemma — a situation where not choosing your side would clearly show your target in a bad light to the public.
Powerful actions tell a powerful story before, during, and in reflection. Your action should always speak for itself, in photos and in the media. So, think visually! This takes intentional planning, training, and practice.
Prepare for the long haul
Your campaign will last until you will win. Which means that you will come back as long as necessary.
As your campaign grows, identify people who are on your side – even if they’re working with or closely to your target: insiders. Working with them is crucial. You can make a spectrum of allies with your group to map out possible allies to work with.
Many institutions have made public commitments to act on climate change — some bolder than others, even if they’re not necessarily being implemented yet. It’s worth referring to these commitments in your communication. The more relevant you can make the pitch to your institutions the better. Even if you don’t like them, it’s better to be constructive when you interact with them.
You don’t need to be an issue expert (there are people and resources that can help!), and you’re not there to give advice on legal resources, financial investments, nor to build a comprehensive renewable plan. Your role is to voice a demand in public, and build visible power so that your demand becomes the new normal.
Backroom negotiations work best when you’ve got a loud and public campaign with the public support to point at, so don’t get too bogged down in negotiations – and don’t start there.
Never give up. Your target may not say yes straight away… but keep going! Campaigns are rarely successful at the first attempt. You may experience rejection, knock-backs and downright refusal to engage with you and your campaign. But don’t be disheartened, with sustained campaigning you can and will be successful. If you feel lost, there are lots of people in the same position that you can talk things through with – you’re part of a global #FossilFree community!
Escalate: Turn up the Heat
Over time, your group’s actions should escalate — increase in either boldness, frequency, creativity or numbers of participants. But not too fast! You want to make sure your supporters move with you.
Escalation doesn’t necessarily mean confrontation — confrontation with authorities is something that not everyone can risk. Escalation can also be visual, and artistic. Creativity is key! From flash-mobs to banner-drops, there are lots of things you can do that can increase the pressure for your demands. Have a look here for ideas and inspiration.
The best actions build excitement for the campaign, have a clear action logic and impact on your target, and strike a balance between advanced planning and flexibility to respond to fast changes in your local context.
Train! train! train!
Training is an integral part of any campaign. At its core, training is teaching — a way to pass along skills and political frameworks, develop leaders, and share the work more equitably with your team.
The Act-Recruit-Train cycle is a great way to think about your campaign structure, and training is what makes it possible to repeat the cycle over and over again, and grow the size and impact of your work.
Tell Your Story + Inspire Others
Everyone has the power to tell their own stories and the stories of their community — especially given the growth of new digital technologies and social media.
Stories have the capacity to build relationships and empathy between groups of people. Stories have the ability to compel people to act and stay involved. They touch people in their hearts. A story goes far beyond a headline or a fact — it is something that stays with you and has the power to change you.
Especially in the face of the climate crisis, we need storytellers around the world to share their own realities, their victories, and their hopes. If we can compel our communities to look, see, hear — then we can engage people to continue to fight for the change we need.
There are a lot of components of good campaigning, and at times it may seem like we’ll never get there — but rest assured that we can and will win!
When we do, it’s important to celebrate! All wins (even if only a stepping stone to a larger victory) should be shouted out as loudly as possible, and shared.
You may know in advance when a decision and potential win is going to happen, so make sure you’ve got as much material as possible lined up before hand. Some steps to think about:
Let the Fossil Free team, as well as your other networks, know about key decisions coming up (even if the outcome is uncertain) so people can be ready to share.
Have a press release ready to go with quotes from local spokespeople and decision makers. If you’re waiting on a decision, having multiple press releases prepared for different outcomes can be useful for a quick response! To see some examples, check out the Fossil Free media page and download the Media Toolkit.
Write a blog post that tells the story of how you made people power win and push it out on social media when you’re ready. Always share using the hashtag #FossilFree
Don’t Stop There!
Did you win? Take the time to celebrate and share the good news. Really: celebration is very important to build a movement.
Take time to breathe, to reflect on what you’ve achieved, and on what you can learn from your campaign. Some of these learnings will be of interest to other campaigns — share them!
Then you can move to the next stage and decide what you want to do next:
help a campaign in a neighboring city, town or community?
Campaign around the same demand at a larger scale (target a regional institution, or even a national one)?
Fossil Free is a project of 350.org in collaboration with many other partners and volunteers. The Fossil Free website is the main platform for decentralised campaigning and organising supported by 350.org. It’s not everything that 350.org does, though all our work is connected to creating a Fossil Free world. You can visit 350.org to find out about other work that’s going on.