A blog post by Fossil Free Fellow, Connor McFarland.
This summer I’ve been working in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, at a community organizing group called Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE). MORE organizes in working class communities in St. Louis around environmental and economic issues. Using direct action and community organizing, we ﬁght corporate power to build the world we want to live in.
The ﬁrst time I worked with MORE, I was a senior in high school just learning about environmental issues. Back then, in 2011, we were planning Midwest Rising, a big convergence in St. Louis that brought together environmental and economic justice activists for a weekend of movement building and actions. This was my ﬁrst experience with community organizing, and I was jumping into the deep end. Hours of meeting and planning went into building what we needed to support so many people coming to the convergence. It was a great experience, and pushed me to learn and become more involved in social movements.
Back then, I was just a volunteer helping to get everything ready for the convergence; during the day I worked a minimum wage job at a large, national party supply store, and in the evenings I would go to Midwest Rising meetings. This summer, working at MORE has been my only job. I’ve been working on the Take Back St. Louis ballot initiative, which would stop the City of St. Louis from giving tax breaks to fossil fuel corporations and any corporation that does more than $1 million in business with a fossil fuel company. For example, Lewis Rice & Fingersh, a major law ﬁrm in the city, took a $15 million tax break from the city. Their clients include many fossil fuel companies, Peabody Energy (the world’s largest coal company) being one of the largest.
The biggest learning experience this summer has been the amount of behind the scenes work that goes into what I thought WAS the behind the scenes work! I can now say what I’m sure many community organizers already knew: it takes a ton of pre- organizing to get an organizing committee together.
Bringing people together for the Take Back St. Louis campaign organizing committee has been an amazing experience. Several members of the committee started as canvassers, collecting signatures on the petition. What started as a job for them has transformed into a determination to see the work through to the very end. Others have been climate justice activists for several years. Regardless of experience or expertise, everyone works so well together; at the end of every meeting, those of us who organized the group just sit back and are amazed by our luck. We got it right the ﬁrst time.
All of them have jobs, families, and lives outside of this campaign; but they know that we cannot continue with business as usual. Our city cannot sustain itself by giving tax breaks to corporations that are wreaking ecological havoc around the world. We must go about building the world in which we want to live, and that has to start right here, right now. This initiative is an important step in that struggle, and will give us momentum for even bigger steps in the future.