By Paige Golembeski
Over the past month, I have been interning with the Long Island Progressive Coalition. As a student at SUNY New Paltz majoring in Environmental Geochemical Science and minoring in Environmental Studies, I care deeply about safeguarding our climate for future generations. I thought it was important to channel my academic work into local action but didn’t know exactly how to do that.
In early January at a meeting of the Bay Shore-Babylon Women’s Huddle, a leader with the Long Island Progressive Coalition spoke about her efforts with the organization on an ambitious climate campaign under a statewide coalition called NY Renews. After hearing about the aims of the coalition, I immediately reached out to LIPC to see how I could help. I had six weeks before I left for my semester abroad and I was determined to use that time to dig into local climate action. I am grateful to have found LIPC during this time.
Before I started, I was unsure what to expect. I had never worked for a grassroots community group before but I jumped right in. I found out that I would be calling local elected officials each week and asking them to sign-on to an open letter calling for increased action on climate change and a transition to 100% clean renewable energy in NYS. Each week I would be following up in order to ensure the elected official received the letter and to hold them accountable for a response. I would also be participating in weekly phone banks where a group of us would be calling constituents of a state senator whose support was crucial in the progression of the Climate and Community Protection Act, a bill championed by NY Renews which would commit New York to reaching 100% renewable energy economy-wide by 2050, attach fair labor standards to clean energy jobs, and ensure adequate resiliency resources get to communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
With previous internships, I never felt that I had an impact with what I was doing or that I learned much of anything. But working with LIPC taught me a number of different lessons. I learned how important persistence is in this line of work.
Through my consistent calls to local elected officials, I saw that without constant reminding, officials would have bypassed what we had to say and moved on to another issue. Because of our persistence, over 20 elected officials signed-on in support of the open letter we sent out. And in phone banking, I saw the importance of persistence, as well as the willingness of people on the other end of the line to help further a cause they care about. Many people were willing to listen to our message and ultimately made calls to their State Senator Elaine Phillips urging her cosponsorship of the Climate and Community Protection Act. Because of the numerous people we called and the dozens of people who called Senator Phillips, we were able to secure her support for this crucial piece of legislation. When I heard the news, I was in disbelief. We had actually done it!!!
In such a short period of time I saw the true power of grassroots organizing in bringing people together and pushing for progressive change. It was so encouraging to learn first hand that the voice of the people can have a direct impact on state decisions.
Gaining the support of elected officials for the open letter and working to secure the cosponsorship from the state senator showed me that the fight to combat climate change is long and trying, but that everyday citizens have a direct role in leading the efforts. The Long Island Progressive Coalition empowered me in a way I was not expecting, and for that, I am truly grateful. I’ll be back at their office as soon as I return home from abroad.