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Reinventing activism

February 27 2012 | Strategy, Activism, Culture Shifting, Modern Activism,

The question I get perhaps more than any other is "where do you see Surfrider in the future?"

My answer has a foot firmly planted in our past. I still love the story of our formation. Three people were about to watch First Point, Malibu become marginalized and stop talking to each other. They stopped talking and started acting. That story is one of my favorites because it set the trajectory for the idea that became Surfrider Foundation. That idea has attracted people to orgaincally start 83 chapters and a couple dozen high school and college clubs in the US. It also provided the DNA to be translated into other languages and cultures in 18 other countries. It's a wonderful story and I, as a member of Surfrider Foundation, am indebted to Glenn Hening, Tom Prate and Lance Carson for acting to preserve a wave and starting a movement.

My other foot is somewhere else. Ed Mazarella summarized that place during our last strategic planning process. He said "we seek to reinvent activism." That's a huge, audacious goal. We know that... and we're "all in." We know that the core value of our network is our activists and volunteers. These people are loosely coupled in geographies all over the world and tightly aligned around our mission to preserve our coastlines. This network of people are Surfrider's secret sauce. These individuals are the credible actors who are deeply connected to their coastal communities. Look at this list of our last 183 victories, every single one of them was spearheaded by a local maven. Every one of those people are just like Glen, Tom and Lance. They do more than care... and talk. They act.

But what does it mean to "reinvent activism"?

It means to create a network that constantly learns from itself, gets better, becomes more effective and increasingly potent in communiites around the world. It means we maximize our impact on our goal of coastal preservation.

Think of the way we learn and teach. Think of the way you learned to read or taught your children to read. Think of the way we learn a new skill like playing the guitar or getting better at Scrabble.

The way to accelerate learning is to provide constant, constuctive feedback. We need incremental learning opportutnies that enable us to get better and build on our existing knowledge. That's how we all get better at a something, that's how we learn. That's how we're moving foward.

We don't want a chapter in the North East to figure out how to attract 500 people to a campaign by themselves any more than you'd want your child to learn how to read by themselves. We want that chapter to learn by watching other chapters successes and by being able to cherry pick what is relevant to them. If a chapter on one coast has built the knowledge to host an event that attracts 2,000 people year after year, every single other chapter should know about how that's done and transfer as much of that process to their local coastal efforts. This is the same concept as correcting your child when they misspell a word or helping them understand pronunciation rules. We learn by understanding best practices and applying them.

For over a year we have been collecting information from all of our chapters and our work at headquarters. This information is oriented around one simple concept, action. Think back to our formation, it's a story of action. Today we are that same story but the ability to "act" has mutated to mean many different things, from Twitter to making a public statement at an official hearing, from donating $30 to leading a local campaign to preserve clean water. We will be sharing all this information with our network and beyond starting this summer.

Surfrider seeks to become a network that never stops learning, that is always getting better, stronger and more potent.


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