One of the best things about working at Spitfire is the chance to be part of truly inspirational campaigns. In the four years since I joined Spitfire, I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing activists to advance their work on everything from expanding access to health care to curbing the role of money in politics to transforming school recess and reforming destructive school discipline policies. It has been exciting to learn about new social change issues and to help our clients spark change through smart strategies and inspiring communications. Recently, I had the chance to reconnect with an issue that is especially important to me personally.
I’ve been working on environmental issues since I came to Washington to work with Trout Unlimited in 1992. In 2001, I joined the communications staff at The Wilderness Society, and for the next five years I spent nearly every waking hour (and a few non-waking ones, too) on the campaign to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Working in a coalition of environmental, faith and social justice organizations, we fought off one congressional attempt after another to open the pristine coastal plain of the Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
The Arctic Refuge has been recognized as a special place for a long time; I was fortunate enough to visit the Refuge myself in 2004. An untouched landscape unlike anywhere else in the world, it provides habitat for birds that migrate from all 50 states, along with polar and grizzly bears and hundreds of other species. But preserving the Refuge is also a human rights issue. The native Gwich’in people refer to it as The Sacred Place Where Life Begins because up to 40,000 caribou calves are born there every summer. For thousands of years, the Gwich’in people have relied on those caribou, which are at the center of their music, art and culture as well as a source of food, clothing and more. For all of these reasons, preserving the Refuge has inspired generations of dedicated advocates and millions of conservation-minded Americans.
The Arctic Refuge campaign remains undefeated; the Refuge is still wild and free from oil wells. I credit that remarkable record to a clearly defined campaign goal, a coalition that runs like a well-oiled machine, strategic targeting and a talented army of grassroots organizers, communicators and policy advocates. Message discipline was also part of the secret – within our coalition fines for saying “ANWR” instead of “Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” ranged from $1.00 in an internal meeting to $50.00 in a media interview.
Still, it’s an old truism that when it comes to environmental issues, “Bad ideas never really die.” And sure enough, the Arctic Refuge is in the headlines again. Some in Congress are already promising to try again to open this sacred place to risky drilling proposals.
But on Jan. 25, President Obama issued a formal request that Congress designate 98 percent of the Refuge as a protected wilderness. It was a historic announcement – the first time in more than 30 years that an administration has gone on record saying that the Refuge should have the strongest possible long-term protection. I was privileged to be able to lead a Spitfire team helping conservation groups, Alaska Natives and others – including many of my old friends from my first Arctic campaign – ensure that the grateful chorus from people across the country was impossible to miss.
It’s important to remember that this is just the beginning. The ultimate measure of success will only be clear when the Refuge receives the strong, lasting protection it deserves, once and for all. It’s a special privilege for me – and for Spitfire — to be back in the fight!
Please join Pete and our partners at the Arctic Refuge Coalition in thanking President Obama. While you’re there, share a cute photo of a polar bear on social media!