Thursday, May 10, 2018

“Busting Myths About Energy and Conservation” - Alachua Co. NAACP & Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club Host Community Energy Forum

The Alachua County NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee hosted a Community Energy Forum entitled “Busting Myths About Energy and Conservation” at the Thelma Boltin Center, March 17, 2018, 11:00 am-2:00 pm.

The Forum was an effort to involve members of the east Gainesville community, predominantly African-American, in participating in reducing our energy, water, and utility bills, and in discussions of steps that can be taken by individuals, the community, and our government to reduce utility bills and to conserve water and energy. The intent was to conduct community mapping of Gainesville's frontline African-American community to inform the work of the Gainesville Ready for 100% Clean Energy for All Campaign in achieving a lasting commitment from the City of Gainesville to plan how the community will become free of all fossil fuel consumption in the years to come.

Organizing efforts: A core group of about 8 people - representatives from NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice, Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club, Women's March, Community Weatherization Coalition, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and some individuals - worked together to create this event over a four month period: securing a venue, creating an event format, booking speakers, creating and distributing publicity materials, and getting donations. The day of the event required about 15 volunteers including setup, check-in/registration, keeping the event running on time, food prep and serve, and clean up.

Publicity: Event was publicized on social media and websites of participating organizations; local newspaper distributed in east Gainesville (The Guardian), and on local NAACP radio show; flyers were distributed to community organizations and public locations; Rechiert House students (after school program for at-risk young men) took flyers in individual houses in targeted neighborhoods, invitations including a letter from Gainesville Mayor Poe were mailed to east Gainesville neighborhood leaders and churches.

Expenses: NAACP, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), City of Gainesville, Sierra Club, and local businesses and individuals provided in-kind and/or monetary contributions totaling approximately $2,400 for venue rent, printing of publicity materials, food, door prizes, and videographer.

FormatThe Forum featured interactive and informational tables from 11am-12pm. Groups participating in this part included the Gainesville Bee Club, Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club, Community Weatherization Coalition, GRU, Citizens’ Climate lobby, Central Florida Community Action Agency, We Are Neutral, Alachua County School Board, UF College of Journalism and Communications (Energy Burden Study), Zero Waste, and Hands on Gainesville. 

The keynote speaker for the forum was Ms. Jacqui Patterson, NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program National Director.  In her talk, Ms. Patterson shared experiences from other communities who are mobilizing to save energy, protect communities from toxic waste and climate change, and engage with efforts to promote renewable energy and reduce wastes and toxins.  Other speakers included Dr. Anthony Greene and Dr. Wendell Porter of the University of Florida.  

For the final part of the event, participants were served lunch while they engaged in small group discussions about steps that can be taken by individuals, our community, and our government to conserve water and energy, save money on utility  bills, and develop policies to support these goals. Each table had at least one facilitator who kept the conversations focused, took notes on participants’ ideas. At the end, one person from each table shared ideas with the entire room. Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe wrapped up the event. The event was covered in the local press
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe

Attendance: We had planned for 120, including tablers and speakers.  Our final count was 75 with 28 of those being people of color, so both the attendance and diversity was less than anticipated. However, Jacqui Patterson, who speaks all over the country at these types of events, was pleased with both. She mentioned that quite often she is the only person of color in the room at speaking engagements, so she was happy with the turnout.

Attendee Followup: We asked attendees for their names and contact information and will be following up with a Thank you letter reminding them to follow up on their energy conservation commitments, invite them to future NAACP ECJ committee meetings and events, and ask for contact information for additional community leaders they think might be interested in hearing from us.

What we could have done better: Publicity earlier with more personal and more frequent outreach to community leaders. Food donations need to start at least three months in advance. Plan on at least 5 people dedicated to food preparation and serving. Interactive tabling time of one hour was too long and some people left before speakers started.

Benefits of event: While community awareness and education was the main benefit, a huge bonus was the positive relationship built between members of the planning committee. We started as individuals representing our various groups, but bonded as a team committed to working together on future events and toward a shared goal of clean equitable energy.  We each brought resources - skills, community contacts, and tangibles - which others lacked and realized how much more we can accomplish together as a united front.  

Future Plans:
-          April 28th TreeFest Tabling
-          Video editing, upload to Youtube, link to social media
-          Fall 2018 Educational event on food & energy use
-          Creating an educational “comic book” on energy
-          Outreach - taking our message to the people instead of having them come to us, starting with churches

Final ThoughtsA few comments from participants:

From a young woman who was a pulled in as a facilitator at the last moment:  “I was more than happy to help out yesterday and was thrilled to see what a great turnout there was from such a diverse group of community members.  I would say that it was a major success and it seems as though people really stepped outside their normal framework of thinking to explore new ways that they might be able to be more efficient in their energy use.  I was really impressed by the small table discussions and the reporting out that went on at the end of the event.  I was also so happy to see the last few women who stood up to present... they were hesitant to get up there and talk to everyone at first, but once they got started sharing their group's message, they seemed to be empowered.  That was great!”

From an attendee: "I learned so much, I am glad I came Everything was perfect."

Another: “I thought the lunch and small groups were so very smooth. Whoever thought up the lunch part is a genius.”

One more: “YAY!!!!!! I look forward to seeing the video.”

Roberta GastmeyerSuwannee St. Johns Sierra Club, and Chair, Gainesville Ready for 100 Coalition
with Phil Compton, Sierra Club FL Ready for 100 staff