Back in November 2015 President Obama announced he would not allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built across the international border with Canada. That was a big moment for the environmental groups who’d been opposing the pipeline for years. Time magazine reported many of them saw it as the beginning of the end of fossil fuels.
President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline marks the end of seven years of activism by environmentalists across the country. But, between celebrations on Friday, activists painted the decision as just the beginning of a new era of activism where any additional fossil fuel projects will not be tolerated.
“It’s good, and at the same time it cannot be the extent of Obama’s work on climate,” said Lindsey Allen, Rainforest Action Network executive director, of Obama’s Keystone decision. “This is an opportunity to build on momentum and work to stop other projects like this.”
One of the groups that had been protesting Keystone XL for years was 350.org, a group founded by author and environmental activist Bill McKibben. After the Keystone XL win, 350.org turned its attention to blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline, joining a coalition of other environmental groups which set up a protest camp that was called Standing Rock.
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) October 27, 2016
McKibben helped promote the camp, though it eventually was removed and the pipeline was completed. (Incidentally, one of the people who traveled to Standing Rock and who was inspired by it was a twenty-something bartender named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.) Despite the loss at Standing Rock, 350.org was riding high in 2019 when the group met up for a retreat in Ireland to plan for its future.
Starting out with eight founding members in 2008, it had grown to 165 full-time employees — not including its many contractors — when staff traveled to Ireland that March.
It was at the Killarney retreat that May Boeve, the executive director and one of 350.org’s founders, announced that she’d hiked the organization’s annual budget to $25 million. She told staff to dream big. She revealed plans for nearly 130 new hires to make a splash at global climate strikes that September — part of an envisioned revamp to improve the organization’s diversity and equity. Everyone there was elated.
But the $25 million budget was not to be. In fact, 350.org had never achieved a $20 million budget in a single year. The result of the massive overspending was a disaster with a big round of layoffs happening later that year.
The fallout would lead to mass layoffs, departures, exhaustion, distrust and a protracted labor battle that exists to this day, according to internal documents, third-party audits and communications obtained by POLITICO — which made an attempt to contact all parties referenced in this story — in addition to interviews with 18 current and former staff members, most of whom were granted anonymity to speak candidly. The organization saw its U.S. program office fall from nearly 50 people in 2019 to nine entering this year…
“It’s like the world’s longest Irish wake,” said a former staff member, describing a sense of denial within the organization’s leadership. “It’s really been dead a long time but everybody’s standing around the coffin saying, ‘Doesn’t it look so pretty? They did such a great job with it. It looks so natural.’”
Part of the story here, according to Politico, is 350.org’s desire to show more diversity within the group. The effort to hire more people of color may have contributed to the decision to spend money the group didn’t have. And of course, laying off those same people less than a year later became a point of contention.
The need to quickly transform the staff was a crucial backdrop to Boeve’s decision to raise the organization’s budget in March 2019, as some staffers say she felt pressure to increase the number of positions in order to hire a more diverse group of organizers…
While the 2019 hiring spree had brought more workers of color to 350.org, some felt the resulting layoffs disproportionately affected those workers, too. A group of staff members wrote to 350.org’s global leadership team that implementation of November 2019 layoffs “have perpetuated many of the aspects of white supremacy culture that we are working so hard to combat.”
It’s not possible to see if the group made any real progress in diversifying because up through 2019 it didn’t really keep track of the diversity of it’s workforce. Even as recently as last year the group didn’t report the makeup of 80% of its staff.
Last month 350.org held another pipeline protest against a pipeline in Africa. Most of this video seems to involve about a dozen people.
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