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Lead Locally Keeps Fossil Fuels In The Ground

In a time when leading members of the United States government refuse to acknowledge the threats – or even the existence – of climate change, it is incumbent on us to identify, nurture, and scale solutions that will lead to real change. Without the promise of federal action on the horizon, the greatest impact can come from the local level.

Lead Locally was started by Whit Jones in 2016 as a fiscally sponsored project of Tides Advocacy. Whit was previously the campaign director for Energy Action Coalition, and had been fighting against the Keystone XL pipeline for what “felt like forever.” Then one day, he saw that a small community group in Maine had stopped a tar sands pipeline in less than six months with less than a $10,000 budget, and a lightbulb went off: Maybe we’re organizing on the wrong level.

With the support of the New World Foundation, Whit conducted in-depth field research to understand where and how fossil fuel infrastructure projects, like oil terminals and fracked gas power plants, were being planned and built. He understood that not only were decisions about projects with widespread pollution impacts being made locally by city councils and county commissions, but also the people in those communities didn’t want the projects to be built in the first place.

Instead of just building grassroots power and holding elected leaders accountable, Lead Locally would be created to get climate champions elected and take on work that goes beyond what 501(c)(3) organizations could do.

Whit had never been an executive director or run a project of this scale, but by partnering with Tides Advocacy he was able to get Lead Locally’s 501(c)(4) project up and running and partnering with three community organizations across California in under six weeks. Ben Malley, Tides Advocacy’s Political Program Manager and the advisor to Lead Locally, provided the operational expertise, coaching, community and funder connections, and guidance on legal compliance Whit needed to take on this new challenge.

“If I hadn’t found Tides Advocacy, it probably would have taken me a year instead of six weeks to get this started. Working with Ben helped me shift from being cautious about electoral organizing to feeling empowered.”

Lead Locally has already been active in almost 20 different local races across the country, directing volunteers and providing technical assistance to campaigns. Through organizing in partnership with Center for Race Poverty & Environment Action, they helped elect 22-year-old Jose Gurrola as Mayor of Arvin, CA. Gurrola has already passed new oil and gas codes requiring greater distance from homes and schools. In Benicia, CA, Lead Locally and Communities for a Better Environment Action organized thousands of voters who didn’t want oil trains putting their communities at risk, and elected champions who quickly voted to block a proposed oil train terminal.

With the support of Tides Advocacy, Lead Locally is able to engage and organize around local elections that don’t get very much attention or resources in areas where pollution impacts will be disproportionately felt by low-income communities and communities of color.

Their work is critical to the future of climate change and the environmental justice movement. The conversations they’re creating at the local level have ripple effects around the world, which is why they are now scaling what they’re doing in order to have an even greater impact in elections to come.

“The support Tides Advocacy provides is really unique. No one else offers the kind and level of support that Tides Advocacy does around c4 and electoral work.”