By Kim Todd
At more than 40 locations throughout the country this Earth Day, Sierra Club volunteers shook hands, made small talk, offered their points of view and gathered signatures on issues from banning oil exploration in Montana's Weatherman Draw to requiring water monitoring for Alabama's animal factories. And most of them did it from behind tables.
Tabling is the quintessential grassroots activity. A stack of brochures, a banner, a card table or ironing board, a fistful of pens - with these simple tools, volunteers aim to change minds and get out their message.
The following is a glimpse at life from behind the tables:
April 17: Dickinson, N.D.
As part of a sweep of four college campuses during the week before Earth Day, Wayne Schaefer, an organizer for North Dakota, set up outside the Dickinson State University library. Faculty and students stopped by to chat and ask a variety of questions - some easy, some tough.
"A young man from a ranching family very politely asked me what the Sierra Club's position is on grazing on public lands," Schaefer recalls. He was studying ranching and wanted background on different points of view. "It was a great opportunity for me to explain the Sierra Club's position and give him accurate information. That's one of the positives of being in a community where the Sierra Club doesn't have a big presence - it's harder to demonize someone when you're interacting with them."
April 21: New Orleans, La.
Russell Butz, an organizer in Louisiana, gathered signatures on "Mayor's Earth Day" at the Farmer's Market in New Orleans, surrounded by piles of yams and artichokes, heaps of crawfish and crabs. A couple came up and requested the Sierra Club's help in halting a development threatening one of the last hardwood bottomland forests in the area. They exchanged cards and Sunday night Butz received a fax from the couple detailing the development proposal. Monday, he got in touch with a Club activist. Tuesday, the activist spoke at the New Orleans city planning and zoning commission meeting, asking the commissioners to defer a decision on the proposal. They did.
"In just a few days we were able to jump in and make a difference," says Butz.
April 21: North Kingstown, R.I.
Dick Pastore, an engineer and Club volunteer, urged shoppers at an Ames department store to sign postcards opposing a container port at Quonset Point. Though it was his first time tabling, Pastore quickly designed a strategy. "When people first see you, they think, 'I don't have time for this; I don't know who you are, and I'm sick of being asked for money,' " Pastore says. So he adopted a relaxed posture, leaning back, staying behind the table, making jokes.
Next, Pastore lined up three cards on a clipboard - one to the governor, one to a representative, one to a senator. He asked people to sign all three and fill in their address on the first one; the Club would pen in the address on the other two and drop the cards in the mail. People could see the process only took a minute, Pastore says.
Sarah Kite, organizer for Rhode Island, says that Pastore produced a hefty stack of signed postcards when the day was done. "Leave it to the engineer to come up with the perfect system," she adds.
April 21: Owensboro, Ky.
Mary Kay King was halfway into the rock-climbing harness when the college acquaintance she hadn't seen in ages came up and wanted to know about antibiotics in animal factories.
It was a slow day - wind forced tablers from the Pennyrile Group of the Cumberland (Kentucky) Chapter inside. With not much traffic, the tablers were taking turns on the climbing wall in the First Christian Church's gym.
Fortunately, King, the group's membership chair, was prepared to talk about factory farms even when slightly off guard.
"You have to come up with something that pertains to their life or an interesting fact they may not have been aware of to catch their attention," she says.
The woman seemed interested and took the pamphlet. And King? "I only got halfway up the wall, but the group chair scaled it all the way to the ceiling."
Photo (top) courtesy Dave Muhly, (middle) Jennifer Rudolph.
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