Wednesday, Oct. 2, about 50 students, faculty and community members gathered in the Jepson School of Leadership for a lecture from Sam Daley-Harris, founder of the activist group RESULTS and coach for the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL).
The lecture focused on the challenges activists face in trying to initiate positive change and the methodology Daley-Harris has coached activists at CCL since its inception six years ago. Daley-Harris examines both topics in the 20th anniversary edition of his book, “Reclaiming our Democracy,” which came out in September.
“The basic idea of the book,” Daley-Harris said, “is that most of us feel some despair about making a difference in any big issue we might care about, and that this fear is unwarranted—that people can really make a difference.”
Daley-Harris’ passion as an activist first began at his high school graduation. The death of a dear friend on graduation day, and the assassination of President Kennedy four years later at his college graduation, made him question his purpose in life, he said.
Nine years later, he attended a presentation on the Hunger Project, which again called into question what he was meant to do, he said. Daley-Harris went on to conduct an experiment in 1978 and 1979, in which he asked 7,000 high school students in Florida who their representative member of Congress was.
“Fewer than 3 percent knew the name of their member of Congress,” Daley-Harris said. “RESULTS started out of this gap between the desire to build political will and the lack of knowledge about who represents us.”
In addition to University of Richmond, Daley-Harris is taking this message to 18 other universities and several other hosts on a lecturing tour. Daley-Harris hopes his listeners will walk away inspired to tackle societal issues, he said.
Daley-Harris opened the lecture by reciting a series of quotes he finds particularly inspiring. Quoting Mark Twain and Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, Daley-Harris examined the moments in life where people feel they’ve found their purpose.
“Mark Twain said the two most important days in your life are the day you’re born, and the day you realize why,” Daley-Harris said.
To make the lecture interactive, Daley-Harris asked the audience to answer a series of questions that he brought up on the projector. The questions ranged from “What is the name of your U.S. representative?” to “Is a stable climate possible?” Daley-Harris called on audience members for answers.
Daley-Harris’ model for activist achievement includes taking a structural approach—that success as an activist flourishes within a group structure, he said.
“You have to find a group that provides a deep structure of support,” he said. “Something that can take you as a citizen out of kindergarten and into first grade, fifth grade, ninth grade, 12th grade and college, rather than where most everyone is, which is somewhere around kindergarten as a citizen.”
To illustrate this progression, Daley-Harris offered the story of Elinore Sparks, a Richmond-based activist for CCL who rose through Daley-Harris’ advocacy ranks.
In 2009, Sparks felt despair thinking about the future of our planet and hopeless about initiating change for the earth’s protection, Daley-Harris said.
“She was suffering from climate-trauma,” Daley-Harris said. “She would read Bill McKibben’s book, ‘Eaarth,’ [sic] and she would weep at home and she would weep at work. So she got involved with this one group and 18 months later she was co-leading a workshop on creating relationships with your member of Congress or the media.”
Sparks said: “Sam and RESULTS proved that this methodology worked. So I found out more about CCL, and decided to start a chapter in Richmond, and started reaching out to the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Cantor’s office.”
Anna Awimbo, program director for the Center for a New American Dream, attended the lecture and set up a table for other attendants to sign up.
The Center for a New American Dream seeks to help people improve their lives by giving them ways to reduce their carbon footprints. Some of its strategies follow the RESULTS model that Daley-Harris developed, Awimbo said.
“One of the things that we’re doing is training,” Awimbo said. “We’ve been holding conference calls and it’s really in a way following the RESULTS model, where folks get together to listen to presentations about how to run a successful team.”
The Center for a New American Dream has recently launched a new platform titled “Get Together,” that aims to help support people through networking. The initiative can be found at new.dream.org/get2gether.
The lecture was co-sponsored by the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, the Center for Civic Engagement and the University of Richmond Roosevelt Institute.
Contact reporter Clay Helms at email@example.com