Green Memes

We make memes to fuel and inspire the environmental justice movement.

Meme Slinger Profile: Jodi Stark

I am pleased as punch to present this interview with Jodi Stark, a woodworking artist and a hewer of memes for some of Canada’s top environmental campaigns. I have been impressed with Jodi’s work for some time - there is a wildness to many of her visuals - something that evokes the beautiful, marvel-filled world that we are indeed trying to protect. You can recognize them in your feed after a quick while. I greatly appreciated this interview since I got to learn more about Jodi’s perspective, and what fuels her amazing and unique work.

Where are you from? Tell us about your home, and about how that place informed who you are and what you care about.

I grew up in the suburbs of Montreal.  Despite being surrounded by manicured lawns and strip malls, I was always drawn to nature and spent as much time as possible playing outside in the dirt.  My closest connection to wildlife was from Chickadee magazine.  I would cut out the pictures of animals and make collages in a scrapbook as if they were my friends.  Come to think of it, those were probably the closest things to the first ‘memes’ I ever created.  

I moved out to the mountains of the west coast when I was 18 and the best way I can describe that experience is like this:  Sometimes you’re in a room with a buzzing noise, maybe from the fridge or the lights.  You don’t notice the buzzing until the moment it stops.  And then, ahhhh…you feel a sense of relief, calm.  That’s exactly how I felt living immersed in nature for the first time, enveloped by the power and majesty of the mountains.  

It was then I committed my life’s work to environmental justice.

How I started working on ocean conservation issues is a whole other story and can be read here, on this blog Whangamata junction on Highway 25.

My understanding of the relationship between social and environmental justice and the need to pursue those hand-in-hand came most personally from my time living in El Lagartillo, a subsistence farming community in the mountains of Nicaragua - a story for another time.

How did you get involved in design and storytelling work?

I should have seen the writing on the wall that I would get involved in design work and visual storytelling when I was doing my Master’s degree.  I was studying Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University - kinda policy wonk and science stuff.  I would always get carried away with designing elaborate report covers and PowerPoint backgrounds.  Then, classmates started asking me to design stuff for them too and I was spending a significant amount of time playing on Photoshop instead of studying.

When I started working in the environmental non-profit sector, I just naturally gravitated towards communications, storytelling, social media and public engagement work.  I’m a visual person and an embarrassingly terrible reader, and knew I couldn’t be the only one.  So, I started to experiment with different ways to reach the people who wouldn’t read full books, articles, reports or even blogs - which in the age of short attention spans, is a large part of our audience.

What kind of meme-slinging do you do? Can you tell us about the different campaigns you work for, and the kind of work you do for them?

My work has been focused on ocean conservation, climate change, tar sands, pipelines and tankers.  My favourite memes are ones with a clear conversion goal, ones that are designed to get people to do something other than ‘like’ or ‘share’ — sign an online action, attend an event or rally, donate to a crowdfunding project, read a blog or change a behaviour.  

I work independently with lots of environmental groups in Canada, but my main gig is with the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF).  While David Suzuki isn’t well-known in the US, he’s actually an environmental celebrity in Canada.  Yes, an environmental celebrity!  He’s been the host of The Nature of Things, a nature show our national broadcaster for 35 years, and has earned the trust and admiration of most Canadians.  Working with the David Suzuki Foundation social media audience is a real treat because they’re engaged and passionate and because of that trust that already exists, which is very unique in the social media world.

My work with DSF goes beyond meme slinging.  I do public engagement work where there is a focus on moving people from more superficial ways of being involved (like liking and sharing memes on social media) to deeper levels of engagement (like volunteering, writing letters to the editor, and holding events in their communities).  

In Canada, (like in the US), there are a number of oil and mining spills and other environmental catastrophes which happen fairly regularly. Can you talk about the process of a designer and meme maker that goes into rapid response efforts for an environmental crisis?

Responding to an environmental crisis requires finding the right balance between timeliness and accuracy.  It’s important to get the word out and people informed as early as possible, but often early stages of reporting can involve inaccuracies and sensationalism.  Also, it’s really important to be sensitive to the local context - the people, places, cultures most directly affected.

So, as a meme maker for rapid response, I think it’s smart to keep the graphic as straightforward as possible and leave much of the context in the description which then can be edited as the story progresses and better links to further information or action become available.

The most recent example of rapid response I was involved with was a spill from a gold and copper mine in my home province of British Columbia.  With southern B.C.’s last big run of sockeye salmon starting to swim upriver to spawn, there was a lot at stake.  And so there was a lot of fear, anger, frustration and confusion about this.

At the David Suzuki Foundation, we knew that there would be many unanswered questions and a rapidly changing information landscape.  But, we also knew that there were some overarching enduring messages about environmental deregulation and some immediate demands that we wanted to put to the provincial government.  So, our response visually juxtaposed the valuable resources at risk (salmon and water) with the toxic sludge from the spill.  And, most importantly, we put together a fast online action people could take to send a message to the government.  
This is an ongoing issue in B.C. and it might be years before we know the full extent of the damage.  

Please consider signing the action and send your best wishes to those salmon — their survival and health are critical to the health of our oceans, forests, communities and cultures.  

You are very active as an artist - especially as a hewer and sculptor of wood. Can you tell us more about the art of wood work and what pulls you to it?

I’m so happy you asked this question.  Woodworking has become an important part of my life and has been an immensely fulfilling complement to the activist work that I do.  It’s meditative, mathematical, precise and requires focus - something I struggle with while working on a computer.  I just absolutely love how the work is tactile and tangible. A signature from a politician can’t undo the work that I do in the woodworking shop.

I work mainly with driftwood and reclaimed wood, and giving new life to old materials is part of the draw for me.  I also work as part of a collective of people who build, fix, invent, reinvent, upcycle and tinker.  I believe that being part of the emerging sharing economy in Vancouver is an important part of social and environmental change (*The Story of Solutions describes this well).  It’s immensely empowering to be taking actions within my community to create a sustainable economy that skirts around existing power structures and therefore undermines them.

What is one tangible activity you engage in to deal with the burn out? Tell us about it!

This is easy.  There are 2 things that help me prevent burnout.  Firstly, spending time in nature very regularly (at least once or twice a week, even in the winter) keeps me sane, grounded and healthy and acts as my reset button. Secondly, I’ve come to learn that I’m not cut out for a 5 day work week, sitting at a computer (I don’t think anyone really is).  So, after some years of working crazy hours (sometimes into the wee hours of morning), I’ve now limited myself to ¾ time environmental work and ¼ time woodworking.  This balance and diversity of work (mentally, emotionally and physically) for me is much more sustainable in the long run and will ensure that I’m in this for the long haul.  Cuz let’s face it, this isn’t going to happen over night.

How can folks find you via facebook, twitter, instagram, your website, etc?

Check out 3 recent examples of Jodi Stark’s meme designs below:

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As we awaited a decision from the Canadian government about whether they would approve the highly controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline, I created this graphic to drive traffic to an online action to urge government not to approve the pipeline.

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When I first heard about this case against the tar sands, I realized that it was an important story to tell in Canada.  DeSmog Canada did such a stellar job translating the complicated legal jargon into a story of relevance for anyone interested in aboriginal rights as well as tar sands development and climate change.  It’s stories like these I love driving traffic to. (Link to original meme.) 

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I believe it’s really important to break the commonly held misconception that we need to choose between environment and economy.  Of course, that’s rubbish and it’s why I was pleased to create this graphic.


Thank you Jodi for this great interview! This interview is a part of a series of profiles of meme slingers from different outposts within environmental and social justice movements. You can check out more profiles on GreenMemes and on WearePowerShift!

Meme Slinger Profile: Dana Kuhnline

Originally posted on HuffingtonPost.com

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We are very excited about our latest meme slinger profile - an interview with Dana Kuhnline, a 9-year activist in the fight against mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Dana is currently the media coordinator at the Alliance for Appalachia - and is in charge of running the social media efforts for the biggest coalition in the region. We chatted about Dana’s background, stories from organizing in coal country, and lessons from recruiting stories in a place that is rich in storytellers.

Also: get ready for Dana’s sneak preview of the Alliance for Appalachia’s next major event in DC - “Our Water, Our Future" (Sep 8-9th) - You should come!

Where did you grow up? What did your backyard look like?
I grew up near the Mississippi river in the rural midwest, with corn and soy growing to the horizon, in a conservative family that loves coal. I read a lot of books and built a lot of forts out of cornstalks.

What was a moment from growing up—a particular moment or experience— that sticks out as one that helped take you down the path of coming after justice? 

I have family members with physical disabilities. Seeing them being treated unfairly because of being differently abled as well as low income was just part of everyday life. From not receiving proper health care to just stupid stuff, all the time, like my brother not getting a basketball during gym class because they were worried about insurance liability. So we bought him one ourselves for him to play with in gym class. Shame on them.

It was clear to me at a young age that most ‘authorities’ are lazy and won’t help people unless they are forced or shamed into doing the right thing. The other thing I learned early about justice is that you really have to pick your battles when your whole life is a battle ground. I think people in privilege judge marginalized people for “putting up” with certain injustices (i.e. “I would NEVER let that happen in my community!”), but if you have a life to live and a family to love, you are going to have to let some things go. I think there’s dignity in that choice and respecting people’s choices NOT to act sometimes - not to downplay the healing power of collective action!

You spent a number of years in West Virginia and elsewhere in Appalachia and working to build the movement against mountaintop removal coal mining in the heart of coal country. Tell us about a moment working in West Virginia. Specifically, tell us about a moment when you felt like you were totally out of hope. What happened?

A single moment? An obvious choice was a tense public hearing in 2009 that had a huge pro-coal mob outside (the Army Corps Nationwide 21 Permit Hearing). I had to go through the mob (to get my car keys) and got shoved and hit by a woman HOLDING A BABY - she shoved me WITH THE BABY. I was just so flabbergasted, all the fear left me. How do you move forward as a community from a level of fear and desperation so intense that people are physically using babies as weapons? When the main reason I got involved in fighting mountaintop removal was to protect children’s health. And I don’t want people to judge this woman; she was put in a terrible position and did something terrible — that is what oppression does to us all sometimes. I tell the story to point out the system that very deliberately created this situation.

Also I was dressed up very nice in a suit, but wore a button that gave me away as a tree-hugger, and everyone kept telling me to wash my hair, take a bath, etc. My hair looked very clean, but that’s not the point, it was just, people didn’t see me at all, but the lie they were told, that I was the dangerous one, and that was more comfortable than the truth - that coal is just running out. Whether or not I wash my hair ever again, we have to transition the Appalachian economy.

You asked about hope. To be honest, hope isn’t something I fuss about. To me, whether we win or lose (and we will do both) my priority is to do that with dignity.

The Alliance for Appalachia is getting ready for its big annual mobilization in DC - with a focus on protecting water. What inspired this event, and what should we expect to see in DC?

Yes! Thanks for asking! Water is such a big issue in Appalachia - it’s a temperate rainforest, but people struggle for access to water! People have been dealing with poisoned water for DECADES, and the health issues and family struggles are too heartbreaking to put words to. But, people are resilient and have so much power in the region. We want to build a sustainable future beyond coal, and there are so many brilliant people with the skills to do that. But in some communities, 25% percent of the land and literally thousands of miles of streams have been destroyed by coal mining. That’s a big toxic hurdle that needs dealt with. So we need the coal companies to first stop destroying the land and then take some responsibility to clean up their mess as we move forward.

The Our Water, Our Future event is making that link between environment, health, and building a healthy Appalachian future that can weather the storms of climate change.

Of course we have a number of very specific policy asks for the EPA and the Obama administration to take some basic, LONG overdue steps to protect Appalachian water. It’s very, very wonky, and very, very savvy and completely led by community experts who know what changes they need to protect their land. I swear, the grannies in our movement know way more about wonky mining policy than any EPA staffer!

What’s one way you’re most excited to be using social media or meme slinging to get out the word in the lead up the “Our Water, Our Future” action?

In the lead up, the focus of our memes in building up for this action are how important water is to Appalachian culture and making connections to people across the US who are also struggling for access to clean water, from Detroit to droughts in California.

Our question was, “Why do you fight for water?” and the photo responses people have gifted us with are so personal and powerful to me.

Over the last few weeks and months, you’ve done an exceptional job profiling Appalachians and their connections to water. Appalachians, from my experience, hold some of the most powerful unique voices in our movement, but also are some of the most humble, and perhaps reticent to be in the spotlight. What’s your secret (or 2-3 secrets) for recruiting folks and convincing them (so to speak) to be spotlighted through social media and memes?

First, it is a big risk to speak out and let your image be used if you are living in an area where industry is causing fear and intimidation. So I like to offer people to be anonymous or just use their first name. To me, the point is the story, not their last name.

After that, I try to be clear what the point of the interview is, how the image will be used, and how I think it will help the work move forward, so they are an equal and informed partner in the process.

And a third tip is, it’s hard to get people to move out of soundbites, so you have to really work on your questions! But I’m aware too that it’s exhausting and can feel exploitative to expose your personal - yet political - trauma every damn day to privileged strangers, so I don’t push too hard. I try to find a balance where people can speak from a place that is personal and shows their strength and resiliency. Generally that starts with questions about kids. :)

We have a number of powerful storytellers in Appalachia who are from here (indeed we have whole magazines like Oxford American dedicated to our bards), although in the environmental movement in the region, sometimes it feels like we don’t have enough social media wired storytellers, or they are more transient, or the work is delegated to interns (with a number of exceptions, like yourself, Dustin White at OVEC, and like whoever is rocking out at AppVoices). How do you feel about this assessment? How do you think we can recruit more Appalachian social media storytellers? What are some ideas you may have bubbling or that come to mind for sparking and training the next generation?

Storytelling is an amazing part of Appalachian culture! If you haven’t been to a Liars Competition you are sure missing out! But part of many of the best tales is the slow build, audience interaction, a rooted sense of place and a strong family and heritage context - and that’s a lot to fit in a meme. My guess is many cultures with a strong oral tradition don’t “meme” very naturally. In a more rural setting, you have more time to talk and you take more time to say things, and say them the way you mean it, if you will. To be clear, I’m not from Appalachia and don’t want to speak for the region, but that’s my own experience living there.

As far as getting new people telling stories through memes? I think encouraging people to take time to say something and then listening to them say it is a pretty big start. That’s a lot harder than it sounds though. I mean, really, it’s the hardest thing in our fast paced activist culture. We’re like, “Do you know how to do this? Who cares just DO IT IN FIVE MINUTES THE ACTION ALREADY STARTED!” Ha! It’s not a great way to authentically integrate in new leadership that respects an individual’s cultural strengths. I’m as guilty of it as the next person, but it’s something I’m trying to be more aware of.

I don’t quite mean to box you in a social media maven - you wear many other wonderful hats too! You also are an Arts Trainer and have led or co-led the arts training teams at Greenpeace’s revitalized Direct Action Training Camps. Can you talk about what draws you to art and why you think our movement needs to embrace art and creativity more? Do you mind sharing what specific activist art mediums you especially love training folks in?

I like anything accessible and cheap that tells a story. I especially like action visuals that lift up the voices we don’t normally hear from. I love working with cardboard and DIY stencils and screenprinting because it’s SO CHEAP and accessible. I don’t use a lot of tools for action visuals that cost more than $5.

That’s one thing that draws me to it - action arts can be accessible across many boundaries, and they are way to get our message out; to share our vision. But don’t take my word for it, ask any 5 year old why the arts are important. Kids get it.

I come from a craft background, not at all a fine art background. Crafts were accessible and fun and something you did with your grandma. And I think of action visuals as more of a community craft as well - some people do take to it more naturally, but it is a community project and should be inclusive. If only because that banner hanging over the rally is speaking for everyone standing under it. That’s a lot of responsibility.

How do you see the connection to the more tangible art world where you can cut and paint and mush things with your hands and get all messy to the world of digital arts - where the keyboard & mouse are more your tools? What can one learn from the other?

Well, in an ideal situation building art together builds our community. Physical arts can do that by creating awesome spaces where people work together. But the reality many crafters and artists will tell you is that there are many, many miserable lonesome moments at 5 am where you’re by yourself with the duct tape and a broken puppet, and then you realize the puppet won’t even fit in the car to go to the rally with or it doesn’t show up in any of the pictures…

The same with on-line visuals - they can be lonely and alienating, since you’re almost always working alone and then most people are just sitting alone at home looking at them, right? But at their best they inspire people and make us feel like we’re all a part of something bigger than ourselves that is powerful and winning.

And I always say in my workshops, when you make physical art, you are also making it for the internet. Yes, the 50 (or 50,000) people at your rally need it, but it lives forever on-line. BUT ONLY IF YOU GET A DECENT PICTURE. I can’t say that enough! I wish there was a bigger caps lock for me to communicate that in so it would really be clear :) Maybe I should make a meme that says GET DECENT PICTURE FOR INTERNETS…

You mention in your Waging NonViolence bio that you like great jokes. You got one for us? ;-)

Emmy Lou Harris told this one at a concert: "Penguin walks into a bar and says, Have you seen my brother?" Bartender says, "I dunno, what does he look like?"

Check out 3 examples of Dana Kuhnline’s Alliance for Appalachia Memes below:

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Donna Branham from West Virginia shows the destruction done to her home in Mingo County, WV.

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This collage in particular was interesting. I’ve been a part of the fight to end mountaintop removal for about 9 years - and I wanted to create a call to action that included pictures from years of actions in DC for our upcoming DC action.

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I like memes with kids. Not just because kids are cute and emotionally manipulative either! Kids are smart and get truths and injustice in a way that adults are too jaded to see and admit. I always say, have faith like a child when grown-ups try to complicate issues: “This is wrong, we have to stop it, so we will just find a way.” Plus if we don’t get it together these kids are going to clean up the mess, so of course they should get an opinion.


Well, that concludes Dana’s amazing interview!

Looking for more interviews with environmental organizers who are using the power of stories and social media to create real community change? Check out past profiles on GreenMemes and on WearePowerShift!

Meme Slinger Profile: Rachel Dearborn

Cross-Posted from MobilisationLab.org.

I’ve heard amazing things about the work of Rachel Dearborn and the Upwell team for a couple years now - so I was really excited that we got to do this interview. Upwell is quite an unprecedented group- they use the power of social media to link, lift, and network weave the ocean advocacy movement (warmly dubbed “Team Ocean”). Read on to learn more. 


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Where did you grow up? If you drew a picture of your home, what 5 (possibly fictional) colors would you use?

I grew up in Santa Monica, in a house 4 blocks from the beach that my maternal grandfather (Opa) bought before my mom was born. I’m one of those rare 3rd generation LA natives. The colors of home:

  1. Weathered brown, for the peeling paint on our decaying craftsman home.
  2. Desert green of the 20 foot cactus growing in our front yard (that aforementioned Opa planted when I was wee).
  3. Vibrant red of the bottlebrush flowers that would scatter over our cars when they were parked out front.
  4. Ocean mist blue, the early morning faded color of sky during 6 am walks with the dog.
  5. And, last but not least, meyer lemon, for the overburdened lemon tree in our yard that provided more than enough sweet lemons for our whole neighborhood.

Give us a break down of your average day at Upwell. What are the key moments of a typical day? What tools do you use, who’s there, how’s the coffee?

I get in between 9 and 9:30 and it’s tabs tabs tabs. I’m opening up links from google alerts (I’ve got as-they-happen alerts set up for whales, sharks, ocean acidification, overfishing, sustainable seafood, and marine protected areas – it makes for a lot of email). I’m scanning my “Oceans!” twitter list (which, at 500 members, is a real firehose for ocean content). I’m curating my Oceans Trove. I’m checking my oceans feed on Crowdtangle. I’m looking at the Upwell Facebook feed. I’m opening up a tab for anything and everything that seems interesting, and sticking the best of it all in the Upwell Firehose on Tumblr.

By about 11 am, I feel like I’ve read the Internet (or at least the oceany slice of it). Hopefully by then I’ve also had at least 2 cups of coffee.

Then I meet with whomever’s here – Andrew David Thaler, our Tide Report writer, and sometimes Racheland/or Matt, and we figure out what’s worth campaigning on (here’s how we choose). What can we amplify? Then I spend the rest of the day figuring out how to do that - maybe it’s making a graphic or meme, pitching a journalist, rewriting the story for Buzzfeed, or whatever. We take juicy stories and make sure they’re packaged just right to be shared. We quickly write our Tide Report, which goes out to around 1,300 online communicators who then amplify to their networks.

I also spend a lot of my time on “network maintenance,” which is really just a fancy way of saying “taking care of Team Ocean” – giving spot counsel to orgs or advocates who want feedback on campaign content, or responding to tips sent to us (tips@upwell.us).

If I’m lucky, Rachel Weidinger, our fearless leader, will make lunch for the team out of the delicious produce that arrives in our Farm Fresh to You box. I take a picture and post it on Instagram, usually with the hashtag #winning or #lovemyjob.

But really, there is no typical day. Sometimes I’m running a Sharkinar. Sometimes we’re deep in a research project and I’m sifting through data from Topsy Pro or Radian6, trying to read the tea leaves and predict the tides of an issue-based conversation. Regardless of the day, however, I’m pretty likely to mix metaphors.

Can you talk about one stand-out example of how you’ve helped network weave the ocean movement? What piece of advice would you share for big-issue network weavers?

For every “Big Blue” group there’s a hundred little blues and individual voices for the ocean. We look at everyone – from organizations like Ocean Conservancy to research institutions like Scripps Institution of Oceanography to media properties like The Cove movie or The Dodo blog to individual scientists and advocates like David Shiffman (@whysharksmatter) to governmental agencies like NOAA – as part of one big team.

Team Ocean isn’t just for ocean conservationists, it’s for anyone who loves the ocean, so it’s inclusive of people who are fighting against pollution or working on climate issues. We preach a wide movement lens and practice inclusivity with near religious fervor. We promote unbranded content. We give away content we create for free. We give away our data analysis. Our funders make this possible by embracing our model of movement level metrics. We don’t report on mentions of Upwell – we report on mentions of ocean acidification or overfishing.

We can tell everyone in Team Ocean that if it’s good, we’ll help amplify it. We’ve worked hard to build trust in the tight-knit and competitive parts of the movement, and show the benefit of working as a movement. Our efforts around Shark Week (now in their third year) are a great example of this. On our Sharkinar, we get people from all corners of Team Ocean sharing their campaign plans and giving each other tips on how to effectively communicate science and conservation during Shark Week. There’s more participation, more sharing, more volume, and more high quality content coming out of Team Ocean than there was during Shark Week 2011. We’ve come a long way.

What digital organizing boundaries are you excited to push next? Said differently, what’s an innovative approach to online organizing or storytelling your want to explore in the near future?

I did a little happy dance when I saw Ocean Conservancy live-tweeting Sharknado 2: The Second One the other day. Upwell helped make that happen. Big orgs wouldn’t have touched that movie with a ten foot pole as recently as a few years ago but we’ve helped show (through data!) that the Internet has a life of its own. If you want to make change, inspire people, and increase attention to what matters to you, you have to find people where they are. I’ve been trying to push everyone’s boundaries for two years in this job. I think I might take a little break from it, and see where Team Ocean goes next. Our model is one of those “let’s do our job so well that we’re rendered irrelevant” ones.

Or maybe I just have a secret project I’m not telling you about. Mwa ha ha.

Can you give us a glimpse into your ocean love story? How did you fall in love with the oceans and her amazing creatures. Take us back to a moment when you started to feel drawn to the world of sharks, or another creature of the deep?

I guess it starts with ocean camp when I was a kid. I spent my summers getting carted up to Zuma beach in the early mornings to spend all day surfing, boogie boarding, snorkeling, and cavorting in the sand (horrible, I know). But, surprisingly, I think that experience inspired fear more than love. I remember getting tossed in waves, throat burning from swallowing sea water, and feeling seasick on the boat that took us out to snorkel. I remember sand crabs tickling my toes and making me jump around as I tried to enter the water. But despite my (healthy) reticence, I did form a bond with the water, which continued when I learned to sail and rowed competitively in high school and college.

I started to really learn about the ocean in my first job out of college, when I was working at a nonprofit communications firm and was put on a sustainable seafood project. I became fascinated with the complexity of the issue, and realized that the more I learned about the ocean, the more I realized how little I knew.

I fell in love with sharks slowly – we didn’t rush things. I remember, as a kid, telling my friends they didn’t need to be scared of sharks. I always felt a little tinge of hurt that they got such a bad rap. As I started to build my career around ocean conservation, I fell deep into the story of sharks, and humans’ relationship with them. They are an apex predator and also an apex conservation story. A gorgeous creature that is evolution incarnate, captivating hearts and minds, inspiring fear, awe and a kind of primordial fandom, and yet being reduced to catastrophically low population levels due to human greed.

hammerhead tattoos

I volunteered as a mentor with the Tatzoo project a couple years ago and decided to join the fellows in getting my favorite endangered animal – the scalloped hammerhead shark – tattooed on me as a symbol of my commitment to conservation and as a way to symbolically help preserve the species into the future. Now I have this incredible piece of art on me that is just about the best conversation starter – I’ve gotten to tell so many people their story.

What first got you interested in the world of using social media and digital organizing? How’d you end up rocking a computer to save the oceans? Why do you stick with it?

I made my first website when I was 14. I was one of those kids who wrote far too much about themselves online (livejournal teen angst FTW). I was that person who had Napster first and taught everyone what it did and how to use it. In college I worked at the computer help desk. My rowing teammates would call me even when I wasn’t working, and I could tell by their tone – “Rach-o?” – that it was a computer problem. “My mac just turned off and I don’t know why. Help meeee?”

I’ve always spent too much time on my computer, trying to read all of the internet and figuring out better ways to do things when things didn’t work right. When I was a sophomore in college I made a sign-up and donation website for a walk to end homelessness in Rhode Island when I was dismayed by their paper-dependent sign-up process, and that’s when the world of do-gooder internetting opened up to me. At the end of the day, I’m just a huge nerd that’s at home on the internet, and oh, also wants to save the planet.

How can folks find and connect with you in the social media universe?

Can you share three examples of Upwell memes you are most proud of?


We saw a scientific paper come out that talked about the potential effects of shutting down the entire high seas to fishing. We felt like the research results were super significant, but not packaged quite right. The biggest findings were buried in a long PDF, so we distilled it to an image that would inspire and surprise people.


In June of this year, the EPA set a new mandate to reduce emissions 30% by 2030. We shared this image with our network, and several of the organizations in Team Ocean shared it. Often, ocean organizations don’t talk about climate policy, and it’s because they’ve historically wanted to distance themselves from a polarized debate. We wanted to create an image that links to carbon emissions but introduces information about the ocean that’s new to people in a simplified way.


This is one of my favorites, and one we’ve used year after year. One of the biggest challenges we face in shark conservation is the legacy of Jaws. We wanted to overcome the fear associated with the oceans’ apex predators, and share a story of someone who had interacted directly with a shark, and still respects and wants to protect the animal. We shared this image a lot on Twitter during Shark Week’s annual “I Escaped Jaws” special.


Looking for more Meme Slinger Interviews? Check out earlier interviews with people who are using the power of stories and social media to create real community change - on GreenMemes and on WearePowerShift

Meme Slinger Profile: Jessica Lee

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First, I just wanna say: this meme slinger profile featuring Jessica Lee is BAD ASS. Check it out. Jessica leads the social media coordination in Utah for much of the work against tar sands, pipelines and refineries, and solidarity with Indigenous leaders, and also amplifies the local work against deportations. Utah climate justice organizers are known for pushing our whole movement forward, in terms of escalation, and more and more in terms of intersectionality and anti-oppression - connecting the dots of injustice and learning to lead from behind the frontlines. Jessica’s interview (and work), for me, is the real embodiment of this push, and of powerful leadership by example. 

Where are you based and how did you get there?

I’m currently based out of both Salt Lake City, Utah, because it’s home, and PR Springs, Utah, because it’s where my emergency heart lives.

What campaigns are you working on right now - what are you trying to accomplish?  

I’m incredibly lucky to be organizing with Peaceful Uprising, and also the Utah Tar Sands Resistance, as part of a coalition of communities working hard to stop tar sands and oil shale strip-mining projects in the Colorado Plateau area, specifically the Book Cliffs in so-called Eastern Utah. 32,000 acres of public lands now managed by a Utah agency, but which were traditionally Ute land, and which sit next to the Ute Ouray Reservation, have been leased to a Canadian company called US Oil Sands. This year, they started construction on one of the first tar sands mines in the U.S., with other tar sands projects also threatening Colorado, Wyoming, and Alabama. More tar sands and oil shale strip-mines are in the works in the Book Cliffs, as well as fracking wells, pipelines, an oil refinery, a nuclear power plant, and a two-line highway which will cut through beautiful wilderness, all of which will devastate the land, air, water, and people of the region, and would effectively turn the region into a sacrifice zone.

Tar sands would be brought by truck, rail, or pipeline to be refined in one of the five oil refineries in or near Salt Lake City. The racial dynamics in Salt Lake are very clear: the east side is predominantly white, and the west side is mainly comprised of communities of color. All of the oil refineries are located on the west side, and the refinery pollution (including pollution from Alberta tar sands already being refined there) is a major contributor to the horrific air quality here, air quality that has been the worst in the nation for several years, and which physicians have called a human health crisis—one that affects those living in the shadows of the refineries first, longest, and hardest.

My work includes not only stopping these extraction and refining projects from taking place, but also addressing the blatant environmental racism being enacted by the state.

What is it about the promise of social media and storytelling that excites you? What’s your greatest hope for using social media to support climate justice in Utah & beyond?

Climate Justice is all about working at the intersections of environmental degradation, and the oppressions and inequalities perpetuated by racism, patriarchy, and capitalism. What social media provides are places and platforms for traditionally marginalized voices, such as those of women, people of color, LGBTQ, and the disabled (namely those most harmed by inequalities), to speak their truth. Often we wait for someone else, a celebrity, the mainstream media, a politician, to give our story credibility, to speak out about injustices and oppressions, and yet instead our stories are pushed aside, ignored, and our voices silenced or co-opted. Social media allows us to create our own credibility, and to tell the stories that need to be told to those who most need to hear them. One of the most powerful things about social media is that by creating and promoting our own narratives, we are able to force those who wish us silenced to pay attention. I truly believe it is because of social media that we are now forced to pay attention and talk about indigenous sovereignty and resistance, about rape culture, about immigration, about tar sands, and numerous other issues that society at large would rather have remained invisible. Social media provides us with a lot of power, including the ability to connect our numerous communities and struggles, and grow into powerful movements. That being said, those in power are aware of this power and seek to use our most useful tools against us, so it’s often a fine line between speaking your truth and putting yourself at risk.

OK, so we’re calling this a “meme slinger profile” - but do you see yourself as more of a community organizer who can sling memes, or more as a meme slinger who can organize their community? How do YOU keep from being put into the “digital box” that many online organizers get put into?

I see myself first and foremost as as organizer, one who just happens to use social media as a tool in their organizing. Honestly, I fell into doing social media out of necessity, simply because I saw the need in campaigns I was working on, and taught myself the skills so that my work would be more effective. There are some very powerful things that can happen in an online forum, and yet we’re losing sight of the fact that Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other platforms are simply tools we use in our work. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many shares, likes, or re-tweets you get. What matters is if the mine gets shut down, if the deportation is stopped, if justice is found. I try not to get too caught up in the interwebs unless I need to, and I participate in a lot of the other tasks and support roles that are needed to run an effective campaign.

Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Peaceful Uprising both do an wonderful job at weaving in connected struggles into their climate justice narrative - like immigrant justice and supporting Los Canales. What advice would you give to fellow climate storytellers—especially those who came up through the environmental ranks—for incorporating the other facets of climate justice into their social media work?

The quick answer is that I can’t sit by and do nothing while my friends are being deported. They’re my friends, and I would do everything I can to keep them from harm. But I also think it’s deeper and more complex than that. Often times campaigns and organizations get very caught up in their immediate goals, and refuse to “dilute” or “pollute” their messaging by addressing intersecting issues. These same groups will often recreate the very systems we’re supposed to be fighting, such as racism, or sexism, by excluding frontline communities, or only allowing them to participate in very exploitative and tokenizing ways.

Our work should not, and cannot, be one-sided. Climate Justice is not about the conservation of land or the protection of wilderness. It is about how those things intersect with justice for those most impacted by degradation and inequality. Does a community being ripped apart by deportations have the resources to fight an oil refinery or a strip-mine? And if we in the climate movement do succeed in shutting down that oil refinery, but the community surrounded it has disappeared, or is suffering, is that really a success? Would we in the climate movement even have any hope of shutting down the refinery without the community’s involvement? The most powerful resistance comes from those who most suffer from oppressions, and if we have any hope of moving forward and surviving as a movement, or even a civilization, those are the folks we need to start taking leadership from, and do all we can to support.

Can you tell us a little bit about your process for when you sit down and make memes? What are a few of your favorite tools — both virtual and real? (i.e. - Do you sketch first on paper, and then bring to life in PicMonkey? - the more behind the scenes you can be, the better!)

I’m very lucky to have worked with some extraordinarily talented photographers and videographers over the last few years who have created some amazing images that I get to work with. Once I have an action to promote, or an article, and I have an image to start with, I’ll do a lot of brainstorming, experimenting, and adjusting as I go. I’ll usually use PicMonkey when I have internet access, and GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program—an open-source program available for free online) when I don’t. I really believe in social media being free and accessible to everyone, and I use, and train folks to use, tools that reflect that.

What are some things you get up to when you’re not busy meme-slinging?

Writing. Reading (a lot). Cooking. Cuddling with my cat. Holding my community. Surviving. Attempting to travel through time and space.

How can folks find you via facebook, twitter, instagram, etc?

  • Facebook: Private (sorry!)
  • Twitter: @ninsiana0

Some recent examples of Jessica Lee’s work:

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  • Education campaign on the proposed Uinta Express Pipeline, which would take waxy yellow and black crude from the Uinta Basin to the Salt Lake City oil refineries.

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  • Women of Action Against Violent Extraction (WAAVE) stop a bulldozer and shut down initial work at the site of US Oil Sands’ processing plant. 

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  • Los Canales: Fighting for Life in the Sewers of Tijuana 

Make sure to follow Peaceful Uprising and Utah Tar Sands Resistance to keep in touch with Jessica’s work, and click here for more meme slinger profiles (we’re up to 6 so far!).

Meme Slinger Profile: Brandon Hill

We’re continuing the Meme Slinger Profile series - and I’m very excited to present this interview with Brandon Hill. I met Brandon through Mountain Justice events in Appalachia, and we both hold dear connections to Vermont. Brandon currently lives among the most beautiful landscapes of Alaska, lending a key hand to stopping a wave of proposed coal strip mining there. Brandon is also a “Pollinator” with the Beehive Collective, bringing a rich perspective to making our movement look beautiful. 

(Editor’s Plug: Check out Brandon’s Kickstarter project happening right now to make short films about the threats of mega-dams in Borneo.)


Where would you say you spent your most formative years in life?

I grew up in Maine and will always be connected to that coastline and my family there. Home can be relative but I’m often able to find it wherever the loon calls or where waves break on basalt. Some of my most cherished formative years were with my mentors and peers in the grand Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, leaning into the anatomy of flora and the ecology of boreal and alpine landscapes.

What kind of work are you up to in Alaska? What kind of odds are you up against? Can you paint a brief picture of the struggle or situation there?

Alaska holds ⅛ of the world’s coal and has been targeted as the next large coal export state. With the effects of climate change run rampant and the burning of coal clearly identified as the largest contributor to CO2 emissions globally, it is imperative that we prevent the egregious exploitation of Alaska’s wild places for coal strip mines. Combined with blatantly corrupt politics as usual, including revolving doors between big oil, mining interests and government, we have an exceptionally dirty fight on our hands.

I work on power-building campaigns that support community and indigenous resistance to proposed coal strip mines. Largely for me that looks like digital organizing with e-mail and social media campaigns that hope to engage people online and move them offline, into volunteer events, organizing spaces and direct action opportunities.

What is it about the promise of social media and storytelling that excites you? What’s your greatest hope when it comes to utilizing social media—especially your hopes as they relate to the fights you’re in?

Storytelling is the foundation of our human-ness. It’s how we’ve built and shared traditions, religions, cultures and relationships with each other. Social media appears to be a tool in our most recent iteration of this culture in which we can use elements of storytelling in snapshots to hook and engage our audiences. Social media allows for us to begin the story, and for the audience to join us in it.

You are a member of the Beehive Design Collective. How has that work—the eye for detail, the intense listening and research, the anthropomorphism, or other facets - influenced your approach creating movement designs and memes?

There is a complete web of ways that the artists and educators of the collective have inspired my life and work. The use of plants and animals as characters in the stories remind us of the interconnectedness of our human struggles. That we are indeed a part of an enormous ecology in which we can find patterns, relationships, and cute metaphors with rabbits. Our brains are built to make comparisons, and I think it helps us to understand complex issues when we can get creative and visual about the tough stuff.

Designers and social media creators often get put into a “techno-box” - assigned to a kind of all-things-internet role, and sometimes are steered away from the action or other leadership roles. How do you push back against getting put into this box, and how do you define yourself as a movement contributor?  

I’m also pretty good at plugging in projectors. Or so they say.

This is a great question and I think applies to any skill set. How we identify ourselves and how we challenge ourselves. I know that typically I’m recognized as the guy with the camera, or the one clicking buttons on my computer machine - but I also make sure to participate in visioning conversations and jump into mentoring roles. For me, it’s being an understanding, empathetic and enthusiastic friend and team mate that comes first.

What’s a favorite recent campaign you worked on, and how did memes, social media, and/or storytelling play a powerful role?

In the last legislative session our foolish Governor introduced a House Bill that would have effectively removed the rights of citizens to participate in the permitting for extractive resource development.  We used social media and e-mail campaigns in tandem with field organizing to mobilize thousands of comments into the offices of our representatives. We re-branded the bill as the “Silencing Alaskans Act” and used infographics and memes to spread the word and engage Alaskans on an issue that would have otherwise flown under the radar. The bill stalled out in committee because of the overwhelming opposition. Huzzah!

Can you give us a glimpse into your process? What are a few of your favorite meme-slinging tools and do you use any unique tools to get prepped? What are the tools, apps, or steampunk charms you couldn’t do without?

I couldn’t do without Adobe Illustrator. I use it almost exclusively for every bit of digital design that I do and have probably only breached a fraction of the creative potential it offers. Vectors, vectors, vectors!

On some level, you could be seen as an artist turned meme-slinger. Someone who was first proficient in pen and ink, who now can whip things up in Photoshop or what have you. In any event, What advice would you give to meme-slingers who came at this work from a non-artist background per say, but want to hone and develop their artistic skills?

My advice is, don’t be afraid to copy somebody else’s style or imitate an image you like. All art is born from inspiration and borrowed ideas. I like to look through magazines and critique advertisement layouts and design. I try to identify the elements of designs I like and then replicate them. Over time my borrowed idea transforms into something of my own.

How can folks find you via facebook, twitter, instagram, etc.?

Some recent examples of Brandon Hill’s work:

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  • The top photo is of the Matanuska Valley in Palmer, AK where we are facing 20,000 acres of proposed open pit coal mines.

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  • This is one infographic that i created for a presentation about PacRim Coal’s proposal to mine through salmon streams on the Chuitna River near the native village of Tyonek, AK. This project would set a dangerous precedent and could start a domino effect of permitting for coal mines and collapse of salmon populations.

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  • This is another slide from a presentation to visualize how much coal is in Alaska.

Check out more Meme Slinger profiles here and check out Brandon’s latest Kickstarter project to support a video series about proposed Mega-Dams in Borneo.

Meme Slinger Profile: Nick Katkevich

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As part of the continuing Meme Slinger Profile Series we’ve been doing, I am truly delighted to have a chance to spotlight my friend and colleague Nick Katkevich. Nick’s work has been instrumental in lifting up much of the grassroots climate justice and anti-fracking movements over the last couple years - work that by its selfless nature often goes very unsung. In this interview, I’m especially grateful for Nick’s thoughts on why the fracked gas fight is so critical, why and when memes matter, and advice for staying outside ‘the social media box.’  

Where’s your home-home, and where you do you call home now? 

I’m originally from Bristol, Rhode Island - a town founded on land that was stolen from the Wampanoag’s through violent force. I currently reside in Providence.

What are the campaigns and all-out efforts for a brighter future that you’re working on right now? What’s going down in your home place of Rhode Island?

There are a lot of things happening. In Massachusetts with Mothers Out Front, we’re pressuring the Governor to sign an executive order that would ban any new fossil fuel infrastructure in the State. 

In Rhode Island with FANG, we are organizing in a rural community against the expansion of gas-compressor station that is part of a major pipeline expansion. We’re also trying to pull together a big national mobilization against the fracked-gas industry, more details about that soon.

Why would you say you’re drawn to fracking - both strategically and personally?

There is a massive coal plant near my parents house, after a long campaign, it was announced that the plant will close by 2017. Coal plants are closing across New England, but unfortunately fracked-gas is being used to replace coal in the energy system. The expansion of fracked-gas infrastructure is happening rapidly, we need to fight it now.

Nick, you’ve led or continue to lead the social media efforts for a number of diverse climate justice campaigns - from Fearless Summer, to the global TckTckTck alliance, to the national fracked-gas campaign FANG, to Mothers Out Front, and so on. What is it about the promise of social media and storytelling that excites you - that fuels you to fill this role? Why do you return to the meme slinging bat as often as you do? 

Meme slinging allows one to tell a story in a short, impactful way that can be seen by tens of thousands of people. Sharing these stories can inspire others to take action, let others freedom fighters know that they are not alone and allow us to bypass traditional media.

The powers that be want us to feel alone and isolated. Social media, despite it’s extreme limitations, can help create a sense of solidarity and comradeship. When you do an action and then the meme about it is shared 500 times, that feels good right?

While you’ve taken the lead on a number of digital fronts: you also keep your head above the social media waters with a number of real world organizing projects - building the FANG alliance (Fighting Against Natural Gas), leading Kingian Nonviolence workshops, etc. What advice would you give to organizers who have an aptitude for social media but also want to act and interact as full organizers in this work?

I think being a meme slinger and an on the ground organizer can be a great combination. One word of advice is to break through the box of being defined solely as an “online organizer”. This box can be a dangerous thing.

If you are great at social media, that means you are probably a good communicator, writer, artist, have a pulse of the movement and much more. Don’t get stuck in the “online organizer” box - and friends, if you want to bring a “meme slinger” onto your campaign, please ask how else they would like to help out beyond social media.

What’s a favorite recent campaign or event you worked on, and how did memes, social media, and/or storytelling interact to help turn people offline and into the streets? 

In May we did an online mobilization for Mothers Out Front as part of an effort to secure a meeting with Governor Deval Patrick. Using social media and email blasts, we were able to cause quite a bit of stir online and urged people to call the Governor’s office. Hundreds of people made phone calls, and the following Monday the Governor’s office called us and said they were ready to meet.  

What are some things you get up to when you’re not busy meme-slinging?

When I’m not meme-slinging, I’m almost always organizing. But, when I have free time I play basketball, try to be a buddhist, listen to hip-hop and spend time with my partner Sherrie’Anne Andre and Paz, my chihuahua-son.

Are you currently looking for freelance projects?

Sure!

How can folks find you via facebook, twitter, instagram, your website, etc?

Some recent examples of Nick Katkevich’s work:

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Having a good photographer friend can make meme slinging much easier - big shout out to Pia Ward for rolling with me so often!

imageI was standing there as the week long #RejectAndProtect mobilization was winding down in front of the White House. Casey Camp-Horinek made what was the last statement of the day, luckily I was able to caption a quick photo of what was a very powerful moment.

imageFANG Life!

Thanks Nick for an amazing interview! Check out more Meme Slinger Profiles in this series at GreenMemes.org and on WearePowerShift.org

Meme Slinger Profile: Ethan Nuss

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We’re continuing our Meme Slinger Profile Series, and I am more than delighted to present an interview with Texas-based organizer, Ethan Nuss. Ethan was the Field Director for the Energy Action Coalition and is currently an intern with t.e.j.a.s. Ethan originally moved to Texas to lend a hand with the Tar Sands Blockade, a campaign which completely escalated and continues to push the climate movement forward in solidarity and emboldenment. I’ve been a big fan of Ethan’s humble organizing, contagious excitement, and ability to give humanity and epicness to the story of extreme energy resistance. 

Where are you from and where do you and your laptop call home?

A mid-sized town, in the middle of Kansas
Houston’s East End
My laptop lives in “Lil Red” - my trusty knapsack

What brought you to Texas?

Join the Tar Sands Blockade and use direct action to stop the Keystone XL pipeline

What is it about the promise of social media and storytelling that excites you? What’s your greatest hope when you approach this work? Why bother?  

My greatest hope is that we can humanize the brave folks on the frontlines of the struggle, authentically tell their stories, and inspire others to action.

What’s your greatest fear when it comes to the world of online organizing?

That people will feel that by clicking LIKE they are doing enough.

What’s a favorite recent campaign you worked on, and how did memes, social media, and/or storytelling play a powerful role?

Supporting Owe Aku’s (Bring Back the Way) campaign to Protect SacredWater from more tar sands entering Lakota Treaty Territory via the northern segment of Keystone XL. I produced a series of memes with the participants in the Moccasins on the Ground training in the Red Shirt community. These memes helped humanize frontline leaders and propelled their words to a broader audience through social media.

What are a few of your favorite meme-slinging tools and do you use any auxiliary social media tools? Any special charms you keep nearby? 

PicMonkey. Tethering internet on my iPhone in the woods or the backseat of a random car near a direct action.

What kind of projects/campaigns are you looking to support? Can you give support from afar as well as on-site?

Frontline struggles to resist extreme extraction. Yep! thats the beauty of the internet.

What are some things you get up to when you’re not busy meme-slinging?

Organizing!, gardening, riding my bike, meditating, and writing poetry.

How can folks find you via facebook, twitter, instagram, your website, etc?

Some recent examples of Ethan Nuss’ work: 

Alberta tar sands mine

  • The tar sands were once bountiful forest lands & indigenous hunting grounds.  

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Protect SacredWater from Tar Sands - Moccasins on the Ground Direct Action Training

  • Owe Aku’s (Bring Back the Way) campaign to Protect SacredWater from more tar sands entering Lakota Treaty Territory via the northern segment of Keystone XL

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Tar Sands Blockade - Keystone XL Tree Blockade in East Texas

t.e.j.a.s. - Manchester Health Survey + Stop Keystone XL

  • Environmental justice leaders in the refinery community of Manchester on Houston’s East End organize to end environmental racism. The Keystone XL pipeline brings more tar sands to be refined in their predominately Latino/a community.
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Inspired by Ethan’s work? Get in touch! And check out other meme slinger profiles here

Meme Slinger Profile: Dylan Petrohilos

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As part of a new series profiling “meme slingers” in the environmental justice movement, we recently connected with Dylan Petrohilos. I had the chance to work with Dylan on Power Shift 2013—Dylan was the lead designer for PS ‘13—and it was amazing to work with such a fine, lightening quick designer, who is also a community organizer grounded in a place, and a commitment to justice for the most vulnerable. Dylan also helped lead a delegation to bring clean water to West Virginia from the DC-MD-VA area, as well as whipped up the logo that’s been used in a lot of water crisis work here.  

Where are you from and where do you and your laptop call home?

Frederick, MD — a small city outside of the DC area. Love it there.

What is it about the promise of social media and storytelling that excites you? What’s your greatest hope when you approach this work? Why bother?  

I want to tell the stories of people struggling for good things in their lives. I want to tell the struggle of rural working class people, poor people, and people of color. I live in a rural area and for me lifting their voices up is in many ways lifting my own and my friends.

What’s your greatest fear when it comes to the world of online organizing?

I’m putting myself out there usually in semi-public ways, so for me, I want to stay honest with what I promote or say is gonna happen. I’m always afraid of being a person that cries wolf.

What’s a favorite recent campaign you worked on, and how did memes, social media, and/or storytelling play a powerful role?

I recently worked on the West Virginia Water Crisis solidarity. The way we told the story of the crisis and need for solidarity was beautiful and how we brought people together from DC, College park, Maryland and Frederick in a way that hasn’t happened in a few years.

Video by Jake Brooks. 

We used memes to spread the word about different water drop off points but also tell the story of failed us policies, that have turned Appalachian, Shale Fields, and many other places into energy extraction colonies.

What are a few of your favorite meme-slinging tools and do you use any auxiliary social media tools? Any special charms you keep nearby? 

Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign. While a lot of meme slingers aren’t designers, I am. I’m a designer first, and excited to use those tools to create media that can help shape our movements and make them something to not mess with. Not to make my self or design self important, but I think design can produce something beautiful and more attractive, it’s more likely to go viral and more likely to change our world.

What kind of projects/campaigns are you looking to support? Are you looking for new projects? 

Currently, for the first time in a long time, I’m taking a mental break (gotta hold off burn out) but once I get out of that, yo you’ll be seeing my work all over the place :) I’ll 100 percent be coming back, and looking for new projects  - please get in touch!

What are some things you get up to when you’re not busy meme-slinging?

Freelance design work, I love punk rock, hiking and design. I LOVE making art and have actually found myself sketching for the first time in years. Nothing is quite right like paper and pencil.

How can folks find you via facebook, twitter, your website, etc?

Some recent examples of Dylan Petrohilos’ work:

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WVA Solidarity super cool traveling there and meeting new people, but also super stressful because it was a running around everywhere type of deal.

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Power Shift 2013, 10k youth leaders converging in Pittsburgh to plan the next stages of the environmental movement.

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Trying to get justice for ethan saylor and shame the Frederick Sheriff//ACAB//FTP. 

 
Make sure to follow Dylan’s facebook page to stay in touch, and check out other Meme Slinger Profiles here

Meme Slinger Profile: Lindsay Hughes

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Over at Green Memes, we’re big fans of “meme slingers” - folks who take the time to use their social media and design skills to tell powerful stories of people making hope and change possible.  We’re starting a new series of Meme Slinger Profiles to introduce you to more of our favorite slingers, and we’re kicking off the series with an interview of Lindsay Hughes - an organizer with the youth climate justice movement in Canada, and an incredibly talented and insightful social media storyteller. 

Where are you from and where do you and your laptop call home?

I was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec. I still call this incredible city home.

What is it about the promise of social media and storytelling that excites you? What’s your greatest hope when you approach this work? Why bother?

Social media has a unique ability to introduce new ideas to people. The rapid spreading of articles, memes, art, and other audiovisual pieces lend these networks the power of mass access — and, relatedly, social media is also an incredibly potent catalyst for organizing. In terms of stories, specifically — over the years, I have had the opportunity to hear some remarkably inspiring people speak about their experiences. When Crystal Lameman from Beaver Lake Cree Nation talks about her children, or when Cindy Spoon spoke last October in Montreal about being a part of the tree-sits with the Texas Tar Sands Blockade, their messages come across in ways simple facts cannot hope to imitate. Their stories, and many others, stay with me. Really, much of the motivation behind my work — and, I think, the power of social media more generally — is to give voice and space to these stories and hope that it propels others to take action in their own communities. It’s no longer a viable option to sit back and pretend we won’t all be affected by environmental issues currently being fought tooth and nail by those on the front lines. These are stories that have to be told. I feel I have a moral obligation as a human being to be involved.

What’s your greatest fear when it comes to the world of online organizing?

There’s this idea that activists were once defined by their causes and now are defined by their tools. I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that statement. There still has to be something that resonates at a deeply personal level for people to fight for their beliefs. Personal connections — the feeling that we are directly affected, or that our close friends are at our sides — continue to play a huge role in activist involvement. Still, in an era where we’re essentially more connected than ever, we run the risk of becoming more disengaged and detached from those around us. Of course social media can be crucially instrumental in raising awareness, distributing information, and organizing actions — but in my opinion, change still requires mobilization and cannot be done exclusively online. The fact is, social media doesn’t require people to get involved in a significant way, and ultimately asks for little more than a ‘like,’ ‘share,’ or virtual signature. There are certain fights that can only be won by taking a concerted stand..or sit-in, for that matter. That said, online organizing has a powerful ability to bolster support, and can provide those involved (or looking to be) with encouragement to continue — a key element for sustainable social activism. As long as real action is not replaced with reaction, hopefully social media will continue to support social activist goals.

What’s a favorite recent campaign you worked on, and how did memes, social media, and/or storytelling play a powerful role?

I worked on Powershift Atlantic in Halifax, just over a month ago. The Energy East project was one of the main focuses, as the proposed pipeline is set to be one of the largest in the world — spanning just over twice the length of KeystoneXL. It was exhilarating to see so many people congregate from across six provinces to make sure that doesn’t happen. I had created a number of pieces leading up to the convergence; though in this case I was mostly tasked with graphic design (such as creating the programme), I also converted the information into online-friendly infographics and visuals. I was then asked to be a part of the storytelling team — and being able to document the weekend as it was happening was really exciting. There were countless moments worth capturing over the course of three days. But, I think what storytelling really does in general is provide a collective voice. I, and others, helped frame a cohesive narrative that we were all a part of that weekend. The desire to pass that narrative on comes not only from the collective pride of what we’d accomplished, but of our passion to strengthen the movement.

What are a few of your favorite meme-slinging tools and do you use any auxiliary social media tools? Any special charms you keep nearby? 

Apart from my camera, I build images almost exclusively using Adobe Suites. It allows me to create visuals really easily with every editing feature I could possibly need right at hand. I don’t know if I have a particular charm, although I consider myself extremely lucky because of the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from along the way. My partner, my friends and my family are what make me feel supported and allow me to do this work to the best of my ability.

What kind of projects/campaigns are you looking to support? Can you give support from afar as well as on-site?

My focus thus far has been on social and environmental justice issues, particularly climate justice. Every other issue stems from the fact that we have a planet on which to fight — so fighting for a healthy environment tends to be my central concern. I think I’d be happiest continuing in that vein, helping in whatever — and wherever — I am most needed. Most of the projects I’ve been involved with allow me to work as a satellite operation. I enjoy being on site for certain things, such as Powershift, as it’s easier to get a sense of the community and the type of energy I should translate into the work. Personally speaking, I prefer to be around that energy whenever possible. When the National Energy Board hearings on Line9B were happening in Montreal last October, I felt it was vital to be present, not only as an observer but as a participant in the action taking place. I felt it was important to bring attention to the suffocatingly strict observances which excluded a lot of voices that would inevitably be affected by the decision. I love what I do, in both content and process, so it doesn’t actually feel like work most of the time!

What are some things you get up to when you’re not busy meme-slinging?

Recently, I’ve been working on graphic design focused projects for various campaigns and events, as well as creating other types of visual communications based materials. Though, when I’m not glued to my trusty computer, I can usually be found outside running, at the climbing gym, or sharing a beer or two with friends.

How can folks find you via facebook, twitter, instagram, your website, etc?

Check out some recent examples of Lindsay Hughes’ work:

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  • Powershift Atlantic 2014. Meme of Keynote speaker, Sean Devlin taking the stage in Halifax; photo by the incredibly talented Robert Van Waarden.

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  • Fossil Fool’s Day Canada, 2014 Campaign. One in a series created for April 1st, a day of action to oppose fossil fuel extraction.

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  • Powershift British Columbia. One in a series to promote Powershift BC 2013, that took place in Victoria, Coast Salish Territory, last fall.

Stay tuned for more “meme slinger profiles" later this Spring - and do drop us a note if you’re interested in being featured! 

11 Tips For Breaking Through the Facebook Noise Barrier!

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This post is an excerpted chapter from “The Most Amazing Online Organizing Guide Ever" This chapter is by Megan Kelley & Joe Solomon. 

Facebook is as much a tool for promoting social change as it is a puzzle. How do you figure out how to use the arsenal of tools Facebook offers (and often changes on a whim) to break through the noise, reach the most people, and sometimes inspire folks to do stuff. Below are 11 well- worn tips online organizers use to do all those things.

1) Create a sudden burst of community recruitment

There’s no reason your campaign should have a small Facebook page—or if you already have a few hundred or a few thousand fans, why you can’t grow significantly.

These days, anyone can access the feature to invite friends to “like” a page. So, why not encourage all your staff and core volunteers to invite all their friends? Host an “invite your friends” pizza party! If ten of your core staff and volunteers invite all their friends, and on average you have 300 friends each, you will have invited 3,0000 friends in one fell swoop. If just 10% say yes, that could be 300 new fans for your page!

Bigger communities don’t just let you reach more people, they let your current supporters see they’re part of something much bigger. And that kind of realization can be key to encouraging folks to check out what you’re up to and share your stuff. Nobody wants to be all alone “liking” and “sharing” your stuff, you know? Sometimes, this secret code can help.

2) Focus on photos.

Facebook is at heart a photo-sharing network (remember, it’s ‘Facebook’, not ‘TEXTbook’). People relate to pictures of other people and can quickly find meaning in a visual. And more than that: it seems clear the Facebook feed prioritizes showing images over showing articles. So try it: from now on, just post photos to your Facebook feed. And when you want to post an article, that’s cool. Just upload a photo that relates to the article, and when Facebook asks you to “say something about this photo” - write a blurb about the article, and post a link to it. Often you can use the photo that’s featured in the article. Just remember to give credit to the photographer!

Photos can also play a special role when communicating progressive victories. The story of any social movement is that people are at the heart of making social change. So when you’re sharing especially good news that you know was due to people power, consider uploading a picture of a protest, rally, or hearing that was part of making that change possible. Then write more about the victory in the blurb section. Often mainstream media fails to connect progressive victories to the ordinary people who fought hard for that change. In some small way, we can try to amend that via social media.

Posting photos of your team and volunteers can also help your followers put a face on who is behind your work, and in general make things more real and relatable. Look for moments to take pictures of you and your team at work (or even at play), and through doing so humanize your feed a bit. Remember, it’s Facebook.

3) Make memes too (it’s easier than you think)!

The only thing sexier than photos for the Facebook universe are “memes”. Memes, for the purposes of using Facebook, are photos that have words layered over them. You see them all over Facebook, right? (e.g. an inspiring quote above a cloud or something) Well, you don’t have to be a pro-designer to make your own memes. Currently, our favorite tool for making quick and dirty memes is a website called PicMonkey.com

It makes sense to make a meme if you have some punchy, compelling, exciting news you really want to share (and see shared). Making a meme can be as simple as layering a headline over or below an image. A good meme is essentially a vehicle for carrying a clear message within a compelling visual medium, and so people are more likely to see it, get it, share it, and some of their friends may do the same, and so on, and so on, potentially creating a big outreach wave.

Seriously, don’t be intimidated by making your own memes. We’ve helped break the process down in a dedicated meme-making chapter in the online organizing guide. Memes will take a little longer to craft - but a good meme can reach as many people as posting dozens of articles and photos.

4) Important: Always post a message with your content.

Try not to become one of those pages that just posts links. If people just wanted to see headlines, they’d go to the NYTimes.com. People go to Facebook to connect, and they want to hear why you want them to check out a particular link.

Whenever you post anything to Facebook, whether it’s an article or a photo, include a message about why folks should check it out. Express some excitement, include a compelling quote from the article, a summary, shout-out who was featured in the article, etc. Even if it’s just a few words (e.g. “Check this out - this is great news”), that will go a much longer way towards encouraging folks to check out what you posted.

This also applies with sharing other people’s content on Facebook (e.g. an ally’s meme). Take a quick moment to write out a unique blurb for why you shared it/what’s inspiring or important about it, and chances are more people will have a look.

5) Write for one degree out from your core.

When writing updates, write for the friends of your friends. Why? Because your followers should already get what you’re up to - and you want your followers to share your updates with their friends. So who better to write for than the friends of your friends? Your followers will appreciate this, and show it by sharing your stuff more often. Here’s what we mean: explain your acronyms and niche lexicon, use clear and engaging language, and write updates that even your mom would grock and get behind.

If you’re having trouble writing a great update, sign out of your page, and just start writing an update about whatever news to your friends. If you can write an update that you think would hook your friends, chances are you have an all-star update you can use for your campaign.

6) Show social evidence of support (don’t be shy about asking people to ‘click LIKE + SHARE!’).

We’re building “social movements”, right? You heard us say this before: people want to see they’re a part of something bigger. So, when you’re posting things you want to see go popular, spike it with some activity. Ask people to “Click LIKE & SHARE” on occasion to quickly generate some buzz, and make it more likely more people will want to join in and spread the word too. When you’re promoting an event, make a ‘Facebook event’ (and invite all your relevant friends) and link to it often to show your community that lots of folks are already on board. Whenever you have a chance, make visible the surge of support that already exists (or is rising) for your cause. Refrain from asking your online supporters to be the first to step up. Use email and more traditional organizing tactics to inspire the first wave of action (e.g. when gathering petitions, RSVPs, etc.)

When you can show there’s a decent upswell of support, you’re more likely to inspire an actual groundswell.

7) Create a Facebook storm.

A Facebook storm is when a whole bunch of pages and people post about the same thing at roughly the same time. If you want something to really break through on Facebook, you might want to plan a “Facebook storm”. Get in touch with colleagues at related pages and invite them to post whatever it is on the same day, at say noon. Memes are really good for this. For example, if you post a meme and then a bunch of related Facebook pages cross-post your meme at roughly the same time, it will greatly increase the chances that it shows up in many of the Facebook feeds of people who care about your issue.

It’s also just good to be in touch with colleagues who administer sister Facebook pages on a regular basis. That way you can ask for promo help, and you can make impromptu storms, and so on. Just be ready to give some solidarity back!

Check out a more thorough chapter on organizing a “facebook storm” in the online organizing guide!

8) Seize newsie moments.

The arc of a traditional narrative for a campaign goes like this: outreach - protest - rest - outreach - protest - rest - etc. With social media, you can spice up this narrative. Check the news on a fairly regular basis, and look for moments to frame your campaign in the context of what’s the hot news of the day. For example, just recently the Obama Administration responded to a Star Wars petition, saying that they did not support blowing up planets. That made an opening for us to make a meme for CRMW asking, “So, why does Obama condone blowing up our planet?” But forget Obama, maybe you can connect the latest Justin Bieber drama to why stopping rhino poaching is so imperative?

9) You are a storyteller - not a news reporter.

As a Facebook communicator, you are now a storyteller for what’s likely one of the greatest sagas of our time. Don’t forget that: you’re not just a machine for pumping out news. People can find their own news—especially bad news. Don’t worry about posting every article under the sun. You’re a saga-writer. Ordinary people are often your heroes, the spectrum of civil society activism are your main mediums for showing modern heroism. And even when you’re not winning (which is most days), things tend to move forward. Bit by bit. And more often than not, it’s because of community organizers and public sentiment shifting the conversation. Always aspire to weave the over-arching story of people power into your updates. It’s the truth, and it’s validating and inspiring to boot.

10) Don’t be seduced by the “FaceCrack.”

Facebook is just a tool, as part of a larger toolbox for building movements. And it’s far from the sharpest or most effective tool in the toolbox. Don’t be seduced by the impression you can build power or turn out mad crowds by simply hitting all the Facebook bells and whistles. Tighten your time on Facebook. And use it smartly in conjunction with other outreach tactics, like coffee shop meetings, door-knocking, phone-banking, letter-writing, pamphleting, tabling, etc. And even if you get all this, communicate this theory of change to your followers too. When asking them to “like” or “share” something, give them something more meaningful to do too. Remind folks that showing up will always mean so much more than clicking Like. No revolution was won by folks who showed up in spirit. By building a culture of valuing offline/deep activism, you’ll be primed to turn people out when it’s go time.

The best online organizing generally arises from amazing offline organizing and actions whose stories are communicated well online, and in turn inspire more people to get involved, inspiring more powerful digital media, which in turn inspire even more people, and so on.

And if you are already addicted to Facebook (and if you use a Mac), try out the app “Self Control,” which lets you set times on your computer in which you can block any given website.

11) Take risks.

This seems obvious—but it’s important. All the Facebook tips in the world won’t get you terribly far unless you’re willing to take some risks. Facebook is just a tool, and you can use it in myriad ways. Try looking at the tool sets in new ways. What are ways you can encourage a conversation in, say, the comments of a post? What are ways you can rally your Facebook supporters to storm a malignant corporation’s Facebook page? How far can you go in using an honest, personal voice when writing updates? Push the boundaries and you’ll see those boundaries turn into your most effective ventures. Value your mistakes—you’ll make plenty of them—it means you’re expanding your potential.