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Community Organizing for the Earth

From Trust to Action

Community Organizing for the Earth

by Estrella Sainburg

For longer than I can remember, and for reasons at the heart of my being, I have loved and cared about the natural world. Earth is precious, sacred, and beautiful; home to you and me. The sounds, colors, and smells are powerful and life-giving. My faith calls me to live on Earth as a reminder of God’s goodness. This means loving, serving, and living humbly and justly towards others. It also means standing up for the reality that everything is valuable and nothing should be wasted. Since joining the GreenFaith team in August, 2016, I have had the opportunity to accompany people of faith on their journey to translate these types of values into action for positive environmental change.

A Grassroots Interfaith Coalition for the Earth


GreenFaith is an interfaith coalition that inspires, educates, organizes, and mobilizes people of diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds for environmental action around the world. After 23 years in existence, it became clear to our team we needed many more people involved in order to solve the grave environmental crisis before us. We needed people actively engaging with their communities and decision-making bodies about humanity’s relationship with the Earth. It was with this in mind that GreenFaith started exploring opportunities for congregation-based community organizing.

Having witnessed the oppressive powers of multi-national corporations and the social and environmental harm they cause while I was studying abroad, I embarked on a mission to work in a way that would bring the voices of the most impacted and marginalized to the forefront. I sought to help these communities develop the skills to change policies and impact decisions, both locally and nationally. When I first arrived at GreenFaith, I was tasked with organizing eight GreenFaith Circles. These entities represent our community organizing platform of geographically local hubs – each consisting of at least 5 congregations representing at least 3 different religious or spiritual traditions – working to achieve environmental improvements in their communities and around the world.

It’s easy to list actions we can take to reduce our impact and protect the environment, but I invite you to first consider the values that you work with and how these affect the actions you choose to take to accomplish your goals. When I began organizing with GreenFaith, I learned that in order to make sustainable and equitable improvements in society, we need to start small, start locally, and work around three key objectives: (1) to develop and grow engaged activists; (2) to allow new and just relationships to form; and (3) to organize action around environmental concerns and priorities.

To Make a Difference, We Need Trust

Photo: Estrella Sainburg

Photo: Estrella Sainburg

In doing this work, I’ve noticed that the movement needs people to spend a lot more time building relationships – spending time with each other and listening to each other and to new people. We should be asking one another about our visions, goals, and concerns in the world; committing to one another’s growth and ability to act on behalf of the environment.

It’s in relationships built on trust that we can share our challenges and questions and become stronger leaders. It’s also in these relationships of trust that we may take a leap of faith to talk with with someone new or try to incorporate more sustainable practices into our lives. In the process we may even admit to our struggles to cease personal habits that we know pollute and degrade our environment. Stated within a supportive community, our shortcomings become opportunities for positive transformation.

To Make a Difference, We Need Togetherness.

Photo: ES

Photo: ES

There is perhaps no better feeling as an activist than being in the same room with people whose energy is sparked by the same topic, and who are anxious to see similar changes in the world. In my role as GreenFaith’s New Jersey Circle Organizer, I brought people together from across the state to meet, learn, and plan together. Doing so led to new partnerships, friendships, realizations, and approaches. While we may have a common vision and shared values, every person, faith community, and sector brings something new to the table; we all have needs, perspectives, concerns, and questions that we must explore together and grow through. Why ignore these parts of each other’s being? This is the hard, but rewarding work of power-building through interfaith organizing. 

To Make a Difference, We Need to Act.

Photo: ES

Photo: ES

There are people who work alone in this world, and there are people who work with others. The Peoples Climate Movement, a coalition of diverse individuals and sectors from across the United States, has declared that to change everything, we need everyone. The coalition rose up in the streets of New York City in 2014 and has since organized mass mobilizations on two more occasions to show the desire people have for a more environmentally sustainable economy and society.

In New Jersey, we are committed to working with everyone for the future of green jobs, the environment, our health, and the economy through a coalition called Jersey Renews. Made up of diverse organizations, including faith groups and leaders, this effort demonstrates the statewide support for green policies, investments in a clean economy, and a fair transition for impacted communities and workers.

As a result, faith leaders are provided a unique opportunity to publicly support important legislation alongside like-minded union workers, healthcare workers, and social justice activists. To raise awareness about the platform, GreenFaith has organized blessings of electric vehicles and offshore wind turbines, as well as other actions at the intersection of faith and environmental action. The education, experiences, and rallies are helping build a strong coalition of local faith leaders within and across the states. As I work on building local interfaith power, I realize, as the African proverb says, to go far, we need to go together.

Photo: ES

Photo: ES

 The challenge we face at this moment in history is that we need to reach certain environmental goals more quickly than we can fathom. Given this urgency, many people have told me that they wouldn’t wait around for people to understand or “learn the ropes,” that they would only work with the people that already got “it.” However, I encourage us all to be welcoming, open, and attentive to people who express themselves and their love for the Earth in a variety of ways. At the end of the day, we all have a relationship with nature, which leads all of us to have a vested interest in the health of the water, air, and land. Many faith communities are compelled to care. By building trust, fostering community, and acting together, we can garner and cultivate this care into power.

Relevant Campaign Information

GreenFaith: https://greenfaith.org

Living the Change: https://livingthechange.net

Jersey Renews: http://jerseyrenews.org

Peoples Climate Movement: https://peoplesclimate.org

Get Involved!

Connect with a GreenFaith Community Organizer near you. If you are interested in partnering with us, but do not see your state listed below, please contact GreenFaith Executive Director, Rev. Fletcher Harper, at fletcher@greenfaith.org.

The Rev. I. Malik Saafir, Arkansas Organizer
Email: malik@greenfaith.org Cell: +1 (501) 580-5349

The Rev. Amy Brooks, Charlotte Organizer
Email: amy@greenfaith.org Cell: +1 (704) 458-4438

The Rev. Jessica Abell, Colorado Organizer
Email: jessica@greenfaith.org Cell: +1 (720) 325-9320

The Rev. Dr. Neddy Astudillo, Florida Organizer
Email: neddy@greenfaith.org Cell: +1 (815)-519-8090

Sarah Newell, New Jersey Volunteer Organizer
Email: sarah@greenfaith.org Cell: +1 (908) 487-1055


Header Photo: Pexels