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Reflecting & Grounding:

Shemona speaking on the mic at Intertwined 22

11 years of 350 Seattle and 1 year as Executive Director

By Shemona Moreno

Looking Back

As we start our 11th year of existence, filled with such bad-ass activism, it has me thinking back on what life was like all those years ago. 350 Seattle got its start in 2013 as a small but scrappy group of people coming together to take action on climate and environmental justice. With heavy emphasis on direct action in partnership with youth orgs and Indigenous activists, 350 Seattle worked to join the movement to uphold the thin green line; to make Seattle the region where fossil fuel projects go to die. As the years progressed, 350 Seattle formalized as a non-profit organization (in 2015) and brought in more and more people, expanding opportunities to challenge the systems that helped create the climate crisis. We’ve built momentum, explored new campaigns, engaged in new tactics and built new partnerships. 350 Seattle has consistently evolved — learning from mistakes and wins — in order to grow the grassroots power that we will need to challenge the status quo.

10 years ago, I was a nanny for a wonderful family. I looked after a precious little baby boy, spending the days caring for him and, soon after, his siblings. I went on to nanny for several more families. I was bringing joy and curiosity into their world, but for me personally, I was starting to feel stuck. While I did love being a nanny, it’s not what I thought my life would be. I had so many ideas and half-baked dreams bouncing around in my head; but for some reason, I was holding myself back. All that changed for me in 2016. I started the year with a new year’s resolution to say yes to more things and to not be afraid to change and grow. You got this, Shemona.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share what happened both to me and to 350 Seattle in this blog post. Change can be scary, but it can also be momentous and necessary. So please keep reading if you want to learn more about the monumental shifts in 350 Seattle’s history that I’ve been part of: in 2016, 2018, and in 2020, 2022. Seems a bit of a pattern to make significant changes every two years! I suppose when you take the time to sit down and reflect, you see patterns you never noticed.

2016: Terror Inspires Growth

2016 was a major year of growth for 350 Seattle. Trump was elected president, and people all over the country were activated to get involved. We saw people pulling the wool from their eyes, looking up from their screens in disbelief, and finally starting to ask the hard questions about how we got here in the first place. We saw people taking more and more notice of the climate crisis, and realizing that they actually do have power to make change. I was one of those people. In 2016 I was trudging along day by day, barely paying attention to the world around me. I knew little about the climate crisis, I hardly participated in politics, and I was disconnected from any sort of community space. I had lost my way.

I was raised by a mother who took me and my sister to action meetings, to protests, to museums and festivals. She exposed us to different cultures and religions. She taught me the importance of being in service to our community, of giving back to uplift those around us, and of fighting for those who need your help.

In the summer of 2016, I started to tag along with my friends who had been diving deep into the world of climate activism. Because I was with friends, it made it so much easier to get involved, to get inspired, and (most importantly) to say yes. My first time fully jumping into the fray was at a 350 Seattle new volunteer summit, held in December right after the election of Trump. It was a truly awful time, a time where I could no longer sit back on my ass just watching the world unravel. I remember randomly picking which breakout space I would go to after the intro spiels; little did I know that that very night I would end up working with other new volunteers to create an action to shut down banks across the city as part of the Defund Dakota Access Pipeline campaign.

Inspired? How could you not be!? I certainly was. 350 Seattle provided a way for me to jump in right away. I was starting to live my new year’s resolution. I was getting back to the feeling of community that my mom had cultivated for me when I was little. I showed up to learn, but I left inspired and ready to act. By the end of 2016, I was ready to go into the new year as a climate activist.

2018: Solutions, Solutions, Solutions. A Green New Deal For Seattle

The next big change for 350 Seattle was in 2018. The Green New Deal had burst onto the scene in the U.S., bringing the need for solutions to the climate chaos that we all were experiencing and that many were trying to ignore. 350 Seattle took notice. In 2018, we launched our own campaign focused on solutions. In partnership with Got Green, we fought and won a Green New Deal for Seattle. This led to the creation of the Green New Deal Oversight Board, and winning the Jump Start tax which created millions of dollars to pay for the GND solutions needed in our city. Epic work!

2018 was also the year that I decided to commit to activism full time. I had been cramming activism work into every spare minute outside of nannying; so when an opportunity opened to join the staff of 350 Seattle, I applied right away, and was welcomed with open arms and tons of enthusiasm. I joined the staff as the Artful Activism and Volunteer Engagement lead. I thrived in this type of work — the organizing of organizers. I loved being the first person that new people meet, being the person who supports, encourages and guides people on their way to leveling up their engagement not only in 350 Seattle but in the broader community. Artful activism is such an amazing front door to an organization. It inspires people to reconnect with the creativity inside themselves, and to channel that into community care. Art helps tell the story of a movement with color and imagery, with vibrancy and heart. I was thrilled to help lead that space.

2020: I Can’t Breathe; We Can’t Breathe

Pandemic, wildfires, and the murder of an innocent Black man. These events, though not unique, coincided in 2020 in a way that sparked a movement, a rallying cry, and a new focus. We could no longer silo our struggles. We could not expect to win anything without the power of all the people side by side. For 350 Seattle, 2020 was a turning point. We knew we needed to get serious about our desires to be anti-racist, to truly commit to deep systems change by actively working on not only climate action but climate justice, racial justice, gender, class, and disability justice as well. 

Our staff spent 2020 learning, not only about ourselves as individuals with a shared vision, but as an organization that wants to work more with other partners and communities in Seattle. A small team and I created a learning series, Racial Justice is Climate Justice, to discuss why as a climate organization we need to align with abolition, defunding the police, housing, and environmental justice. We talked about the intersections of these issues, and how we can be in community together to achieve the resilient, just, and welcoming communities we’re striving for. Just by opening ourselves up to learning and understanding, we opened ourselves up to new partners, new work, and tactics that strengthened our campaigns and the people who ran them.

2020 was a big year of change. It was the year we formalized our staff as actual full-time employees being paid a decent wage with benefits. It was the year we joined the Seattle Solidarity Budget Coalition. It was the year we had to learn how to organize online, to build connections through screens. It was the year we really started to understand disability justice, because the COVID-19 pandemic has been a mass disabling event. But it was also the year we learned that we could show up for our community, for our partners, and for ourselves. We got serious about mutual aid, and about shaping campaigns and projects with equity and inclusion as their foundation. It’s hard to believe such a traumatic year could shape us for the better; yet we struggled together and we came out stronger.

2022: A Little Bit Serious, A Lotta Bit Action

The lessons kept on coming. We finally managed to complete a strategic plan. We finally made the changes we knew we needed to make to be better aligned with the values we hold and the friends we’re accountable to. We learned that conflict resolution isn’t a scary thing, but is necessary for a thriving community; and that you can slow down, say no, and still make progress. After months of crafting and holding listening sessions — some of which were difficult, some of which were enlightening — the staff and board came together with an analysis of what was possible in the Seattle landscape. We codified our strategic plan with three main goals to guide us:

  1. Be an anti-racist, multicultural, multi-generational organization on the path to climate justice.
  2. Focus our scope on strategic Green New Deal policy for the next three years, with winnable campaigns that develop organizers and grow our base.
  3. Invest in staff and organizational health/sustainability.

And let me tell you: having goals and a plan on paper certainly does make things easier! It keeps you focused, keeps you from straying too far off the path; which is what we needed in 2022 among the many transitions we went through. We saw turnover of volunteers and staff — some just moving on, others who were not called to our solutions- and abolitionist-oriented approach to climate justice. 2022 was when we really started to deepen our relationships with labor, abolitionist groups, and other community groups not obviously related to climate. With our strategic plan to guide us, we were able to start thinking through new ways to build teams, to invest in our volunteers’ leadership development, and to support the staff so we weren’t on a churn-and-burn path. I was proud to be part of this change work.

For me, 2022 (and 2021, to be honest) was the year I actively built my skills, my confidence, and the drive to put myself on a path for leadership. I knew I wanted to lead an organization, whether it was 350 Seattle or not; I wanted to be ready when the opportunity came. So I invested in myself in a very real way, by taking classes, saying yes to opportunities or events that I normally would have shied away from, and even when folks doubted me, I took coaching extremely seriously. 2022 was when I learned that I could be a leader in the community. And wonder of wonders: the community agreed. By the end of 2022, I was promoted to Executive Director of 350 Seattle.

2024: One Year Down, More To Go

I just finished my first year as Executive Director, and what a journey that first year was! I’ll admit that I hadn’t planned on it happening as fast as it did. I thought for sure it would take me a few more years, at least. But the opportunity came, and with the support of everyone around me, I was able to rise to the occasion. 

I’ve leveled up on the go in my fundraising, in my management skills, my public speaking, and so many other things. I love to learn by doing. I love to dive deep on my own time and come out of the research stupor with a solution. I love to support my people to make sure we’re cared for and acting in line with our values. After this first year, I’ve come away with a few lessons:

  1. I don’t know, but let’s find out! This is such a powerful way to engage with everyone. It creates a space where we can be vulnerable and curious.
  2. Trust your gut. That grumbly gut knows you very well. You should listen.
  3. Saying you messed up is not the end of the world. Trust that you will learn and grow from a hard moment. If you have the best people around you, they will hold and care for you in your journey for resolution.
  4. Find joy. We cannot do this work without finding small, sweet joys to keep us going. 
  5. Rest is resistance. Take your rest. 
  6. Ask for help, you scumbag! You don’t know what you don’t know. There’s no need to struggle alone, and no shame in asking for help.

2024 is going to be a challenging year; but after reflecting on the past years and the changes we’ve navigated, I know that we’ve done the work to weather these struggles. I personally am feeling more grounded in what I need to do to grow and to lead those around me, especially since I have the great honor of working with some of the greatest people I know. I’ll end this reflection with gratitude for the people who fight day in and day out to make our world a better place. Thank you to 350 Seattle, to our community partners, to our wonderful volunteers, to our wonderful support networks, and more. We have accomplished so much with y’all and we are going to accomplish so much more.

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