A profile of Valerie Costa, by Sheryl Feldman
“What I most proud of is that we‘re pretty badass; uncompromising in our mission and values, continuously challenging ourselves to think outside the box. “
Val isn’t a natural at “badass” organizing. “I had to overcome my need to be a good girl; to go against the standards of what a responsible citizen would do. It’s been hard to challenge myself because of how I grew up.”
While it might have tried to tame her, Val’s childhood also implanted a disruptive force. Her father, a millworker in Fall River, Massachusetts lost his job when the mills closed down because of NAFTA. He was never able to find another that paid adequately.
No surprise that Val came to question the underpinnings of the American economy. When “awakened to the disproportionate power of the IMF and the World Bank,” she became an activist. In writing letters to free political political prisoners through Amnesty International, and in meeting them, she saw that “We have the power to change things.”
She made climate change her focus because it’s “the ultimate example –the horrifying, far-reaching example — of what’s wrong with the socioeconomic system… it’s the result of sacrificing whole groups of people in the world for the sake of profit.”
In 2015, she chose 350 Seattle: it was action-oriented and its analysis of the root cause of climate change was sound.
She’s watched the organization become more welcoming and inclusive as well more effective. It’s good at “helping people find the power within themselves to organize and organically grow the climate movement; to grow in a way that models the fact that people have the power to change the world.”
“My primary role is that of a matchmaker. I try to understand not only what each person can do but what they can get out of it. You give of yourself, but you get something in return.”
With participation, she says, with resistance and organizing, a “beautiful community” is emerging, one not based on high consumption, but on shared values; one which provides a safety net when the urgency of the issue means “we can’t afford to be good anymore.”