David and Goliath: Our Story of Activist Abby vs. Big Plastic

I’ve been working with a real-life 12-year-old suburban activist, on an issue really no one cares about. Plastic bags? You want me to help you abolish my convenience?

The solution to getting people internationally to join Abby in her small town’s fight was the same solution we always use. Story. To craft a story that’s on pace to garner more signatures than any other environmental petition Change.org has had, we had to take a classic theme and add a few modern twists.

It went kind of like this: Abby contacted me because I was the guy who made Plastic State of Mind, for an interview asking me advice on how to make an effective campaign. I consulted with her and her teacher on the phone for an hour or so, and stayed in touch regarding her progress.

One day, Abby wrote me an email marked “URGENT”, freaking out because of a new piece of legislation that (barely) hit the news. A bill written by Big Plastic and eventually passed by Big-Plastic-funded politicians in the state legislature would make her right to get a local bag ban illegal.

While I empathized with her, I was secretly excited, as I knew this problem was an excellent opportunity to become a great story for change. I pictured it:

A 12-year-old girl and her town are attempting to work together to determine their own fate, but then a big corporate conglomerate charges in to squash her dreams and take away the rights of the citizens in her small town; now there’s only one person who can decide her fate: the governor and his veto pen.

Classic David and Goliath, with a modern twist of anti-corporate fervor, thanks to the banks of the 2008 financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Abby was on board to dive into this fight. We refined the story carefully, and when it was polished, we contacted amazing, experienced, brilliant activists at Change.org, who loved the story and ran with it, helping us every step of the way. I began outreach on my end, and they used segments of their million+ email list to get out the petition.

I told Abby to hope for 1,000 signatures; I was really hoping for 10,000. We nearly got to 10,000 — on the first day. The next day, reaching a fever pitch, we got 2,000 more hits — an hour. As of this writing, it’s over 69,300 signatures — so far. Abby is currently #2 on their “Popular” list and #1 on the Environment list.

We’re hoping to deliver the signatures in person to the governor, flanked by many of the signatories and news cameras, to put the final pressure on for a veto.

The three rules of environmental activism are, in no particular order: story, story, story.

Find your audience. Resist what you want to tell them. Tell them what they like to hear. Make it a movie. Start with a happy story, have something go terribly wrong (hopefully there’s a villain), then offer your audience and opportunity to come in and save the day.

Often, as long as your audience is not diametrically opposed to your stance on the issue, they will sign on. They may even promote your action, in order to help the hero — themselves — win.

That’s what I tell my clients. I’m a storyteller for change, that may or may not use filmmaking skills to craft a story that will bring you the change you need. Don’t waste your time doing it any other way.

Click HERE for the exciting update!

Photo of Abby with plastic bag was done by her dad, Jeff Goldberg

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