How We Got The California Plastic Bag Ban

Empowering Senators To Be Environmental Heroes
Getting the 6th-largest economy in the world to ban plastic bags was a huge win for the environment, and a significant case study of how everyday people can beat Goliath and save the world.

Amazing groups like 5 Gyres, COARE, Plastic Pollution Coalition and many others had been going after the legislators and other groups in California, gathering support among like-minded Democrats to push through a ban, but the numbers were still too small to get a majority vote in the legislature.  One small group, with whom I had the pleasure of working, had a brilliant strategy that I believe was key in getting the bag ban.

Azul, an ocean-protection organization made up of savvy environmental advocates, knew who was for a state-wide plastic bag ban, who was against it, and who was on the fence.  Three of the key swing votes were Latino state senators, whose vote was the difference between a bag ban or a continuation of 123,000 tons of annual plastic waste.  But we had a challenge in front of us.

The narrative created by the chemical industry, including their astroturf groups like Familias Unidas de California offered this insulting insinuation: bag bans are too hard on lower-income people, a significant proportion of which are Latino.

Instead of creating videos for the general public and hoping they would contact these swing-vote senators for us, we used our contacts to bring the message directly to the senators. The people who spoke on camera are a mix of both those whom the policymakers recognize as powerful voices of the Latino community, and also everyday constituents who wanted to share their story.  They busted the Latinos-need-plastic myth and pressured the legislators to make the right decision, to stand as leaders in the cause, no longer ignored.

Activists got this video directly to the legislators and staff, and followed it up with a few dozen meetings, with the help of Latino Coalition for a CA Bag Ban.  Combined with the efforts of the rest of the environmental community, real pressure was applied.

These Senators not only changed their vote, they became the sponsors of the bill.  They went from a Bag Bans Destroy Latino Communities opinion to a We Will Lead The Charge To Demanding The Bag Ban drive.  SB 270 passed.  We won.

And when the chemical industry put on confusing ballot initiative to block the law in 2016, we won again.

Please use these techniques in your activism.  Contact me if you want to talk more about how.

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How To Make Your Eco Green Environmental Video Go Viral

…besides just optimizing the url and title?

Here’s an oldie but a goodie about how organizations can get their green messages out to more people.  Essentially, if you want to get your environmental and progressive videos out there, the key is to think about your message before you even write it… do your best to hide the message!

This approach to getting out eco messages to a viral audience was detailed in an eco TV site, with this article about Plastic State of Mind, after its release. Click here to read the whole thing.  And let me know if I can help you out in any way directly.

P.S. Follow my advice, and I guarantee the chances of your video going viral will increase  ten fold — from .2% to 2%!  If you don’t like those odds, you might want to spend your time and money by targeting your audience – people who can give you the change you need.

What mistakes have you made in working with this kind of media?

Ben:Making pieces too direct. People don’t like things that are too preachy, that tell them what to do – “Look, here’s the message, plastic bags are killing our environment, you should really stop.” Well, ya, duh. What you’re doing is really, really bad. People don’t want to hear what they really need to hear.

So the way to work around that is to get people where they are – get people where they are already doing something fun – something cute, for babies, for sex, for music. That’s how I try to fix that mistake.

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What Happens When YouTube Starts A FOOD FIGHT

You can find out more about the video on the main Food Fight page.

Here’s an article by a blogger who found the video by accident; love it.

At first I wasnt sure if it was a song, a public service announcement or what, but as soon as the beat dropped… Edutainment unfolded before my very ears and eyes. By the end of the video – linked campaign – I found myself sharing FOOD FIGHT ahead of sharing my own material! It evoked and stirred me to action like good edutainment should do. The fact that all the “call-to-action” links were right there embedded and super imposed on the screen made it that much easier to separate this movement from the pack of “do good music” from the “good music doing good” elites.

On March 2 at 11:38 am I shared. The immediate feedback I got on facebook proved I was right. They commented, we discussed, then they shared. Then more watched, commented, discussed and then they shared… The synergy was in action. This was definitely striking a nerve with the masses. Viral was eminent.

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UPDATE: Activist Abby Turns Media Against Big Plastic’s Bill

This is an update from our last post on Abby Goldberg’s success. I’ll make a full web page about this story soon enough, but want to update you on the success of the campaign.

Abby made CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX and all the rest of the news when she burst past 154,000 signatures. They covered Abby delivering them to the governor’s office, and many captured her surprise to see Governor Quinn himself waiting to receive them. The delivery was highly orchestrated to best capture the story in still photographs, as we knew there was a chance the final videos wouldn’t make it online.

Abby’s petition is now over 156,500 signatures, and will put increasing pressure on the governor with each signature. He probably doesn’t need any further urging — his act of personally receiving the signatures and the seven-minute interactive speech he gave, which his staff posted on his own youtube channel, were enough to strongly indicate he’ll be siding with Abby. To put himself front and center in front of the spectacle and then vote against Abby — for the chemical industry — would be politically insane.

Soon, I’ll encourage her to work with some of the fantastic folks and amazing activist tools at to turn her petition into a movement. She’s already setting a precedent for encouraging other kids to demand a plastic bag ban in their neighborhoods — is starting to see a huge surge in anti-plastic-bag petitions!

More to come…

Abby won! She garnered over 174,000 signatures, breaking the record for environmental petition signatures and the night before the governor’s historic vote, he called Abby at home to tell her he was going to veto the bill.

Here she is on CNN Headline News!

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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 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, 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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Benign Violation – Key to Connecting With Your Audience

Many people I work with are often afraid of “going too far.” That’s good; we don’t want to scare people off — from making a policy change, a donation, a personal action or whatever it is that could give us the change we need.

But there’s a difference between the fear of scaring people off and the fear of shaking things up a bit. The fear of the former at the expense of the latter can be your undoing.

Indeed, an unwillingness to shake things up — to catch your audience’s attention and give them something different to think about — will scare them off just as much as if you had offended them. Making straight, dull, unoriginal content that doesn’t engage is a guarantee of a sub-one-thousand click payoff. If you’re lucky enough to already have a captive audience — you’ve handcuffed them to their chairs — then I guarantee you a room of echoing snores by the time you’re done.

Benign Violation is a principle that drives enjoyment and sharing of content. Essentially, if your piece violates the viewer’s norm — takes them out of his/her world and questions it for a moment — that person’s brain perks up, takes notice, and pays attention. If your message is compelling, that same listener will be so grateful for the experience s/he will want others to feel the same sensation, by sharing your message and video.

I don’t know why benign violation works. Humor, storytelling… it’s all elusive neuroscience that, while we’ll never completely understand it, we must use to our advantage.

Above is a piece that follows this principle. The narrarotr casually mentions atrocious industrial secrets in a format known for guilt-free, happy hype. It glorifies gluttony, and ironically encourages the behavior. Violating? Yes, it’s not what we’re used to hearing in an infomercial, and covers topics we don’t like to discuss, including energy resource depletion. Offensive? Eh. Almost, to the point of being edgy, but not really.

Consider the alternative: Should you make a video with pictures of sad children and smoke stacks with a voiceover saying, “Don’t buy useless novelties. They are bad for the environment, and waste energy,”? If you’re leaning yes, re-read this article, or give me a call so I can shake you, very hard.

What do you wish you could say, but are afraid to? If it’d violate your comfort zone, but get some attention and wouldn’t burn bridges, I’d highly consider saying it, in hopefully a creative way. Any other approach may go unnoticed.

Loosen up a bit, because your audience is not as lame and humorless as you assume. Give ‘em some credit and have some fun!

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Taking Your Idea To The Next Level

Climate Protection Campaign took advantage of this small, local event to make it a message that could inspire Sonoma County and other areas around the world to make real-time ride sharing a reality in their neck of the woods.

Shot April 18, 2012

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Fundraising – Teaching Environmental and Agricultural Memories

T.E.A.M. is a recent project of Gold Ridge RCD, a nation-leading agricultural land conservancy and education center, geared teaching public school kids the link between responsible agriculture and natural-systems restoration. In a time when basic science is being cut out of schools, this video is used by Gold Ridge RCD to make sure funding for such innovative programs keeps coming in.

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My Trip to Occupy Wall Street – Why I’m Really Here

We. Are.  The 99%! (And so are you!)

That’s what I heard legendary Reverend Billy Talen sing at #occupywallstreet during my journey to the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  It’s now a common chant at the marches up and down Wall Street.  The “so are you” is what got me out here.

Forget about the whining about not having a clear demand that you hear from the media and the actual occupiers, who share the same criticism.  They’re there all for the same reason — they are disgusted by banking’s control of our government, and they want to see either major reforms or see the system dismantled and rebuilt. The real problem though, is bigger than capitalism, bigger than the banks, bigger than Obama’s failures.

However, few know it ultimately boils down to this: We have a growth-based economy, dependent on infinite resources on a finite planet.  With only so much oil, soil, clean water, coal, natural gas, etc., it can’t grow forever.  Many feel we are now at the peak extraction rate of all these resources, so now it’s a matter of getting ready to adapt to the change.

That’s the message I’m bringing out here, that I hope gets its message into the mind of the movement, asap. Thank you, occupiers, for starting — continuing — a movement we’ve needed for a long time.

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Art of Community Conference – The Clean and The Dirty

Research shows that people kind of don’t care about really important things that can change their life forever, if it’s just given to them straight.

So I made this promo for the Art of Community conference in September a little… well, you’ll see.  What was your reaction?  What did you do at the end?  How did you feel?

The link at the end takes you to Art of Community promo page, which should have the video you see below, right at the top…

Community living is the way of the future, and even the present.  Will I see you at the conference?

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