Environmental Organizing Perspectives from Eau Claire Newcomers and Leaders

Collective Action – by Regan Watts

Last May I took the position as Eau Claire County’s Recycling & Sustainability Coordinator. I was excited to move to a new community with ambitious climate action goals! During my time in this role, I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of individuals and groups who are concerned about climate change, Eau Claire’s natural resources, and community sustainability. Specific issues of concern range widely from recycling, composting, native plants, environmental education, renewable energy, the landfill, clean water, and many other topics. 

All this excitement from so many people and yet common things I hear are: 

            “I know it is an issue, but I don’t know what to do or how to get involved.” 

            “What I do personally doesn’t make a difference.”

            “Who else can we work with on this issue?”

            “How do we educate others on what is happening in our community?”

Any big problem is not solved by an individual or single organization. It is tackled through collective action and collaboration. WE as a community must come together to address issues of concern. Although there is always room to improve, I am excited to see the collaborations that have occurred within the JONAH Environmental Taskforce and other organizations to address issues of concern regarding climate change and sustainability.

Making the Impossible Possible – by Kate Van Sloten

After moving to Eau Claire from west-central Illinois in June of 2021, I found myself struggling to find a place to fit in and use my skills to make a difference in the world of conservation and sustainable living. In Illinois, I had worked for an accredited land trust that allowed me to help preserve, protect, and restore woodlands, prairies, and wetlands. I was really missing this work! Fortunately, I was invited by a friend to join the JONAH Environmental Task Force (ETF).  This was exactly the opportunity I needed in my life. The task force has provided an essential outlet for my passions in new and exciting ways. 

If someone had told me I would lead efforts to stop a bottled water plant from coming to Eau Claire, I would have told them they were nuts. However, I found myself doing just that. The Eau Claire city manager reached out to JONAH and asked us to help host an informational forum showing a balanced panel of opinions for and against Niagara Bottling coming to Eau Claire. In addition to this city official’s requests, I also found myself leading a rally against the bottling plant before the city council vote and sharing awareness campaigns on social media.  All of these things were new for me and in many ways uncomfortable. However, I am so glad I was able to be a part of this project.

Though the Niagara issue pushed me out of my comfort zone, the lessons it taught me were invaluable. I came to realize that with JONAH working alongside you, you are never alone. Things I thought would be impossible to accomplish, became possible. JONAH’s network of volunteers and members, along with other residents of Eau Claire, jumped in right alongside me to bring about real change to protect our water supply. I never dreamed so many positive things could come just from my willingness to be a part of this effort.  

The results were truly astonishing. Niagara bottling withdrew their proposal from the city.  After receiving such a large outpouring of public comments and concern in opposition to Niagara, our city council members began the work of introducing water protections policies.  This work even spurred on Eau Claire residents to form a new water conservation non-profit called The Eau Claire Water Alliance. Things I thought would be impossible, became possible. Things I never dreamed would happen, came into being. 

In addition to the ETF helping me grow in my leadership abilities, it has also been an amazing space for me to meet and network with many different people and groups. Being new to town, this has been invaluable to me! Now when I’m out at the grocery store or my favorite coffee shop, I often run into folks I have met through my task force activities. Eau Claire is a much larger city than my hometown in Illinois. Because of JONAH, Eau Claire is starting to feel more like a small, connected town with caring people I can rely upon.  I have also been privileged to meet and speak with community and state leaders I would have never met on my own. Just last month I was able to speak one on one with Wisconsin state representatives Jodi Emerson and Supreme Moore Omokunde at CVTC as they shared their new climate and jobs bill with environmental leaders in Eau Claire.

In addition to all the networking and meaningful projects I have experienced in the last few months, the ETF also is providing me with amazing training opportunities. I will continue to expand my knowledge to help Eau Claire through free environmental and leadership courses from Beyond Plastics, WISDOM, and JONAH. This highly accessible continuing education makes JONAH my absolute favorite organization to volunteer for. As I invest in my community, JONAH invests back into me!

If you find yourself looking for a space to use your passion and skills to help our environment, consider this an open invitation from me to become a member of the ETF! I can’t wait to meet you and work alongside you as we make the “impossible” possible! 

Members of the Environmental Task Force sitting at a picnic table at Forest St Community Garden in a meeting.