Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition

Unifying the voice of a generation in environmental solidarity

RESOURCE: Social Media that Builds a Movement

Today I took part in a national conference call held by Climate Reality Check entitled “Social Media that Builds a Movement”. They covered some really great tips and tools we can all use to better use social media as an organizing and movement building tool.

Check out the notes I took to start integrating some of these lessons with your campaign or project! We covered how to create engaging content, how to make effective memes, and talked about the climate silence campaign as an excellent case study

For the skimmers out there- here’s the most useful resource included: a toolkit on meme making

Social Media that Builds a Movement

4/25/2013 Climate Reality Check

How to create engaging content (graphics and memes)

–          Do one thing at a time! The climate problem is extremely daunting, so just try to focus on one number at a time.

  • While it’s important to build the bigger picture and tell the whole story, focusing on one or two concrete details at a time helps you build this story over time, but in a way that allows people to understand easily and is much more engaging

–          How to understand the problem- important to capture the scale of the problem and the solution with dramatic imagery (climate change does give us epic visuals)

  • Helps convey the size of the problem that condenses the larger science into a single emotion or feeling
  • People don’t relate very well to global or apocalyptic thinking, so talking about specific impacts is a better way to get people fired up without making them feel like the world is over.

Effective ways to use social media to amplify on the ground actions

–          The big picture- its best to break up social media strategy into three parts and have a plan for each: before the action, during the action, and after the action

  • make a plan for all of these phases based on what your goals are (recruitment, engagement, next steps) and then craft tools/strategy to meet these goals
  • before an action- goal is to make it feel real so that more people relate/are excited to join in
    • use stories from people who are signed up, ask them to tell why they’re doing it
    • if you’re about to reach your recruitment goal, tell people about it!
    • Adds momentum and excitement = more people
    • Use diverse messengers so that your message resonates with as many different communities as possible
  • During an action- show, don’t tell.
    • You should have exciting things to show if you have a successful action!
    • Use quotes from speakers and lots of photos, but mix up your scale (use pics from crowd and speakers)
  • After the action- you want people to feel really good about the next steps
    • Post reflections on numbers, goals that were met
    • Gives you a chance to show more photos, let the movement have a chance to see itself and feel powerful

Best practices for groups with limited capacity

–          Make a plan for the goals you have

  • Goal for how often you want to post, and be concrete

–          Make it part of your routine, this should just be a part of organizing

–          There are some apps schedule social media work for you- tweet deck

–          Focus- get it all done at once, don’t let it be something that is always distracting you! Use your post schedules

–          Follow this advice on meme making!

Meme making

–          Be a movement builder, not a marketer

  • Listen to hash tags (etc) if you’re going to use them
  • Be a trainer and teach others about social media
  • Don’t just list your stories, but list movement stories (because that is what people want to be a part of)

–          What is a meme?

  • the word comes from a book by Richard Dawkins about evolutionary biology- based on the word genes (we spread our genes virally because we’re compelled to)
    • meme is the spread of ideas

–          Why are memes useful?

  • Photos catch people’s attention
    • FB algorithm is programmed to prioritize images
  • Captions travel with photos and memes when other people share them (but not with articles)

–          How to make a good meme?

  • Use Picmonkey.com, especially if you don’t have graphic design skills
  • Be snarky
  • Minimize text, but entice the viewers to read more (in captions, links)
  • Show agency- lift up the people who have made the changes you’re posting about.
  • Include a next step (bare minimum is “click like and share”) petition, letter, event to attend, etc.

–          Using pictures that won’t get you in trouble

  • If you give credit to where you found it/person who took it, you probably won’t get in trouble
  • Worst case scenario is that you have to take it down
  • If you’re really worried, there are creative commons photos that anyone can use

–          What to do with it

  • Post it! But not in a vacuum- call on your network to help you share the image
  • Have a good caption
  • Tag groups or people who helped/are involved- just a subtle hint that they should share it too

Climate Silence: Case Study of using social media to amplify a campaign (breaking the silence on climate during 2012 presidential debates)

–          (check out a really successful climate silence meme here)

–          Most of the effort/challenge is being a good organizer and coming up with a good campaign idea and strategies, the social side of “social media” is the most important one

–          Used moral imagery in this case (duct tape)- this was a very compelling visual message and something national media paid attention to (as they’re always looking for a good political scandal), but coming up with this idea actually took a long time

  • It helps to work with good designers, but the most important part is creating the campaign/content/messaging

–          Built a network of allies and groups to contribute

  • After they generated the original image with tape over candidate’s mouths, EAC then made a meme/poster making tools that people could use to tailor this message and make their own. That way people felt ownership and wanted to share more

–          They were prepared to respond in real time (while watching the debates) that made them super time relevant- rapid response is one of the most key things you can do to generate a wide response

  • You’re not just trying to reach them with something new, you’re connecting to something they already care about


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Divestment Working Group Notes!

Hi MSSC!  Here is what the Divestment Working Group talked about during our call on April 24th!

Stephen from CMU spoke about how they launched their campaign with videos and posting fliers around campus.  They’ve begun asking faculty members for support in their campaign, and at the beginning of next school year they plan to publish a disorientation guide about divestment and chalk #divestcmu all over campus!

Marissa from U of M talked what the Divest and Invest Campaign has accomplished this year.  They launched the campaign in early March with a panel event, and went right into passing a resolution with the College of LSA Student Government.  They have also begun garnering support from faculty, and plan to pass a resolution in Central Student Government and meet with individual members of the Board of Regents to ask for support.

We also spoke about plans for the national Divestment Day of Action on May 2, where students will show support from divestment all over the country by taking pictures of events with orange squares, the national symbol of divestment!

Finally, we spoke about planning a Michigan Divestment Day of Action at the beginning of next year, where students all over Michigan can show support for divestment!  Maybe by wearing orange mittens?

Stay tuned for information about the next working group call!

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MI Student Earth Day Photos

Here are a few photos from some cool Earth Day or Earth Week events that students hosted on campuses this past week!

Central Michigan University students ended their Earth Week with a block party hosted by Take Back the Tap and Campus Grow. Students spent the day outside volunteering at the campus garden and listening to some local artists.

Photo from Krista Testolin, CMU student

Photo from Krista Testolin, CMU student


Photo from Krista Testolin, CMU student

Michigan State University students held a similar event on Monday, one put together by a broad coalition of campus environmental groups. Together they painted the rock, talked about their orgs with fellow students, and enjoyed some music from Fertile Brainsoil, an East Lansing band.

Photo from Connor Meston, MSU student (on the left)

Photo from Connor Meston, MSU student (on the left)

Photo from Connor Meston, MSU student

Photo from Connor Meston, MSU student

University of Michigan students also celebrated an Earth Week on campus, offering a wide array of events hosted by many different student orgs. The Environmental Issues Commission hosted a mock oil spill in the diag, as well as another event to talk about food issues (co-hosted with the Sustainable Food Program).

Photo from Marissa Solomon, UM Student

Photo from Marissa Solomon, UM Student

Photo from Marissa Solomon, UM Student

Photo from Marissa Solomon, UM Student

A new group from Ferris State University took this Earth Day opportunity to host their first events on Monday!  Well on their way to becoming an official registered student organization, the new Ferris Students for Sustainability represented the MSSC and their vision for a more sustainable campus by tabling and handing out free succulents during the day and hosting a documentary screening in the evening.

Photo from Myc Williams, FSU student

Photo from Myc Williams, FSU student


Thanks to all the students who worked to host these events! But more importantly, lets thank them for doing this work every day. While Earth Day is a great excuse to get others to take a minute to think about the environment,  for these students its just another day in the fight for our planet, our health, and our futures.

And sometimes that fight can feel really big and really overwhelming, so give your favorite student activists some love and encouragement today! Solidarity and love are some of the best accountability structures out there 🙂


Daryl Hannah at CMU!

 “Total systems collapse!  I’m going to say that again, total systems collapse.  I don’t know why everyone isn’t running around screaming ‘help! help!’ on the streets!”  -Daryl Hannah at CMU, 4/17/2013

While this statement may seem out of character for Hollywood stars, it certainly is right in line with Daryl Hannah’s lifestyle and beliefs.

I know because I had the pleasure of dining with Daryl Hannah this past Wednesday and listening to her engage in a conversation with my university community.  Her understanding of the interconnectedness of global struggles was refreshing and her fun demeanor was relaxing.  She spoke of everything from the failures of capitalism and the corporatized political system to the necessity of sustainability and environmental awareness and concern.

But Ms. Hannah doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk.  She spoke about her own lifestyle changes – including her (mostly) vegan diet, chemical-free lifestyle, and carbon-neutral home – to her experiences living in the trees to save a farm or standing in front of a bulldozer to block the construction of the Keystone XL.

A question was asked of Daryl: How can you get people who don’t seem so interested in these things to want to get involved?

Her answer?  Throw a better party.

If there’s one thing I learned from Daryl, it’s that our movement throws a better party.  Whether we’re dismantling oppressive infrastructure, creating media, building solutions, or educating others, we’re doing it with the best and most compassionate people around and that’s because our movement isn’t just about the “environment.”  It’s a movement about reigniting the instinct we have as beings to protect and love life.  It’s a movement so primal and so true, it’s impossible not to fall in love with it.

Daryl said that if given the choice between an apple that’s poisoned and an apple that’s pure, there isn’t one single person who would choose the former.  Our movement is simply drawing attention to this basic fact: we all want to live and we all want to thrive and the mode of operation of the current global systems is poisonous.  We cannot let it continue.

So folks, let’s get out there and throw a better party.



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Wolves and Democracy Threatened in Michigan

Earlier this year some Michigan politicians announced plans to open a sport hunting season for wolves in the state, just after wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2012.

Since then, a group called “Keep Michigan Wolves Protected” launched a grassroots campaign to gather enough signatures to place this issue on the 2014 ballot for voters to decide. In March they submitted 253,705 signatures to get a wolf hunting referendum on the ballot, far surpassing the 160,000 signatures needed! This truly seemed to be a victory for the grassroots, and a much needed delay to the legislative process the would open season on these animals.

Yesterday a bill sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson (Escanaba) was passed through the Natural Resources Commission and is now making its way to the senate floor for a vote. Similar to many other bills Casperson has sponsored, this is an effort to remove conservation protections and endanger wildlife in order to turn a profit. If passed, this bill will strip the voters of their rights to vote on this issue by specifying that only the Michigan legislature has the power to name a potential game species. In other words, the 253,705 voter signatures and countless volunteer hours to collect them will go ignored and a referendum will not be allowed to take place on this issue.

From Michigan Radio, here’s the language from the bill (SB 288)- the proposed new language is in bold:

“Sec. 40110. (1) Only the legislature or the commission may designate a species as game. If an animal is designated under this section by the legislature or commission as game, then only the legislature or commission may authorize the establishment of the first open season for that animal. Only the legislature may remove a species from the list of game. The commission shall exercise its authority under this subsection by issuing orders.”

So now we have to wonder…


If you’re as outraged about this as I am, please take some time to call and email your state senators and URGE THEM TO VOTE NO ON SB 288. I’ve heard that this could go up for vote in the senate next week, so let’s flood their inboxes with messages to let them know that it is not acceptable to shut out voters from this process, and hunting wolves is not something that our state needs or wants.

[if you’re concerned about wolves eating your livestock, don’t worry because our state already has a management plan in effect that can allow for “removal” of wolves if they become a nuisance]

Here’s some text from Stephanie at GVSU that you can use to craft your message:

“Greetings, Senator ____,  I am writing with a deep sense of urgency as I implore you to vote NO on SB 288. Those who most want wolf hunting in Michigan asserted SB 288 on Tuesday (April 9). Its passing would effectively dismiss the referendum efforts of thousands of concerned Michigan citizens like me by decreeing that only the state legislature has the right to decide which animals are hunted. Worse, it would undermine citizens’ longstanding agency in what happens to our state’s wildlife! Last month your constituents submitted their support for Michigan’s wolf population in the form of a petition bearing over 250,000 signatures. I urge you to honor the will of the people behind those signatures by voting “NO” on SB 288. I appreciate your attention to my message and this urgent matter.”


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Anti-Fracking Working Group: Notes from Call

Hi MSSCers! Here are the notes from the Anti-Fracking Working Group call on April 4th.

This blog will show MI students how others are working on fighting fracking, will be a place for resources, and where students can say what they need (ex. bodies at a protest). The next call we are hoping more people will have input as to where this group goes in terms of taking action! Attached is the link for the Doodle for our next call which will be next week! Please fill it out ASAPhttp://doodle.com/mmvmkcvxgcuhewtt

Ordinances: Alysha discussed the group that is currently working on creating a sample resolution and a how-to-guide for people to present in their cities. While this ordinance is not a straight “ban” on fracking, it works around the system to make it nearly impossible to frack in an area (ex. banning elements of fracking such as large truckloads, water withdrawal, etc). This also provides a neutral ground so people can get involved in the fight on fracking while  avoiding the “pro/con” ban debate. The counties that will be working on ordinances are: Grand Rapids/Kent County, Allegan County, Oakland County, and Washtenaw County. These counties will then be focusing on one specific city.

If you are interested in working on an ordinance in your county, contact Alysha McClain at alyshaomcclain@gmail.com

May 9: Unfortunately, May 9 is the next mineral rights lease auction and it is approaching quickly. There is a group of Michigan Fracktivists that will be planning the protest for this date. If you missed the call but would like to stay informed about the protest, contact Mariah at mariahamberurueta@gmail.com

Call-in number: (605) 475-4000
Access code: 362247#

So sign the Doodle and get on the next call! Cheers.

(Notes written by Mariah Urueta from CMU, edited by Claire Malley from UM.)

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Divestment in Michigan!

In case you were wondering, MI students are among the thousands nationwide that  want to contribute to a moral shift that must take place in order to end the power that fossil fuel companies have to bend policy and politicians to their will. Many MI students have joined up with 350.org’s national campaign to get our local institutions (like campuses) to stop investing their money in fossil fuel companies. By getting university endowments to take their money out of fossil fuels, students hope that this will send a message that the people no longer find it acceptable to fund, or be funded by, corporations that are destroying our climate and planet with little regard for human rights. So far we have campaigns launched at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, with campaigns at several other schools in the works.

Students from both schools have been working hard to find information about their university’s endowments and investments, and build a grassroots base of students, professors, alumni, and community members that stand with them to call on the universities to divest from the fossil fuel companies.

Below is a little bit more about the campaigns at each school!

Michigan State University Fossil Free Campaign

This is a paragraph from Connor Meston, one of the student leaders with MSU’s Fossil Free Campaign!

Hello everyone! As you may know, Michigan State University students have made recent headway in their campaign for fossil fuel divestment.  In addition to educating students about this issue and campaign, we’ve discovered that MSU has at least 14 million dollars invested in fossil fuels. So, we decided to schedule a Fossil Free Forum for April 4th. Turns out, it was a great success. With over 30 attendees and a great panel of speakers, it was inspirational for all members of Fossil Free and surely a number of the people who attended. In addition, Fossil Free spread the word about divestment to the media, including WKAR Radio, NBC’s WILX TV, Lansing’s City Pulse, and MSU’s State News. And, in line with local tradition, Fossil Free painted The Rock with information about the day’s event. However, this is only half of the story.

About 3 weeks ago, a few members from Fossil Free decided it wasn’t enough to just have a forum on our campaign. We were going to pull the student government in for support. So, Fossil Free wrote up a divestment resolution that was passed in committee only 6 days after it was conceived. A week later, the resolution unanimously passed ASMSU’s general assembly. With this resolution and press coverage, Fossil Free will finally be bringing divestment to the table of MSU’s Board of Trustees. On April 12th, we will know how much the administration is with or against us. Band together my friends! This may be the beginning, but Earth Day will give us an opportunity to make our voices heard. Stay committed and Go Green!

MSU Resolution

The University of Michigan Divest and Invest Campaign

Students with DivestUM have been working since this past fall to learn more information about the university’s investments, which came to light after submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the university. Despite the difficulty for students to access the endowment information, they now know that the university has almost 1 billion dollars invested in fossil fuels out of its total 8 billion dollar endowment (one of the largest endowments in the country). This 1 billion dollars from UM accounts for 5% of the total amount of fossil fuel investments from US universities. Despite UM’s large amount of funding for faculty and research dedicated to sustainability and climate change, they still support the fossil fuel industry with this significant chunk of change from their endowment.

However, students with this campaign have worked tirelessly to unite many student orgs behind this cause (at least 30!) and spread the word to the student body, alumni, and community partners. They’ve already held a successful kick-off event that featured panelists like Bill McKibben and Maria Gunnoe, circulated a petition asking the University to divest, and held a large  awareness event on campus.

Although the school year is rapidly coming to a close, they hope to submit a resolution to the Central Student Government sometime very soon, which would solidify the student body’s support of asking the administration to divest. Due to some hard work supporting pro-divestment candidates in student elections, this resolution should pass easily!

Here’s a picture from their recent event outside on UM’s famous diag- each flag represents one million dollars invested in harmful fossil fuels! 

UM Flags

Thanks to all of the students who are putting in so much hard work on these campaigns! If we want to see our country, states, and communities take positive steps towards dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we need to stop fossil fuel industries from using their seemingly limitless $$$ to influence our politics!

You can help by supporting these campaigns- check out MSU Fossil Free on Facebook, and sign UM Divest and Invest’s petition to the administration! (anyone can sign, if you aren’t a student just click the “concerned community member” link)

Divestment doesn’t start and stop on campus, either, click here to learn more about how you can get other institutions like churches and towns to divest as well! 

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MSSC Signs on to Rulemaking Petition for Tar Sands

It seems like more and more we’ve been getting distinct, and terrifying, signs that the production and export of diluted bitumen (tar sands, dilbit) is NOT a good idea, but also comes at the expense of human and ecological health. Lets take a look back at tarsands in the news the past few weeks…

– Earlier in March piles of petcoke were found growing rapidly along the banks of the Detroit river. Petcoke is a byproduct of processing very dense crude oil, or tar sands, which the Detroit refinery does on a daily basis. Although the health/environmental affects of this substance are debated, they can undoubtedly leach heavy metals and/or sulphur into the Detroit River if it rains, which never happens in the spring….

– On March 28th a train carrying Canadian oil spilled 15,000-30,000 gallons of crude oil in Western Minnesota

– On March 29th a tar sands pipeline in Arkansas ruptured, spilling at least 80,000 gallons of diluted bitumen, which proceeded to make a river/flood of tar sands and water that caused 22 homes to be evacuated. Not only is this tar sands oil incredibly difficult to clean up, it also needs to be treated with Benzene (a known carcinogen) to make it flow through the pipeline)

– MEANWHILE, the EPA has ordered Enbridge to do additional dredging in the Kalamazoo River, where they’ve already recovered over one million gallons of the tar sands oil they spilled in to the river in 2010. Yes, even though they’ve already cleaned up one million gallons of this, TAR SANDS OIL IS STILL SUBMERGED IN THE RIVER AND WILL REMAIN THERE BECAUSE IT SINKS AND GETS EMBEDDED IN THE SEDIMENT AND IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT TO CLEAN UP. (But don’t worry, according to an industry study, this oil floats, it doesn’t sink, so can be dealt with like regular oil)

The good news at the end of this rage fueled rant?

The Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition recently signed on to an effort to get our government to do something about it! In Michigan Enbridge has already showed us that it is extremely unprepared to deal with a tar sands spill, but they still don’t have to follow any regulations or processes that acknowledge the unique properties of this oil, nor does any company. In order to address this large oversight that inevitably will cause major environmental destruction and threats to human health, the National Wildlife Federation is leading an effort to regulate this substance and halt any construction on pipelines  until further research has been done on tar sands that can inform better and more appropriate safety regulations and emergency response plans.

The MSSC has signed on to this rulemaking petition in partnership with 29 national, state and local organizations as well as 36 landowners from states across the country impacted by existing and proposed tar sands pipelines. We have filed our petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the  Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to ask for stronger safety standards for tar sands pipelines.

You can read the full petition, and get more context for it, at NWF’s post here. However, if these are accepted, the next step will be lots of public comment in support of the petition! Stay tuned for next steps on how you can do that.

Overall, the outcome of this position does not attack the root cause of this problem– the Canadian government allowing corporations to produce this oil at the expense of ecosystem health and First Nation lands and health. However, this is a politically feasible solution to some of the disastrous effects that tar sands can induce when spilled into the environment. If we can prevent any person from having to see their land, drinking water sources, livelihoods, favorite natural areas, etc be destroyed by this substance that will be a good first step.

And don’t think that we’re not going to keep fighting for tar sands to stop being produced and transported completely. What has happened in Michigan, and in many other places across the country, is 100% unacceptable.  I can say that we’ve got some exciting plans in the works to help unite many voices in MI who are ready to take more serious action around our pipeline issues and make sure that the nation recognizes the threats that Enbridge, and all those who seek to profit from tar sands oil, pose to ourselves and our planet.

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