Draft Strategy & Organizing Report on "Beyond Oil" campaign

Dear Friends and Co-workers,

The Shalom Center held a successful kick-off strategy meeting on May 25 to begin the Beyond Oil grass-roots organizing campaign.

Russ Agdern's report on the meeting is below. Out of that meeting, The Shalom Center is exploring going forward with a campaign in the following basic framework.


1) The Goal: By 2020, cut US oil consumption by seven-eighths and replace oil as an energy source by conservation and by use of non-fossil, non-CO2-producing, non- nuclear sources of renewable, sustainable energy.

Why specifically 7/8? Because it would make an enormous difference, because it is do-able by taking steps sketched below, and because it fits the symbolism of Hanukkah.

The action focus for Beyond Oil's work in the Jewish community: Hanukkah: One Day's Oil for Eight Days Work.This draws on the traditional explanation of why we light eight candles: One day’s consecrated oil lasted eight days for rededication of the Temple. Make Hanukkah the festival of energy conservation and shift to renewable energy sources.

(Experts we have consulted say that the seven-eighths reduction by 2020 is possible, though not easy to achieve. It requires major but quite possible changes in the US transportation system: use of cellulosic ethanol, plug-in hybrids, public transit, use of wind power and other renewable, non-nuclear, non-CO2-producing sources of electricity).

Use Hanukkah both for public-policy and lifestyle action: Visits to city, state, and Federal legislators, public candle-lighting vigils and demonstrations at key Big Oil corporate HQ and key congressional offices,

and completing or announcing steps forward in greening synagogues, retirement homes, schools, similar institutional buildings and auto fleets (new furnaces, hybrid cars, etc.).

2) Special lifestyle focal points for the Beyond Oil campaign: Organizing "Oiloholics Anonymous" groups in synagogues and other congregations for people to help each other "kick the Oil habit" in their household and congregational lives; rabbis and other communal leaders urge all congregants to make their NEXT car purchase a hybrid or other high-mileage car (Kosher Kars).

3) Public and corporate policy focus: Carbon Tax on various energy sources according to their effective production of CO2, high enough to push users to seek other energy sources, with proceeds of the tax to be channeled to lower-income and middle-income people through any of various ways. (For example, possibly direct tax rebates, or drastic reduction in Social Security taxes on workers, or payment of costs of universal health insurance.) The Shalom Center works with energy and tax experts to craft a bill that embodies Jewish values in this direction, and builds support for that bill.

4) Though Hanukkah becomes the yearly focal point, other festivals and life-cycle ceremonies also become times for moving Beyond Oil (and other CO2-producing fuels). Possible examples:

Sh'mini Atzeret, playing on the pun between "shemen" ("oil") and "shmini ("eighth');

Bar/ Bat Mitzvah and confirmation / affirmation ceremonies pick up on the Prophetic passage: "I will send you Elijah the prophet to turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, lest the earth be utterly destroyed." Make this a time for intergenerational covenant to heal the earth.

Please note that we have focused on areas where we would be bringing our unique outlook and approaches. We would of course, where our concerns dovetail, work with other organizations – especially with Jewish environmental ones like Teva, Hazon, COEJL, etc., and with Jewish groups concerned by US attachments to oil-rich governments in the Middle East; with interfaith and secular renewable-energy and environmental groups like Interfaith Power & Light, Climate Crisis Coalition, Price of Oil, Global Exchange, Campus Climate Challenge, etc; and with other groups like religiously rooted opponents of the Iraq war that see it as in part caused by desire to control oil resources; groups focused on ashthma and other diseases connected with oil pollution; etc. All the groups named above had reps at the May 25 meeting; we value their input then and will continue to.

Arthur Waskow at Awaskow@aol.com
Russ Agdern at Ragdern@gmail.com

Russ Agdern, Campaign Organizer

We had 30 participants with a great diversity of talents, approaches, and backgrounds in the room: representatives from leadership on social action in the Jewish community, Jewish educators, synagogue leadership, environmental organizers, community activists, economists, people with legal and finance backgrounds.

The goal was to begin building a seamless set of strategies to engage the American Jewish community on Oil consumption and move the American Jewish community to action on this critical issue.

We also received an ironic reminder of the importance of organizing for Beyond Oil, particularly around building support for public transit, as Rabbi Waskow was delayed in arriving by the power outage on the New York bound Amtrak trains. (See at the end of this report the letter he sent the NY Times about this moment.)

The first portion of the day focused on Jewish communal centers and practices. How can we work within local Jewish and interfaith communities to move people's own life-styles and life-paths beyond the addiction to oil that afflicts us all – beyond our own current energy practices?

Liz Galst spoke about the Green Team at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, how it began as an idea to plant trees to offset carbon and grew to a whole campaign which has the shul and more than 10 percent of its membership switched to green energy for the electricity for their homes.

Cantor Eric Schulmiller spoke about the greening process at the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore -- how the impetus for the campaign started with his own personal greening, switching to a hybrid car and putting solar panels on his home. He then was able to take this issue, which he believed in personally, and get the community interested and involved. RSRN has not only greened their building, but have also started convincing their membership to switch to green power as well.

Both Liz and Eric spoke of the importance of getting key members of the community involved in the project. They reported that because of that key involvement and the progressive nature of their communities, it was fairly easy to move the greening project forward.

Kevin Kleinman, a rabinnical student at Hebrew Union College and former educator with Teva, presented ideas about building a multifaceted curriculum that could be adapted to day schools, Sunday schools and other programs. He spoke some about how the Teva model uses retreats to bring the importance of nature home to kids and uses pledges for classes and individual students to get them invested in the programming.

Rabbi Waskow spoke about incorporating commitment to protect the earth into religious and life cycle practice. He brought forward two examples: Focusing Hanukkah on Sacred Oil and the conservation of energy (One day's oil for eight days' energy), and focusing Bar / Bat Mitzvah services around the text of the return of Elijah the prophet Elijah: "Turning the hearts of parents and children to each other lest the earth be utterly destroyed."

Barbara Lerman-Golomb from COEJL spoke about COEJL's involvement in greening four synagogues in New Jersey, and about some of the programs and ideas that COEJL has put together using the holidays as organizing tools to move forward environmental concerns.

From there, we broke into small working groups to discuss how we can move this project forward:

Our education group began brainstorming ways to move education forward, and how we can do this in communities that are not as progressive as CBST and RSNS. They noted that suburbia has their own set of issues, and felt that the congregation needed to be behind the educational process. There are some programs already out there, but began to think about how something could go deeper and focus more specifically on energy consumption.

Our religious/life cycle group talked about different particular ideas to craft energy messages around the holidays, including building on an idea to make Shmini Atzeret (punning on "shmini = erighth and shemen=oil) a wind-power themed holiday.

Our greening congregations and interfaith working group talked about how important local policy is to this work and making sure we address environmental justice in addressing this issue, particularly when building coalitions in local communities that if possible should include communities of poverty and color.

After lunch, our discussion shifted towards the importance of public policy at local, state, corporate and federal levels, and different ways that religious communities and congregations can get involved in this struggle.

First, Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener spoke about Connecticut Interfaith Power and Light, and how their programs were building a statewide consciousness in houses of worship around this issue, including setting up trainings for members of congregations to do their own energy audits. Rabbi Cohen-Kiener also spoke about the rule of five, the importance of really bringing together several people to make the campaign strong, and how this rule was being used to start building local CT. coalitions to go after local energy consumption.

Mike Hudena from Global Exchange spoke about the history of their corporate campaigns, how they target the worst company on a specific issue and are able to bring them down. He then went into specifics on the Jumpstart Ford campaign, as well as some of the details on how greening has been moving forward at college campuses.

Our second panel of the afternoon focused on different possible federal policy initiatives.

Father Paul Mayer of the Climate Crisis Coalition spoke of their three-plank congressional program: sign the Kyoto agreement, adopt the McCain-Lieberman legislation without nuclear power as a part of it, and shift all major subsidies from the dirty energy sources of oil, gas, and coal, to subsidizing and supporting clean alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power.

Charlie Komanoff spoke of a carbon tax that would tax fuels by their carbon output and implementing it over a ten year period. Komanoff talked about how by taxing carbon, we're going after all the energy issues and we could use the taxes collected to cover social security or other social programs.

Susan Heitker from Price of Oil spoke about how much oil money is going to the leadership of Congress. Price of Oil is beginning a campaign to have members of Congress and new candidates pledge not to take any money from oil companies for their campaigns.

Leslie Lowe from Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility talked about influencing investment of pension boards and investment into green power as additional ways people could get involved.

We then broke up into smaller groups to focus on national policy and more localized policy discussions. Our Federal policy group knows that this Congress is not friendly to environmental causes, and saw beginning campaigns on these federal policies as organizing tools to educate people about environmental policy and to push the issue into the spotlight as one lawmakers cannot ignore.

Strong interest emerged around both the Climate Crisis Coalition's program and the Carbon Tax.

The local group had members of the Neighborhood Energy Network and Peak Oil NYC leading discussion, focusing on needs for resource on local and regional actions, including reporting legislation before city council. They felt there needs to be a way for people to find out about local environmental activity and spread the word, though there is no easy mechanism for this in New York. They also wanted to make this a model, make the information easily disseminated and replicable in other cities.

All told, people feel excited about this project and ready to start moving it forward. We want to continue the working group discussions from the meeting, including the voices of whoever wants to help build in the areas below: Write Russ at Ragdern@gmail.com
letting him know which groups you would like to work with.

Congregation Greening

Jewish Education

Jewish Festival & Life-Cycle events

Interfaith Green work

Local and Statewide initiatives

Federal Initiatives

Corporate Policy.

Thanks again to everyone who participated. And thanks to all who couldn't make it but want to be a part of this conversation. Look out for email discussions, conference calls, events in DC and more events in New York in the not too distant future.

Oh, and here is Rabbi Waskow's letter to the NY Times;

To the Editor,
I was one of the Amtrak passengers who was trapped by the electrical outage on May 25. ("Reading. Cursing the Heat. Hiking to a Parking Lot," May 26, p. B1).

Ironically, I was on my way from Philadelphia to New York City for a meeting of religious activists who are planning a campaign to encourage public transit and end the billions in government subsidies that reward the oil-and-auto complex for scorching our earth in the global climate crisis.

Far from feeling "This is God's way of teaching us patience," like one passenger whom you quoted, I felt it was God's way of teaching us impatience with the politicians who are beggaring Amtrak while enriching and aggrandizing Big Oil. (And being themselves enriched and aggrandized in return.)

Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The Shalom Center


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