Every Iowa Caucus season brings in the big names running for president, but it also attracts a lot of issue-based groups who organize for the caucus as well. One of the most visibly active this cycle has been NextGen Climate, which is ramping up in Iowa this summer. You’ve probably seen their signature orange shirts and signs at community events across the state and surrounding candidate visits, where the activists are calling on presidential hopefuls to address climate change. Starting Line often spots their volunteers and staff out at events more often than any other organization.
With at least one candidate in the state every week, organizations like NextGen have the unique opportunity to talk to each candidate about Iowans’ climate concerns and drive them to propose solutions for a clean energy future.
The organization has gained visibility around the state as they work to make climate issues more relevant to caucus-goers. At a Hillary Clinton event in Iowa City Tuesday, the NextGen orange was well represented, earning mentions by local and national reporters before the event that there were almost as many NextGen Climate shirts as Hillary shirts. Summer NextGen fellows, who assist the field team in organizing, and volunteers handed out stickers and buttons before the event, while talking to people in line about the NextGen climate action message.
“People were genuinely interested in the work we were doing and a bunch of people thanked us for what we do,” said Andrea Nemecek, NextGen regional field director for the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area.
Tuesday’s event was a successful one for the organization as many people expressed interest in learning more about the cause and how they could help. Former Iowa Democratic Party chair, Sue Dvorsky, and State Representative Liz Bennett thanked the group of volunteers and encouraged the crowd around them to talk to the people in the orange shirts about climate.
“I think we have a volunteer organization across the state that rivals volunteer organizations of presidential candidates,” Nemecek said. “Most of the time we have the largest number of volunteers at community events and I think that is because, for many people, climate is a top issue leading into the caucuses.”
The message seems to be resonating, as candidates (mostly the Democrats) are bringing up climate issues more and more in their speeches and conversations with voters.
In Iowa City Tuesday, Clinton started her speech to a crowd of about 350 with her thoughts on climate action. “By investing in clean, renewable energy, we go right at climate change, an existential threat,” Clinton said. She spent considerable time talking about climate change and how she has worked with President Obama on negotiating climate agreements around the world, without being prompted about the issue.
After the event, Hillary asked the NextGen group to come take a picture with her and thanked them for their hard work. The Iowa City summer fellows mentioned they were “excited to hear Hillary was ready to act on climate” and that she acknowledged she knew what NextGen was already.
Another candidate making a big pitch on the climate and clean energy topic is Martin O’Malley. He rolled out a comprehensive solutions-based plan that he highlighted in his Iowa trip last week, striving for 100% clean energy by 2050. “We have a moral obligation to act immediately and aggressively to stop climate change,” O’Malley stated in his plan.
NextGen Climate Iowa, led by several former key Obama campaign Iowa staffers, has been expanding the size and reach of its grassroots organization in recent months as well. Last week in Ames, organizers held a picnic with over 60 attendees to talk about climate change solutions. The event was BYOC (Bring Your Own Cup) and was completely sustainable, featuring 100% recyclable materials. Afterwards, the participants composted as much of the material as they could at the Ames High School compost plant.
Stephen Biggs, president of the Ames Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), emphasized the importance of tying the political in with the environmental. “NextGen Climate Iowa has amped up its’ presence in Ames this caucus season and it’s exciting to see the organization at work,” he noted. Other guests in Ames included State Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell and former county attorney, John Klaus.
“It was great to see so many people who share the same interests and concerns have an outlet to come together, and begin working on showing the Ames community ways everyone can act on climate,” said Sydney Watnick, Ames regional field director for NextGen.
NextGen Climate Iowa currently has offices in Sioux City, Ames, Des Moines, Cedar Falls, Iowa City and Davenport. You can see more of what they do at ia.nextgenclimate.org.
by Pat Rynard