Women & Climate: Planting a Global Forest in a Connected World

Credit: UN Photo/Lamphay Inthakoun

By Rita Ann Wallace and Cynthia S Reyes
NEW YORK and TORONTO, Mar 23 2020 (IPS)

In January of this year, Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife
Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, shocked much of the world
when they announced they would be stepping down from their roles as
senior royals.

Much of the world, that is, except members of their loosely knit
online supporter group the “Sussex Squad”, who had been
following their doings closely. In the prior two months, one part
of the “Squad” had planted over 30,000 out of a targeted
100,000 trees in their honor. And therein lies a tale.

On World Children’s Day, 20 November 2019, a group of 11
women, mostly women of color, and connected only by a wish to
counter the tabloid and social media negativity around Harry and
Meghan, launched “Sussex
Great Forest
”, a Twitter- and Instagram-based campaign to
plant trees around the world.

The goal was modest: plant 10,000 trees by 6 May 2020, the first
birthday of Harry and Meghan’s son Archie Harrison
Mountbatten-Windsor. The target was met and surpassed in one
week.

The initiative started with a Twitter Direct Message
conversation in July 2019 among four women on how to counter the
tsunami of online and tabloid vitriol aimed especially at the
former Meghan Markle, a bi-racial American.

This negativity was due in part to the racism and xenophobia
which have become a well-documented feature of post-Brexit Britain,
and in part to the tendency of Britain’s notorious tabloid media
to scandalize even the couple’s most mundane doings.

The group of four soon grew to 11 women, from various countries
– USA, UK, Canada, Jamaica, Guyana, Ghana, South Africa –
unknown to one another except by their twitter handles. They
included an author; an anesthesiologist; a restaurateur; an
insurance broker; an IT professional; an accountant; a UN retiree;
and others.

As women of color, all of us were disturbed by the misogynoir
confronting Meghan, and wanted something positive to trend on
social media to replace the hateful hashtags.

Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi

We decided planting trees in the couple’s names was a fit with
Prince Harry’s known passion for conservation; Duchess Meghan’s
work to empower women; and in keeping with all the latest
recommendations on climate action.

An online campaign in support of a couple whom others are
determined to drag publicly had to be done in stealth. We
brainstormed and communicated only through Twitter direct message
chats. We created the @sussexgtforest handle on both Twitter and Instagram,
invited known Harry and Meghan supporters to follow, and closed the
accounts to all others.

We set a launch date of World Children’s Day, which also
coincided with UK National Tree Week. We set up campaigns on tree
planting organizations which had good reputations and good scores
with Charity Navigator and its equivalents.

We chose UK-based International Tree
Foundation
and Tree
Sisters
; US-based One
Tree Planted
; and Kenya-based the Green Belt Movement.

Visuals are important for an online campaign, so we encouraged
supporters who were going to plant trees themselves to do so early
and take photos so we would have content on our pages on launch
day.

Students and parents at a primary school in Malawi, with funding
from two donors, planted 50 trees and sent us pictures. People in
dozens of other countries planted trees in their yards or in pots
and sent photos. Those who were donating online to the
tree-planting charities also sent screenshots of their
receipts.

Ahead of our launch, we pitched our story to one journalist on
the royal beat. He was interested, and promised to do a piece on
launch day. On the day, we opened up the Twitter and Instagram
accounts, and pushed out our content with an ask to join the
movement and plant trees for Harry, Meghan, Archie, and the
planet.

The response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. People
donated to the charities and spread the word. Our campaign was
picked up by traditional media and dozens of stories ran. The
campaign got a boost when Harry and Meghan heard about our effort
and acknowledged us from their Instagram account.

At the end of only a week, we had exceeded our 10,000-tree goal
– five months ahead of schedule.

Jubilant, we set a new goal of 100,000 trees; and to date over
60,000 have already been planted or donated. We have recently added
two more tree planting charities – US-based Trees for the Future and National Forests
Foundation
.

We think there are several lessons to be drawn from this about
how individuals and small groups can use social media for good:

1. Don’t be deterred by the size of
your Twitter or Instagram following, or the lack of financial
resources to create and upkeep a website. The tools of activism are
mostly free. Get involved in the conversations online about the
things which interest you, and in a short time you will be part of
a network of like-minded people. Social media is about engagement,
not numbers of followers.
2. Don’t be deterred by national and geographic boundaries, which
are meaningless online. A global campaign can start from a computer
in Maputo as much as from one in Montreal. Use the opportunity to
bring diverse perspectives and skills to your undertaking.
3. Assess your potential, and if necessary, start small, with a
manageable goal, and use your success at a smaller target to propel
you forward.
4. Publicize your efforts. Speak up about your campaign in your
chosen forums.
5. Use sub-groups to help expand your network and get feedback on
tactics. We received helpful suggestions from outside the core
group that helped us improve the initiative.
6. Your cause must be trustworthy. We collect no money ourselves,
and deliberately chose charities that donors could verify for
themselves – all funds go directly to them. We also aim for
transparency, providing regular updates and responding promptly to
questions.

Our 6 May deadline is now only weeks away. We are trying to
close the gap between 60,000 and 100,000 trees – and doing so at
a time of global crisis.

But our love for the Earth, and our wish to show support for
Harry and Meghan, continue to propel us forward. We do believe we
will be able to meet our target in time for a great birthday
present for Archie, as representative of his generation: better
hope for the planet.

But whether we get to 100,000 trees or not, we will still have
accomplished multiple times our initial goal – without a website
or any of the normal tools many people think are necessary for a
climate activism campaign.

The power of social media had been used to fan hate against
Harry and Meghan. “Sussex Great Forest” recognized social
media’s power for good, harnessing its capacity to connect
strangers and galvanize them to take positive action on something
they feel passionately about.

The post
Women & Climate: Planting a Global Forest in a Connected
World
appeared first on Inter
Press Service
.

Excerpt:

Rita Ann Wallace, a Media Consultant in the UN,
and Cynthia S.
Reyes
, an author and former senior journalist with
Canada’s national broadcaster, are two of the 11 co-founders of
the “Sussex Great
Forest
” Global Tree Planting Campaign.

The post
Women & Climate: Planting a Global Forest in a Connected
World
appeared first on Inter
Press Service
.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Women & Climate: Planting a Global Forest in a Connected World