The U.S. is bracing for President-elect Donald Trump. All initial indications are that the U.S. is in for a dramatic change of leadership, more like some of the authoritarian regimes we are used to reading about in other parts of the world. Over the last decade, I have worked as an environmental and human-rights philanthropist trying to protect people and the planet, some of that inside oppressive and authoritarian regimes.
America—Don't Be Fooled, Trump's Cabinet Picks Can Be Stopped https://t.co/Qx8wjJq4b5 @OhioEnviro @ejfoundation— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1482369307.0
Here's six lessons I've learned:
1. Small is better. Smaller organizations are more nimble, move more swiftly to take action, and are often more aggressive in their work and tactics. Authoritarian regimes often move swiftly and with little public process, and so the reaction from environmental and humanitarian groups needs to be similar.
2. Grassroots and local groups can be more effective. When environmental harm happens, it almost always happens on a local scale—an oil spill, a dam proposal, a timber sale, a power-plant polluter, etc. Local people are harmed, and so local groups are often the best and most effective voice that need to be supported to combat that harm.
3. Women, indigenous people, and people of color are excellent activists and spokespersons. Authoritarian oppression knows no boundaries, but it often undermines already oppressed people the worst. People who have been systemically oppressed are often grating to speak out, are excellent spokespersons, and have the most to fight for because they're poised to lose even more.
Meet 15 indigenous women on the frontline of the #NoDAPL resistance: https://t.co/UczKb5wHZj via @EcoWatch— Climate Reality (@Climate Reality)1478323328.0
4. Structural change is needed, not just a win in the next election. Authoritarian regimes often get swept in under the guise of working-class nationalism, but when in power the same regimes often collude with multinational corporate capitalism to further undermine human and environmental rights. The fight is a battle against the regime of the day, and a war against multinational corporate capitalism over the long term.
5. Resource rights protectors need protection. Authoritarians often speak out against groups and individual people, take away groups' money, put people in jail, threaten their lives or worse. The activists and ordinary people who are defending the environment and human rights also need to be protected.
Indigenous Activist Murdered in Honduras Just Two Weeks After Berta Cáceres Was Killed https://t.co/pS3PudOJzd @EARTHWORKS @foeeurope— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1458425725.0
6. It's a marathon, not a sprint. The forces that sweep authoritarian regimes into power have been working to do so for decades or longer, and so the forces that fight against that power need to be funded and prepared for a protracted response.
The U.S. may now find itself in a similar position as countries like the China, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Philippines, Russia, Venezuela and many others where authoritarians have been swept into power over the last decade. As a public citizen who wants to take action, should you join a national environmental organization or should you join a local group fighting a dam or fracking? As a donor, should you give to a big environmental group lobbying in DC or to a local minority-action group trying to force their city council to clean up their drinking water? We will definitely need mass national mobilizations and we'll also need numerous local actions.
Environmental and human-rights activists and donors in the U.S. need to brace themselves, learn from other countries and dig in.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.