There is a new activism organization in town for locals who are passionate about the environmental issues that face Mitchell County—but this one may not be your typical political lobbyist group.
JACKIE ARMSTRONG: CO-FOUNDER OF THE MITCHELL COUNTY CCE
“Our [group] is wide and inclusive, and everyone is welcome,” said Jackie Armstrong. Armstrong is a retired lawyer from Mason City who now works as a hobby prairie restorationist in Mitchell County. She is a co-founder of the Mitchell County Chapter of the Citizens Climate Education group (CCE), notably distinct from its national sister organization, the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL).
Armstrong was a longtime member of the Mason City Chapter of the group when she was approached by Don Hofstrand, president of the Mason City group, and asked if a chapter at the University of North Iowa (UNI) campus was feasible. Armstrong was a student at the college at the time, and decided to launch a student-based chapter there.
“I decided I didn’t know enough about science after I retired from practicing law, so I went back to school at UNI for biology,” Armstrong laughed. “And then I retired again, and [my husband and I] moved to Mitchell County.”
Back in north-central Iowa, Armstrong—joined by her husband Dr. Gary Levinson and Judy and Jay Pedelty—saw another opportunity to expand the CCL.
A UNIQUE APPROACH TO A TRADITIONALLY LOBBYIST GROUP
However, the group decided to tailor the Mitchell County Chapter for education rather than political activism; consequently, they decided not to affiliate with the Citizens Climate Lobby name and instead introduced Citizens Climate Education.
Armstrong said that the goal is for people who are intimidated or uninterested in writing to congressmen—but are still concerned about the climate change issues that Mitchell County faces—to feel welcome in the group.
One of the biggest strengths of the CCE being in Mitchell County, Armstrong said, is the diversity of the people in it. There’s scarcely a background that isn’t represented in the group, which has seen involvement from farmers, truck drivers, doctors, lawyers, educators, conservatives and liberals alike.
“These are just people, this is just America,” said Armstrong. “Just people who want to protect our natural resources.”
Armstrong acknowledged that some populations of Mitchell County may be unwilling or uncomfortable when it comes to talking about the area’s environmental health, but that she is “extremely interested” in engaging in conversation with those who are skeptical about climate change. The CCE, she said, has “barely scratched the surface” of all that can be done here.
“That is why, most importantly, we just want to talk about [climate change],” said Armstrong. “Some may be reluctant to have confrontations that make them uncomfortable or offended, but I find that if you are resolutely courteous and polite, you can have a great conversation.”
For that reason, the founders of the CCE wanted to introduce a group that had something to offer for everyone, including those who cringe away from politics.
THE SPECTRUM OF ACTIVISM
While the founders encourage local residents to join CCE if only for the sake of climate education, the opportunities for political activism are still there. Members of the CCE are welcome to engage in grassroots activism if they choose to, which would involve writing letters to local and state representatives.
The mission statement of the CCL on a global level is “to build the political will for a stable climate,” and aims to organize environmental activists who feel “concerned but helpless.”
Conversely, the CCE includes opportunities for grass-tops activism. This portion of the team networks with prominent business leaders and the members of the community that influence legislators. A grass-tops activist may travel throughout the county giving presentations on climate change and encouraging action from the area’s leading economic figures. The group also encourages its grass-tops activists to submit letters to the editor of local publications and work with the media.
The last, and perhaps most involved form of activism the CCE offers, is lobbying. The national organization lobbies twice a year in June and December at the nation’s capital, where members visit their legislators in their office to advocate for climate change awareness.
One example provided by Armstrong of an activism item on the CCE’s agenda right now is House Resolution 763, which would charge fees against oil and coal companies who pull carbon directly out of the earth. The fees would, in turn, be redirected back to the taxpayers as dividends, in order to offset the eventual upward slope of gas and oil prices.
“Nobody likes to do what they don’t like to do,” explained Armstrong. “Going around and giving presentations on climate change may horrify some people and excite others. I want to emphasize that this is volunteer and you can do whatever you want.
“Some people don’t like to lobby. The very word makes people feel anxious because they don’t like to talk to politicians or politics in general, but are interested in education. This group is for them.”
CLIMATE CHANGE IN MITCHELL COUNTY
While the north-central Iowa area may not seem as affected by climate change as other parts of the world at first consideration, Armstrong said that the impacts are there.
“In part, yes, Iowa is protected from the ravages of climate change that other parts of the world suffer from,” she said, “but Iowa suffers from flooding. With levees on the Missouri River breached last year, we will probably see even greater flooding.”
According to a report by the Des Moines Register, twelve Missouri River levees, across three states, breached in June of last year. The result was monumental flooding that swept across the Hawkeye State, and almost half of all Iowan counties issued disaster declarations.
The 2019 break wasn’t the first time Iowa was slammed by the river’s levee failures; a similar occurrence happened in 2011. This pattern, coupled with unusual instances of drought in some portions of the state and heavy participation in others, is indicative of climate change, according to Armstrong.
“We want to bring your voices together,” she said. Armstrong said that the group is currently only meeting remotely, and the next session will be held on May 20.
Residents of Mitchell County who are interested in learning more about Iowan climate change, or would like to learn more about joining the CCE, can contact Jackie at 641-430-9655.