INTERVIEW: Kris Paul

 

Kris Paul is one of the founders of 350Corvallis.org in Corvallis, Oregon.

 

What is your background in organizing?

I’ve always been attracted to organizing and activism.  I remember when I was a kid, I was always trying to organize the other kids.  In grade school I was organizing variety shows to put on for the parents, and in junior high I rounded up all the neighborhood kids and put on a carnival to raise money for muscular dystrophy.  I’m really more of an introvert, and I’m not really crazy about being the center of attention, but I like the problem solving aspect of it, trying to figure out how to pull all the pieces together and make it happen.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but my Dad was involved in activism in the 60’s and 70’s around civil rights, and my mom has always been drawn to religion and really focused on the serving others aspect of that.  So I think I must of inherited a bit of that from each of them.

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When I went to college I starting working with a group that was helping the local homeless populations and also started getting more involved with activism at that point.  Then after college I took somewhat of a break.  I guess life just happened, work, marriage, having a kid and all that.  I was still paying attention to what was going on in the world, but I just wasn’t being very politically active.  Then when the whole Occupy Wall Street movement started, and that got me excited to start getting involved again.  All of the issues they were raising just seemed really relevant to me and I felt like I needed to get more involved.  So I found our local Occupy group on Facebook and started going to meetings and rallies.  I met a lot of interesting people there that I still keep in touch with.  The group isn’t active anymore, but the network is still there and most of the people are still active in various groups dealing with all those issues that Occupy helped bring to the forefront.

What experiences did you have that turned you toward organizing with 350.org?

I think both the strength and one of the challenges of the Occupy movement is the diversity of issues.   It was acknowledging the fact that all these issues are related, but thinking about all of them at once was feeling overwhelming to me.  I decided I needed to focus on one area, and for me that was climate change.  It’s something that I’d been aware of for a while, and I had already been taking steps to reduce my carbon footprint, but felt like I needed to do more than that.  At the time I wasn’t aware of any local groups taking political action on climate change, so decided to start one.  350.org seemed like a good choice, because it came with some advantages of being part of a larger network of groups, but stilled allowed for a lot of autonomy.  So I started 350 Corvallis (http://350corvallis.org/), a local chapter of 350.org and I’ve been working with that group ever since then, it’s been 3 years now.  And I don’t think focusing on one area necessarily means not seeing the big picture.  I still try to step back and think about that from time to time and I continue to keep in touch and work with people dealing with other issues.

 

Who would you consider your social and environmental justice heroes and why did they inspire you?

When I was a kid I really enjoyed reading biographies.  I remember reading about Martin Luther King Jr. and I was really moved by what he was to able to accomplish through non-violent protest, that’s always stuck with me.  Another more recent hero would be Van Jones.  People are starting to talk more now about the intersection of social and environmental justice, but he’s been addressing that for years now.  He founded a group called “Green for All”.  Part of their mission is making sure people of color have a voice in the climate movement and they’re also promoting a green jobs economy where we can provide people with decent jobs and at the same time support the infrastructure for green energy.  And of course Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.  He’s been a climate activist for longer than just about anyone I can think of.  His book, “The End of Nature,” was the first book on climate change intended for a general audience, that was back in 1989.  That’s over 25 years he’s been working on this.

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What gives you hope for the future?

I’m not sure if it’s just wishful thinking, but it seems like people are really starting to grasp what’s going on with our climate and the fact that we need to act soon.  It feels like more people are ready to get involved.   Aside from that, I try not to think too much about the future beyond basic logistical planning for my own life.  It gets kind of depressing if you start worrying about all the stuff that might happen if we don’t get this figured out soon. But no one has a crystal ball, we don’t really know for sure what’s going to happen or how things will go down.  I just keep working to address the things that I see are wrong or not working now and focus on what we can do today to fix that.

 

What do you think are the most significant obstacles to social/environmental justice in the future?

People are talking more about the need to change our whole political and economic systems to something that’s more sustainable and equitable, and that alone is a big challenge.  But I think beyond that the biggest challenge is changing ourselves and our culture.  Our lives are tied into those systems, and changing them is linked to changing how we all live our everyday lives.  I think a lot of people are still holding on to the idea that we just need to get everyone solar panels and electric cars and we can go on living our lives like we always have.  And for those of us here in the U.S. that’s just not going to be possible.  That kind of big change is scary for people, and I think there will be a lot of conveniences we need to give up, but a lot of those changes are also things that can improve our quality of life.  It doesn’t have to be the “living in a cave” cliche.  And we also need to show the world that we are willing to make those changes because right now our lifestyle looks really attractive to a lot of people in developing nations.  We need to get the message out that our lifestyle isn’t as great as it looks, and perhaps we should be looking more at other cultures, like indigenous cultures that have lived sustainably, and take some lessons there.

What books and movies would you recommend people look at for social justice and climate change?

If I read or watch a movie it’s rarely on the subject of climate change.  I deal with that topic enough, so if I turn to a book or a movie I’m usually ready to think about something else.  Although I do see the occasional popular climate change movie, because our group sometimes hosts movie showings.  I find that people are really motivated by different messages, so it depends on the person.  For example the movies I have seen on the subject include, “Chasing Ice” about our melting glaciers and “This Changes Everything” which is based on Naomi Klein’s book.  A lot of people were really moved by Chasing Ice, it was really well done, but it just didn’t do much for me personally.  Some people find this odd for a climate activist, but I’m not really the outdoorsy type, and I think those types of films appeal more to that crowd.

I’m more fascinated by people so I think the message in “This Changes Everything” was more appealing to me.

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Being able to see the people around the world fighting similar battles to what we’re fighting here, was inspiring to me.  It’s something you just don’t hear enough about and we need to know we are not alone in this.  I get most of my information from reading articles online.  I get a lot of great info through my Facebook feed, from pages I subscribe to like “Inside Climate News,” “Skeptical Science,” “No LNG Exports, ” and of course from articles people post in our 350 Corvallis group page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/350Corvallis/.

(Interview with Joseph Orosco, December 2015)

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