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Grassroots Organizing with Missouri Sierra Club

Clara, center, with other Sierra Club staff at Tower Grove Pride.

Since Spring 2019, Environmental Studies’ Impact Internship program has been partnering with Missouri Sierra Club to provide meaningful opportunities and skills for WashU students to help address real environmental issues in Missouri. One of the Fall 2022 Impact Interns with Missouri Sierra Club, Clara Chavez-Ives, shares her experience as a Grassroots Organizing Intern below. 

This semester, I worked as a Grassroots Organizing Intern at the Missouri Sierra Club. I spent the first half of the semester working on our campaign to Stop the Spire Rate Hike. Spire, the monopoly that provides Missouri with fracked gas, wants to dramatically raise rates less than a year after its last increase. After constructing its illegal STL Pipeline, Spire is having to finance lost legal battles and wants to exploit its most vulnerable customers to do so. Together, the other Sierra Club intern and I undertook the bulk of our fight against Spire. Through social media posts, petitions, and phonebanks, we helped gather people to testify in front of the Missouri Public Service Commission which regulates utilities. We also created a fact sheet and guide for testimony. Lastly, in collaboration with other organizations, we wrote letters to the editor and op-eds to further raise awareness.

I also engaged with election work. Leading up to the midterms this November, I canvassed and phone banked for Sierra Club-endorsed candidates in the St. Louis area and statewide. It was particularly interesting to learn more about redistricting. Following the midterm elections, I compiled research on the municipal elections coming up in April 2023. I collected data about Columbia, Springfield, Kansas City, St. Louis City and St. Louis County, municipalities where the Sierra Club has large member populations.

Over the course of the semester, I strengthened my written communication skills. Working under a short timeline for the Spire Rate Case, we had to turn out materials quickly. Through phone banking, I gained confidence and improved my interpersonal communication skills, constantly tailoring our script to get our message across most effectively. This and canvassing were particularly rewarding experiences because I was able to connect with everyday Missourians on the environmental and social justice issues about which I care. Having spent most of my time at college deeply inside the WashU bubble (partially thanks to Covid), I appreciated these opportunities for engagement. Being able to apply my passions in the classroom around environmental topics to the real world was one of my goals for this semester and I am grateful for the many ways I was able to do so while working for the Sierra Club.

A person standing in front of a microphone in a classroom

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Clara testifying in front of the Missouri PSC in the Spire Rate Case