Board Candidate 2019 / Voicing Our Values

Rachel Garwin

June 14, 2019

Yellowstone Program Manager, Ecology Project International

(Missoula, MT)

What is your experience with Forward Montana, or our sister organization Forward Montana Foundation, and why is our work important to you?

Recently I’ve begun to see the incredible importance of building the electoral and political power of young people in Montana. We have the opportunity — and responsibility — to show up in previously unthinkable numbers to determine the future of our local communities, state, and country. Forward Montana’s work is crucial to the groundswell of political action and civic engagement needed to achieve progressive priorities that benefit a huge swath of Montanans, from climate change action to creating inclusive communities to building a sustainable economy that works for people rather than corporations. Without Forward Montana’s work to educate, register, mobilize, and empower young voters in Montana, we’d face a dark future. Until this point, I’ve been more of a cheerleader of Forward Montana than an active member. I read legislative updates, donate occasionally, and spread the word to my networks about political actions and volunteer opportunities. I would be excited, however, to become more involved with the organization and its mission by joining the board.

Why are you interested in joining the Forward Montana Board?

I want to join the Forward Montana board because I believe that every young Montanan deserves to understand that they can make a difference in our world. Despite growing up in Washington, DC, and being surrounded by politics from a young age, I experienced a phase of political apathy that was deeply dispiriting. My interest in taking an active role in politics didn’t re-ignite until someone explained exactly how I could show up and make a difference. As a member of the Forward Montana board, I would be part of an organization that is doing similar work on a much larger scale. I want to provide input and support to such an organization that is building political power from the ground up by inspiring young people to participate in the political system no matter the barriers.

What skills, characteristics, experience, or insight do you have that would be a valuable addition to the board?

Policy/Advocacy: I have a strong background in policy, especially regarding conservation and public lands. I served as the policy director for a national wilderness advocacy campaign, the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, from September 2014 – April 2016. In that capacity I was part of a team that crafted and executed both a national and a Minnesota-wide strategy to increase support for protection of the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from copper mining. I trained and supported local residents and business owners that would be affected by proposed mining to make their case to state legislators, US representatives, senators, agency staff, and White House officials. In addition, I analyzed laws, scientific documents, and public policy reviews and created issue summaries that were compelling to a wide variety of audiences. I also hold an AB in Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard and an MS in Natural Resources (focus: Ecological Planning) from the University of Vermont.

Organizing: As a volunteer, I have participated in both candidate-based electoral campaigns and non-partisan issue-based advocacy campaigns. I have knocked on doors or made phone calls for every presidential campaign since 2004, and my volunteer engagement in midterm elections has increased in recent cycles. Additionally, I spent significant time in 2012 phonebanking to encourage voters to support marriage equality (Washington State) and to object to limiting the freedom to marry (Minnesota). Since 2016, I have informally organized friends and co-workers to call our members of Congress (and state legislatures) to express concern or support for pending legislation or nomination decisions.

Leadership: In addition to policy and political experience, I’ve been an outdoor educator for almost fifteen years. I’ve taught leadership skills, communication techniques, and self-confidence to students and staff aged 10 through 65 in both wilderness and frontcountry settings. Now that I’m in a manager role, I spend much of my time devising spreadsheets, planning and tracking budgets, communicating with federal/NGO/private landowner partners, and planning events. One of my current passions is to design and facilitate professional development sessions about overcoming implicit bias and developing skills to build inclusive communities. This is one of my favorite ways to bring social justice and progressive values into my work in conservation and outdoor education.

What experience do you have fundraising, and what is your comfort level with asking for money?

What I’ve learned is that the more I believe in the cause, the more I feel comfortable with asking for money to fund the work. While I’m rarely the person directly responsible for making the hard ask, I’ve been involved with non-profit fundraising efforts in some capacity for a few years. I wrote case statements, action alerts, and donation request emails for both Voyageur Outward Bound School and for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. I’ve contributed to grant applications and reports at the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and at Ecology Project International (EPI). Additionally, as the Yellowstone Program Manager at EPI, I participate in meetings and conduct site visits with individual donors and foundation representatives. Though this is a relatively new skill set, I’m developing more familiarity with the process.

Being a board member requires a time commitment to meetings, phone calls, occasional events, etc. Will you be able to fulfill these time commitments? Does anything give you pause?

I will be able to fulfill these requirements, though juggling my commitment to the board with my work schedule will require advanced planning. As long as I can be creative with when during the day/week I do my Forward MT work, I will be able to make it happen.

Good board members invest their time into Forward Montana, are ambassadors for the organization, are familiar with the work of the organization, and are responsive to other board members and staff. How will you go above and beyond being a good board member? How will you be a great board member?

Once I commit to something, especially something as important as Forward Montana’s work, I am all in. I will make every effort to get to know the other board members and Forward Montana’s staff, both those in Missoula and elsewhere. I will attend and support events, pitch in as a volunteer where needed, and explore the full diversity of Forward Montana’s work to understand where I can be most helpful. I know the amount of evening and weekend work required in advocacy and outreach positions can cause staff burnout, so I will be happy to share that load with FMT staff where desired, whether it’s tabling or stuffing envelopes. I will prepare for meetings and committee calls ahead of time (having prepared board packets in the past, I know how much pre-work there can be!) and be fully engaged and present in the work that we’re doing, whether it’s in person or remote. In short, if there’s work to be done, I’ll bring the pizza and fizzy drinks.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would be extremely excited to join the Forward Montana board and help move young Montanans toward a more inclusive, progressive, and powerful future. We face a lot of problems as a society, and we can only solve them by showing up. I look forward to showing up with all of you.