The activist talks about the fine art of reaching consensus.
Question: What is the difference between coalition-building and organizational leadership?
Kari Fulton: The difference is consensus takes a long, long time. You may never actually reach it. So, there is always... even it is very interesting because I worked with... in a coalition within a coalition. So I have to manage two different coalition strategies. So, you have EAC which has a lot of more mainstream organizations and then you have EJCC which has a lot of social justice and environmental justice organizations. So, at times the EAC might want to move on a legislation or supporting something or calling for something with our lobby days or whatever and so we have to make sure that we are going back to the EJ community especially our elders and the community and listening to them and saying okay, what do you all think about this situation. So for me as someone who was young and coming into this right out of college, it was the best experience because I was able to get broader perspective of the environmental movement, because I have my EJ folk over here who are in the trenches, in the grassroots and then you have your policy wonky, like Alliance for Climate Protection, you know, Apollo, like those type of groups that are really into policy and debate and stuff like that and I can see it from both sides. So...
But one thing I think is interesting is that often times that voice of the grassroots person isn't heard, is not heard but then gradually later on, that policy person will retract what they said and go right with what the grassroots person was saying and so as my duty as a young leader, I feel like having the opportunity to work with so many grassroots organizations and EJ organizations, makes me realize the relevance of listening to these different groups and I think that every movement should start from the people who are impacted and then listen to them first before they decide on policies and agendas that are going to set the future for everyone.
Question: What is your leadership style?
Kari Fulton: Well, on different days, it takes different roles, I would say. Some days I feel like I'm the mother hen or the ethical leader. So, at times people comes to me like this is going on, this is going on and like oh, aaahhh so sometimes I feel like I have to... I feel more comfortable defending the rights of others than I do myself. So, when that happens I'm like I need to go, we need to rush, we like... you don't feel supported? What am I going to do to make sure you feel supported and that's what I think what type of leader I've had to be and I've been for awhile and now I'm just kind of looking at it like... along with the ethical aspect of wanting to do right by my people and knowing that that is my goal of any work that I do is to support my people, my family, my community, my culture. I think it is very important, but I also realize that if I just stood on my ethics and didn't have a strategy or a vision, I won't be anything and people need more than just someone to rah-rah for them. They need also someone to build that mission in and invigorate them to actually want to go on it and have a broader vision. So, I think that's where I would like to see myself and I don't want ever lose my ethical ways or my ability to be a process leader. I think those are very, very important skills to have but right now I think I'm sitting, just sitting around meditating on this bigger vision that I have and this bigger strategy and so I want to use all these lessons that I've had to really build that up.
Recorded on: May 8, 2009