Kat Baumgartner-Wilson: From Fighting Fires to Fighting for the Environment

Kat Baumgartner-Wilson: From Fighting Fires to Fighting for the Environment

Kat Baumgartner-Wilson is a former firefighter whose experience training with Al Gore catalyzed her passion for working on numerous climate action campaigns. Since graduating from the Green Foothills Leadership Program in 2018, she’s done plenty of civic work as a community member and as a paid professional. Integrating legacy organizing skills with a no-nonsense strategic mindset, she has supported and run political campaigns such as the 2018 No on Measure B campaign and the campaign for the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority funding in 2020.

Experiencing the rich diversity of views in her Leadership Program cohort and learning about the importance of relationships in advocacy taught Kat how vital coalitions are. Most interested in using her people skills to participate in, develop, and facilitate coalitions for her issues of concern, Kat nonetheless points out that they suffer or even fail from “purity politics”, where members insist on full adherence to their individual perspectives or solutions and refuse to seek compromise. Yet, given how essential coalitions are to the success of issue campaigns, Kat continues to grow her coalition-building skills. Maintaining relationships with people from varied backgrounds, power-mapping, and systems-thinking are the go-to tools she reaches for from her Leadership Program toolkit as an advocate and campaign manager.

Kat emphasizes that as a society, we absolutely must move on from the “I am right, and you are wrong” approach to debates around public good. “If we’re so entrenched in our own beliefs, how are we going to figure out solutions? One of the toughest things for new organizers to do is stay present in meaningful conversations with those whose ideas dramatically differ from their own.” Kat credits her sobriety journey for teaching her how to connect with people from a wide range of backgrounds. When talking to others who may not share her perspective about environmentalism, Kat says she focuses on providing information that ties their priorities to the issue at hand. For example, while drumming up support for policies that address reach codes and natural gas in San José, she worked with individuals who thought their labor interests were threatened by the codes. Rather than invoke classic environmental arguments around air quality protection, she shared information on advances in sustainable technologies, a more relevant subject to this group.

Before the Leadership Program, Kat didn’t realize that she had the option to run campaigns or even run for office. The program, she says, empowered her to think about possibilities that she hadn’t considered for herself. Since then, the possibilities keep on getting bigger and better: “Every campaign I’ve been on, people ask me ‘why don’t you run for office?’” Don’t be surprised if you see Kat’s photograph someday soon on a billboard or door hanger. We certainly won’t be. 

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