In January 2023, Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC) invited organizations from across the country to apply for the Emergent Communities Capacity Building program. Ten organizations were selected to receive up to $50,000 in funding along with technical assistance through monthly workshops and one-on-one meetings. As part of the technical assistance offerings, the ECC team of Nora Elmarzouky (Senior Energy Democracy Manager), Sonia Kikeri (National Director of Policy and Civic Engagement), and Tola Shabi (Chief Financial and Administrative Officer) were fortunate to visit Laredo, TX to support Rio Grande International Studies Center (RGISC), an inaugural ECCB cohort member, in the facilitation of the Energy Democracy Scorecard.
The ECC team learned so much about what facilitating conversations about Energy Democracy and using the Energy Democracy Scorecard in-person looks like, the beauty and treasures of Laredo, and the peace of kayaking down the river between Mexico and the US (which is being ecologically harmed by the unfortunate destruction and deforestation along the US side of the river to make way for a border wall).
The weekend began on Friday, with a train-the-trainers workshop with the staff at RGISC who would be co-facilitating the workshop. The ECC team and RGISC staff reviewed the concepts of Energy Democracy, the agenda, and how to facilitate the workshop together, using a facilitation guide developed by ECC’s Senior Energy Democracy Manager, Nora.
The full workshop took place on Saturday in a large room with round tables. Twenty-five participants participated, along with five RGISC staff members, who all stayed for the entire 3-hour workshop. Participants brought their children, who played together in the back, which provoked ECC to think about what parallel programming could look like for younger age groups. The Energy Democracy workshop piqued the interest of someone who was in the same building for a new homeowners workshop. They left the new homeowners workshop to participate in the Energy Democracy workshop.
The goals of the workshop was to introduce concepts of Energy Democracy in relation to the grassroots work the participants are already engaging in and to use the Energy Democracy Scorecard to assess where the community is on the Energy Economy Spectrum - a measurement tool that showcases what an extractive economy looks like to one that incorporates energy democracy as an economic framework according to each of the four pillars of Energy Democracy.
The workshop opened with an asset-based approach for participants to open their hearts and minds to the things they love about their hometown or their now-town. People identified a place they love and marked it on a large-scale map of Laredo to visually see the places they love across the city. The responses were filled with excitement to be able to share all the things that mean something important to all the participants there - people, culture, nature, school, etc.
The ECC team led a conversation about Energy Democracy, including how energy use, access, safety, and affordability is experienced by the community. This set the foundation for transitioning to responding to the questions in the regenerative energy pillar of the Energy Democracy Scorecard. ECC and RGISC staff facilitated conversations with groups of 5+/- people dividing the questions between each group. In these small group discussions, participants were encouraged to respond in ways that speak to them: questions, reframing of questions asked, feelings, why, context, inspirations, etc…
To keep the Energy Democracy Scorecard as a living document that is easily accessible and easy to continue to edit, the ECC team formatted the Scorecard into a Google application called Jamboard. This virtual whiteboard can continuously be referenced and updated as communities build out their pathways to Energy Democracy.
The debrief was very illuminating with a robust conversation with many questions and comments to share. Responses ranged from how painful it was to find the community existed mostly within the extractive economy, to being inspired to have found gaps, new knowledge, and ideas for next steps to reach Energy Democracy.
The workshop concluded by asking participants to think about 1 action step they want to commit to. The responses were collected on post-its for collective accountability. Responses included energy access and utilities, engaging with elected officials on all levels, volunteering, community education, and engaging youth. It was inspirational. It was a truly energizing space where the ECC team got to meet amazing, caring, open, welcoming, and compassionate people - both within RGISC and the wider community.
On the final day, RGISC organized an adventure kayaking down the Rio Grande, led by environmental science expert Tom Miller. He gave the history of the river and Laredo’s ecology, named all the birds, led the group down a creek that abruptly ended to exposing the stone bed where the river was dried up, pointing out the changes of the river from especially clearing natural habitat for border control purposes, and so much more. The sky was clear, allowing the sun to shine bright.
You must visit Laredo. When you do, you must eat at Brisket and Beer for the best brisket ever! Be sure to get there early, because they do run out!
Big thank you for the warm welcome from the team and community of RGISC! Special thank you to the staff who co-facilitated this workshop: Sheila, Tricia, Lucy, Luisa, Lauro, and Martin!