Get Involved! Fight Coal in Your Community and Online

Coal is dirty. And we know that the industry's "clean coal" message is more public relation's spin than anything real.

The coal industry has invested millions in their public relations, advertising and marketing campaigns to promote the myth of “clean coal." Front groups like American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity are utilizing the momentum of the elections as a platform for their message.

So what can you do?

Do your part in the fight against coal by dispelling these myths in your hometown.

Simple events like bird-dogging, tabling at a debate or circulating fact sheets at large public are extremely effective.

Is your politician a pawn in the coal industry’s game? Lobby your rep, get the word out to the media or submit a letter to the editor expressing your opposition to any new coal development.

If online action is something you're interested, then check out the section below on things you can do to counter the "clean coal" message online.

Is there a local group already working on coal in your area? Join forces, there is power in the collective voice.

Here are some resources to help get you started:


Bird-dogging is a term that describes an event that targets a decision-maker by being present at their public appearances and using those appearances to generate attention for your campaign. By showing up at the decision-maker's event, you can influence him or her directly, demonstrate public support for your position, and attract the media.

Are coal industry groups doing work in your town?

If so follow them, be sure that every time “clean coal” is mentioned someone is there to talk about the truth behind dirty coal - you can use our fact sheets as starting points.

This doesn’t require as much planning as tabling an event, just grab your fact sheets and hit the ground. Better yet, brand yourself with a “coal is dirty” message by making your own t-shirt or hat to wear when you and your friends go out!

5 Tips to Effective Bird-dogging

#1: Stay away from personally attacking the decision-maker. We want to show how much support we have for the issue, not make it an us-versus-them event.

#2: Make a list of every public event in your area. This is as simple as calling or visiting the local representative’s office, corporation or front group and asking if they will be at any public events in the near future.

#3: Be prepared to talk to the press. Have a spokesperson ready with campaign material. (see our section on media below).

#4: Have a designated spokesperson who will ask the candidates questions about global warming and coal.

#5: Bring consistent signs or other props that people will see at every event.


Tabling is an effective method for educating the public and recruiting volunteers.

Ironically, “tabling” does not always involve a table, but refers to recruiting in any situation where people pass by or congregate. You should table to recruit others to help out at future events, distribute literature, build visibility for your campaign, gather signatures on a petition, and train volunteers on basic organizing tactics.

Where and when to table

  • High traffic areas, open pedestrian malls, farmers markets, festivals, fairs, concerts.
  • You want to be highly visible, noticed, and to be in a place where people have time to stop and talk.
  • Table in a variety of places to educate and recruit different types of people.
  • Make plans to table in public areas, or get permission to table if it is private or requires a permit.

Planning your event

1. Know why you are going and how this tabling event helps you hit your goal.

2. Set goals for how many signatures and volunteers you want to get. Plan for 20 signatures an hour and sign up five people to volunteer an hour, then schedule volunteers to help you based on how much help you will need to reach your goals. Take a stack of facts sheets and literature and plan to get rid of it all.

3. Put all the materials you will need in a box. Have your materials ready before the event. Things to bring could include petitions, pens, clipboards, campaign info, stickers, buttons, music, banners, signs, props, etc.

At the Event

  • Make sure the table looks attractive and professional. Include banners, posters, fact sheets, buttons, calendar of events, and volunteer sign up sheets. The table should convey the attitude that you are successful and active.
  • Don’t hide behind the table. The table is a base with a wealth of information on it. Feel free to move away from the table and into the crowd. Absolutely DO NOT stand behind the table.
  • Make sure the table is fun and high energy. You will attract more people.
  • Give every person you talk to literature.

What to Say

To table effectively, it is helpful to have a prepared presentation that you say to everyone you talk to. A basic rap includes an intro question to get attention, a description of your organization, a quick version of the problem you’re working on, what you’re doing about it, and how the person can help. It should end with a request for them to get involved.


Everything you do in public can involve the media.

Keep your message positive and simple. A surefire way to generate buzz for your campaign is to consistently get covered in the community newspaper. Invite the media beforehand, bring a press packet or something to give to the media at your event, and have a designated spokesperson.

Remember that anything you say in front of the media can show up in the paper. If you don’t know the answer to a reporter’s question, ask to get back to them when you do have the answer.

Top 10 Media Dos and Don’ts

#1: DON'T let the reporter control the interview

- Every interview is a great opportunity to communicate your campaign messages.

- Always stick with your three main messages.

#2: DON'T get sidetracked or drawn into a debate with the reporter; some reporters are looking for a conflict that may not serve you well.

- Don’t answer a question that you don’t like.

- Try to bridge back to your main point when responding to a reporter's question (i.e. "I don't know the answer to that, but I can tell you...)

#3: DON'T repeat a negative or answer a negative question.

- Never say “no comment” or think you’re off the record. If you don't know the answer to a question just say you don't know and move on, or offer to follow up later with the reporter when you do have the answer.

#4: DON'T be afraid to say, " Let me get back to you with more information."

- Don’t answer what you don’t know; it’s better not to fake it.

#5: DON'T fidget or look away from the camera

- Don’t nod your head while the reporter asks you a question.

#6: DO take a breath and think before you speak; a thoughtful response is always the best one.

- As long as you are not on live TV, ask to start over if you lose your way or get flustered.

- Speak slowly!

#7: DO smile (where appropriate), speak up, and be energetic.

- You want to attract people to what you are saying, not turn them off.

#8: DO make a list of all questions a reporter might ask and practice them MANY times.

- Soundbites should come as second nature.

- Again, three messages only. Try and keep to your main points.

#9: DO ask a reporter for clarification if you don’t understand a question.

- Do not try and answer a question you do not understand. It is perfectly okay to ask for clarification.

#10: DO take a reporter up on the question, “Do you have anything else to add?”

- this is a good opportunity to reiterate your message; go for that perfect sound bite.

How to Write a Letter to the Editor

First things first, read your local paper!

Anytime you see a story, editorial, or op-ed on coal, global warming, or anything related - such as a politician talking about the environment - you could submit a letter to the editor on it.

For example, you read a story that claims coal is clean or that global warming is not happening, write a response telling the paper and its readers that it is happening and that coal is dirty. If you see an article complementing your message, write the paper saying, “I agree with your coverage” and add a few interesting, localized facts in your letter.

The paper welcomes letters from all readers, not just people with PhD’s or law degrees, so don’t worry about submitting one. The paper wants to hear from you!

The letters-to-the-editor section of the newspaper is one of the most read sections in any newspaper; people are very interested in what other people have to say on a given issue.

Just be sure that the letter is 250 words or less and call the paper to confirm that they received your letter, asking if they will print it. Many papers receive SPAM letters or thousands of letters per day. You calling will make yours stand out.

10 Things to remember when writing a letter to the editor

#1: If you read an article that is untrue such as “coal is clean,” other people (and elected officials) read it too. If you don’t get a response in and set the record straight, people will walk away either confused or believe coal is clean.

Letters to the editor are VERY important.

#2: Rapid Response is the key. Write a response to the piece as soon as you read it, and submit your letter right as soon as possible.

#3: Letters to the Editor must be short, no more than 250 words.

#4: You can only respond to one, or at most two points in a letter. If the piece you are responding to has several bad sections, pick the worst. Your argument will be stronger and your point will get across. If you try to make several points in such a short letter, the reader will get confused and not read it.

#5: Try to tie your letter to current events. This makes the letter timely and fun to read.

#6: Have someone proofread your letter; everyone makes mistakes in writing. Having someone with a fresh set of eyes read it will limit those mistakes.

#7: Call the paper and ask to whom you should email or fax the letter. Most papers would rather have the letter sent via email. Never mail it in because snail mail takes too long.

#8: You can also find out who and how to submit a letter to your local paper on the newspaper's website - this information is ususally appears somwhere on the letter-to-the-editor section of the newspaper as well.

#9: Always be sure to include your full name, address and a phone number you are readily available at. Sometime papers will call to ensure your identity.

#10: Pick a catchy and creative title for your letter, this will sometimes catch the eye of an editor, and will definitely catch the reader's eye when your story gets published.