Taking On Big Energy in Colorado: a Q&A with New Era

Recently, New Era Colorado, caught the public’s attention with its David vs. Goliath story. The organization, which dubs itself a “vehicle for hands-on democracy” is working to create clean, publicly-owned power in Boulder. To do so, it’s going up against a deep-pocketed power company that’s invested in keeping coal-fired plants burning.

To fund its campaign, New Era turned to crowdsourcing where it blew away its initial goal of $40,000 and raised $193,000 from people around the world. New Era’s Executive Director Steve Fenberg spoke with Shareable about the power of the crowd, making democracy fun, scaling the New Era model, and giving people hope.

Shareable: The phenomenal success of New Era's recent crowdsourcing campaign was incredibly inspiring. What was it like to watch your initial fundraising goal get blown away as donations came pouring in?

Steve Fenberg: It was incredibly inspiring for us to watch as the campaign just completely blew up and took on a life of its own. All of a sudden our Facebook page had five times the amount of people on it and our phone in the office wouldn't stop ringing from people all over country. Within a matter of days nearly one million people had watched our video. I literally had people sending me the video being like "Hey, have you seen this, yet?" without them realizing that it was my voice narrating the video. It was just one of those moments when you realize that what you're doing is bigger than yourself. And when it comes to politics--especially when it's an issue as big as fighting climate change--that's always the goal: to make it bigger than yourself.

I was moved by the campaign because it offered hope that there is something we can do to disrupt corporate domination and it demonstrated how one organization, New Era was doing it. Why do you think the campaign was such a runaway success?

I think it resonated with people because it's a universal theme--David vs. Goliath--and an issue that just about everyone understands the severity of. And we're all fed up with the fact that it doesn't seem like our political leaders in DC are getting anywhere close to tackling this issue. So, to hear about a model that is taking off even in spite of everything working against us--corporate control of our democracy and planet, a huge warchest that is ready to plant fear in people's heads, and a rapidly advancing problem that could lead to widespread environmental destruction--gives us hope.

People are hungry for solutions right now. And it feels good to know that if Congress won't give us those solutions, there are other options on the table as communities use new ideas, technology, media, and old-fashioned organizing to create models for those solutions ourselves.

Have things changed at New Era knowing that you now have the attention and support of people from all over the world?

This campaign is exhausting and can really drain you at times. But, to know that there are literally hundreds of thousands of people that are aware of what we're doing and have our back makes it a little bit easier each day. We're going up against one of the most powerful industries ever in the history of money, so we knew it was going to be hard. But as we say in our video, they've got the warchest, but we've got the army. And our army is much bigger now.

If you distill New Era's mission down to one thing, what would it be?

We make democracy fun, accessible, and relevant. Some people have faith in certain things--religion, for example. We have faith in democracy. And we see it as our mission to make "getting on the democracy bus" as accessible as possible. Because we believe the more people are engaged, the more just and equitable our world will become.

Do you see the New Era model scaling to other places with regards to energy production? How can people start a movement like this in their town?

Absolutely. The entire reason why we're so passionate about this issue isn't just because of the impact it could have in Boulder, Colorado. The point is to prove that there is a model where communities can power their cities off of clean power and not have to pay more for it. If we can create that model and show that it's not only good for the planet, but also economically feasible, then we hope other communities will start thinking about how they can do it too.

The goal isn't to encourage every city to create a municipal electric utility--the goal is to break down the current thinking of the utility business model. Communities deserve more leverage to have a say in where their energy comes from. And if there's another feasible option out there, that leverage gets a whole lot stronger.

Where are you in the fight against Xcel Energy and what's next for New Era?

Voting start[ed] in Colorado on October 15th and goes through Election Day, November 5th. We're currently running a ground game where we're registering thousands of voters, having conversations door-to-door and in the community with voters, and getting our message out there through every avenue available. We even have an ad on TV right now that was produced by the awesome people who made The Cove. But we still know it's going to be close and there's a lot of work to be done between now and Election Day.

Anything you'd like to add?

From the bottom of my heart, I just want to thank everyone who has spread our campaign, donated money, or just simply followed our story. You're the reason why we've got a good shot at winning this thing. And it means the world to us. Thanks for being our army.

New Era's TV ad

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