Last weekend, I spent time in Ravenna and Warren, Ohio, the locations of Don’t Frack Ohio 2.0. The 3-day-long event consisted of two parts: trainings on Saturday and Sunday and then a rally and an action on the following Monday. Amidst all of this, I had an important mission: pick up Bill McKibben from the airport and, after he spoke at the rally, get him back in time for his flight home.

The moment Bill stepped into the car from the airport sidewalk, he turned and asked me, “So, what’s your story?” Taken slightly aback (he wants to know about me?!), I talked about my background, my involvement in NYU Divest, and the G.R.O.W. Divestment project I’ve been working on as a 350 fellow. He asked questions and related my experiences with his travels and ideas. He told me his story.

At the training sessions in Ravenna, I also heard stories. For one, there was the frustration of several organizers who presented “The State of the State of Fracking,” a complete overview of the federal and state fracking regulations in Ohio. As the presenters revealed the inadequacies and loopholes hidden within each regulation, they repeatedly returned to the same bottom-line: in the politics of fracking in Ohio, money trumps people. They were upset, and that was their story.

It was necessary to hear this frustration. People were being hurt, their land and health were being stolen. I sat there soaking up the emotions of the presenters, along with those of many others that subsequently narrated their personal struggles against the powerful fossil fuel industry.

And frustration was not the only emotion offered. Later that day, at a panel on the complementary strategies of the climate movement, an elderly but resilient local organizer spoke to us. She jumped up when it was her turn and stayed standing throughout her passionate speech, the only panelist to do so. Her arm too, was raised the entire time, a clipboard with petitions in her hand. She explained that she asks for signatures everywhere – at the grocery store, on the street, and even to those waiting in line at the ice cream truck. She was determined, and that was her story.

I welcomed this story too, because our fight against the fossil fuel industry is a fusion of all of these emotions: frustration, sadness, hope, strength. It is up to us to sew these individual, personal stories together and create a collective narrative, a quilt that contains everyone’s voice. We can find a common thread amongst us only if all stories – both ours and those of the wrongdoers, both the negative and the positive ones – are present. That is our mission.

To me, that is the overarching goal of the G.R.O.W. Divestment project. We want to gather people working on different fronts of the climate movement and support them in a discussion on coalition-building. In fact, one of the exercises we suggest for the GROW meet-ups is called “We Are…” On three blank sheets of large poster-board paper, the facilitator writes three prompts:

We are…

We are struggling with…

We envision a different world with…

The participants then complete the sentences however they choose. We are grandparents, teachers, organizers, parents, students. We are struggling with climate change, pollution, debt, injustice. We envision a different world with equality, co-operatives, publicly-funded elections.

The papers pool these answers onto one space, which creates a sense of commonality: while we may not have the same responses, we are existing together in them. Such a realization is the beginning spark of the collective narrative.

Let’s continue to open our ears and hearts to each other’s personal stories, as we have been doing. But let’s also keep furthering this openness by finding a way to combine these stories into one. Let’s ask ourselves: who are we? What are we struggling with? What different world do we envision?