People holding a 350 sign.In Barbados last year, over 350 volunteers planted 350 trees in 350 seconds.Photo: 350.orgWe lied.

I’ve been telling reporters for days that “we’ve organized more than 7,000 events” for 350.org‘s huge Global Work Party on Sunday, a figure that represents by far the most widespread day of civic engagement on any issue at any time in the planet’s history. (We’re still missing Equatorial Guinea and North Korea on our roster of countries, in case you have any leads.)

The 7,000 figure isn’t a fib — in fact, it’s deeply conservative, since lots of people are holding events they haven’t managed to register on the website.

It’s the “we’ve organized” part that’s not quite true.

At 350.org, we have a tiny staff and a jury-rigged operation — for instance, I’m a volunteer. So the thought that we’re going out and “organizing” most of these events is clearly wrong. The actual model is potluck-supper-meets-internet. We picked the date and the theme, and we let people know about it — and then they did the work. In essence, we have a staff of 70,000 or 80,000 this weekend, all across the world, busily calling reporters, making signs, going through their email lists. They’ll round up millions of people. And we’ll look like great organizers. Not fair.

But what’s great about this model is it demonstrates something vital: People around the world may be discouraged by a depressing year of climate defeat, from Copenhagen to Congress. But they’re not so discouraged they’re giving up. Just the opposite — they’re rising to the occasion. They’re taking that frustration, and instead of bitching and moaning about it à la the Tea Party, they’re hammering it into submission à la the Work Party.

It always helps to know that you’re doing something concrete, and by Sunday evening there will be new solar panels and bike paths and community gardens and mangrove forests spread all across the world.

But our huge crew of activists knows that we won’t solve climate change one solar panel at a time — we also need political action. So they’re making sure that when people are done hammering, they’ll start calling their leaders. The cell phone may be our ultimate tool this weekend, and the script will be the same in a hundred languages: “Hello Mr. President, Hello Ms. Prime Minister, Hello Politburo — I’m getting to work. What about you?” And maybe they’ll listen a little. We were happy as heck earlier this week when President Obama agreed to our request that he put solar panels back up on the White House. A small start, but a sign that we’re beginning to get through.

So we’re idealists, but we’re also realists. We know that the political mood may bend the other way for the next couple of years, at least in the U.S. That means we’ll need to spend that time building a movement big enough to matter, ready to take advantage of the next opening that the physical or the political climate provides.

That movement building takes a quantum leap on Sunday. Because people haven’t given up. In fact, we’re just getting started.