Kristen Berry, president of avian political-advocacy organization BirdPAC, answers questions
With what environmental organization are you affiliated?
I am the president of BirdPAC.
What does your organization do?
We are a fledgling political action committee dedicated to protecting the environment and species by harnessing and focusing the power of conservationists on the political process — specifically elections. We are one of only a handful of conservation- and environment-focused political action committees. There is a clear need for bird enthusiasts to have access to a higher caliber of advocacy training and information regarding the politics of conservation, the environment, and birds.
What are you working on at the moment?
We are currently in the midst of a grand assessment. It seems funny for a three-year-old organization to be engaged in a process like this, but we are. We’ve learned so much in the last two election cycles. Conservation issues — especially those related to birds — don’t garner much attention, at least at the national level. So we are trying to figure out how the heck we can make conservation issues more prominent in the political conversation. For us, part of the bottom line is how to get more conservationists involved in elections.
How do you get to work?
I work from a home office, but when I did go to an office I rode my bike or took public transportation. When I traveled out of town, I often took trains and buses — which often made me the butt of jokes among work associates.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
In second grade I had a teacher that asked the basic question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I said I wanted to be a duck. She laughed and said, “You can’t be a duck. What else do you want to do?” After wiping away the tears, I said, “Well, then I’ll be the president.” From that point on I was interested in politics and elections, and very early on I got involved as a volunteer.
Most campaigns are so hard up for help that they’ll take anyone who is willing to do anything. I was willing to do anything, and that willingness quickly landed me into paid positions or important volunteer roles. After a while I was able to leverage those roles and contacts into more work.
After a disappointing campaign season in 2000, I went off to fight forest fires in Montana. I heard about a position at the National Audubon Society and was lucky enough to score a job. Finally, I combined my love of the environment with my love of advocacy, education, and grassroots political activity. It was a real love affair. Ultimately I decided that bird watchers — an estimated 80 million of them here in the U.S. — could do more for the environment and for politics, and that led me to decide to start BirdPAC. A fellow Audubon public-policy employee and I synergized our energies, talents, and resources, quit our great jobs, and ran with it.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Indiana and live in Washington, D.C.
What has been the best moment in your professional life to date?
Realizing that I could combine what I cared about and what I was good at and still pay the rent.
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
General environmental cowardice, such as calling global warming a hoax and blocking debate. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and every other member of Congress who won’t have an open debate about the issue are cowards. Let’s get it all out there and have a good fight.
Who is your environmental hero?
What’s your environmental vice?
I love driving.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)?
I spend as much time as I can sailing. I spend a fair amount of time coaching sailing and racing sailboats.
Read any good books lately?
I am reading a biography about each president — in order. I just read an interesting one about George Washington titled His Excellency.
What’s your favorite meal?
Breakfast. Corned beef hash, two eggs over medium, dry wheat toast, and regular old drip coffee.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
I’m often unreasonable.
What’s your favorite place?
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
Open-mindedness. I really think that is a reform. Closed thinking is why we are where we are with environmental issues, and we’re all guilty of it at some point. I really think we all have to open our ears and expand what we think is possible. The long-term solutions to our environmental concerns will require new thinking that we’ve yet to even dream of.
Who was your favorite musical artist when you were 18? How about now?
What’s your favorite TV show? Movie?
Which actor would play you in the story of your life?
The answer is always Leo, right?
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Get involved with a campaign — at any level. Make it clear that you are an environmentalist, work like hell, and never give up.