"Every Single Victory, Big or Small, Should Be Celebrated"


Philip Bennett cofounded the first union on Capitol Hill, and organizes for the climate in his free time. He highlights where the labor and climate movements can learn from each other.

man standing at a podium with microphones and a sign that says "congress union" in front of the Capitol Building

This interview is part of our Labor & Climate series.

How did you get started with climate or labor activism? What convinced you to take action?

I had never organized a workplace until 2021 when my close friends and I on Capitol Hill decided the timing was right to get organized. We had all been staffers in Congress for several years and have taken many jobs with long hours, low pay, and a myriad of negative experiences rooted in the culture of this institution. We were propelled to take action when hundreds of stories flooded social media about the horrible working conditions many staffers have faced, past and present. We were quite horrified to feel so affirmed in our project. We realized that there was no better tool to address terrible working conditions than a union.

Why do you think it’s important for climate and labor to work together?

Climate and labor must work hand in hand. The labor movement must educate themselves on the climate crisis and the climate movement must educate themselves on the good paying union jobs that help workers transition out of the fossil fuel industry. There are other important intersections here and both must work together to save the working class from the dire impact of the climate crisis.

What can the labor movement learn from climate activism? And vice versa – are there any lessons from the labor movement’s history that are relevant for climate activists?

We have seen this more recently, but the climate movement has been more tapped into youth movement spaces for much longer than labor. Youth organizers are very clearly the face of the climate movement. They are taking a lot of risks in their strategies as they are likely going to live with the impacts of the climate crisis much longer than we are. I think labor can tap into youth spaces like this with the right messaging, especially emphasizing all the intersections that labor has with environmental and racial justice. Climate activists should take note of the long history of militant organized labor not just in the US but across the world. There are so many great examples of militant unions putting their bodies on the line for their fellow workers that shows amazing strategy, confidence in their principles, and long-term visions. Climate should study that history and get more militant and organized as such!

Both the climate movement and the labor movement face challenges that seem insurmountable at times. What do you look for in terms of inspiration that your goals are achievable?

Every single victory, big or small, should be celebrated because someone out there organized for it. Whether a union is going up against one of the largest corporations in the world or organizers are putting their bodies on the line to send a potent message on the dangers of the climate crisis. All of these efforts, even in failure, are deserving of our support and taking time to learn from.

Activism – both professional and as a volunteer – can be draining. How do you recharge, and what tips for “activist sustainability” do you have?

I try to log off social media when I can and focus on things I can control! Sometimes it’s easy to get locked into a rabbit hole of online discourse, content, and feedback loops. Finding activities or hobbies that have nothing to do with activism is helpful. For instance, I find a lot of therapeutic benefits in long distance running around my neighborhood in Washington, DC. If you are feeling a wave of burnout come over you, you should find ways to ask for help within your organization or delegate some of the projects you have on your plate.

Is there something happening in the climate or labor space that you think isn’t getting the attention it deserves?

In the climate space, there has been more of an active outreach strategy towards labor. Whether that means including labor in campaigns, building out actions, joint communications strategies and more. Climate realizes that the working class cannot be saved without the power of organized labor.