Admittedly one of the perks of the work that I do, is that I get to meet some pretty amazing people…and included amongst that list of amazing people are even a few celebrities.
Last evening in Toronto, while attending the annual fundraising gala for Environmental Defence I had the chance to listen to and briefly speak with Erin Brockovich the famous activist from California who’s real life story was featured in the dramatic bio pic of the same name which came out in 2000 and starred Julia Roberts.  Ms. Roberts won an Academy Award for her portayal of Erin Brockovich and the film was also nominated for Best Picture.
The film was a dramatization of Erin’s true story who, while working as a law clerk discovered information about toxic contamination of the drinking water in Hinkley, California by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.  The real life events took place in 1991 with a subsequent lawsuit with the same utility taking place in 1996.  Since the release of the film, Ms. Brockovich has become a permanent activist fighting on behalf of communities and citizens across North America where similar health related concerns exist.  She has her own website and travels extensively speaking at events such as this telling her story and empowering others to become activists just as she did.
In her Keynote address she mentioned that she receives 100,000 e-mails a month from 126 countries.  Almost all of them tell her about incidents of cancer or health problems in communities and much of Erin’s work now deals with trying to cluster the e-mails to see if there is any commonality between them.  While she admits this is a very un-scientific approach, it was the “something doesn’t seem right to me” approach that worked originally in Hinkley, California and it’s the same approach she tries to use today.  Erin said how she now has partnered with Google to start mapping the people she receives messages from, and even maps not only where they live now but where they came from.
Her work and passion has created an entirely new life than what she once had as a single mom of three back in the early ’90′s.  However she admits though that because of this “The hardest problems in life are in front of me and not behind me.”  Through activism has come recognition and celebrity status, although she told me personally before she went on stage that “I’m still just a normal person like everyone else”.  Yet it is through this celebrity status that both the scope and breadth of the work she feels she needs to to has only grown larger.
As a call to action she reminded the 300 or so in attendance that where the environment is concerned we are facing a nightmare situation.  But she also reminded them that “We have the ability to turnn our nightmare back into our dream”.  The context of this message was significant given the context and beneificary of the event.  As an environmental action organization, Environmental Defence has been inspiring change by connecting people with environmental issues that affect their daily lives in their homes, workplaces and neighbourhoods since 1984, and the synergies between the messages of both was obvious.
When I had a chance to speak with her briefly before the formal part of the evening began I asked her directly about her own proverbial “tipping point”.  I wanted to know what ultimately was it that turned her from the person she was into the activist she became.  Surprisingly to me, her answer wasn’t instantaneous but came after a few moments of thought.  “It was the water” she said “It was the sudden realization that something so ubiquitous and so essential to everyone in this town was being poisoned and people were suffering as a result.  I just knew that I couldn’t let this happen and from that point I began to raise a ruckus.”
The take-away for me from that statement and her keynote that followed, is that everyone has within themselves the ability to become activists even if they never felt the desire or inkling to before.  Each of us has an internal tipping point of our own, where what was once tolerated or ignored can no longer be.  In connecting her story to that of the fight against man made climate change, it should be a good lesson to us all that everyone has within them the power to affect change through their actions.
In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” , and the story of Erin Brockovich is perhaps one of the more fitting examples of the past 25 years.

Erin Brockovich – Activism Personified