Courtesy of Protect Our Winters

The campaign is targeting a population greater than any single state.

J.D. Simkins  – September 3, 2020 | Updated September 9, 2020

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Protect Our Winters is rolling out a voting campaign this week urging the approximately 50 million nationwide outdoors enthusiasts, a demographic known for its historically low voter turnout, to stand up and take action on vital issues ahead of November’s polarizing election.

At the center of the endeavor are bipartisan concerns, such as climate change, that are critical to preserving the wild lands so many in the outdoor community call their playground.

“What we recognize as the ultimate swing state is the outdoor state, which is 50 million people that consider the outdoors a strong part of their life,” Jeremy Jones, professional big mountain snowboarder and POW founder, told Sunset.

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“So, we recognize that we can inspire and motivate, and ideally, strike an emotional chord of this being about the land that you hold so dear. That’s what’s at stake in this election.”

To boost turnout and streamline the voting process amidst the current pandemic, Protect Our Winters launched “Make a Damn Plan.” The initiative is designed to ultra-simplify the voting process by holding the hands of citizens through every step, whether casting in person or using absentee ballots. For some, POW is going as far as mailing prospective voters a stamped return envelope for individuals to register.

“No one should have to choose between their ability to stay healthy and safe and the right to vote,” Mario Molina, executive director of Protect Our Winters, told Sunset.

An avid climber, snowboarder, and mountain biker, Molina joined Protect Our Winters equipped with a résumé that included climate change campaigns under former Vice President Al Gore and playing a role in laying the groundwork for the Paris Agreement.

Like Jones, Molina has seen the detriments of climate change across the planet’s increasingly devastated ecosystems. To stem that tide, Molina believes the U.S. must step forward as an international leader.

“We have seen that whenever the U.S. actually takes a leadership role, other countries are more likely to follow,” Molina told Sunset. “But we’ve seen that leading role erode over the last four years. So, when the U.S. isn’t stepping up, it allows countries like India and China to shirk their responsibilities as well.”

Also joining the Make a Damn Plan effort is Amie Engerbretson, a pro skier like her father, who was raised on the concept that to truly enjoy the outdoors we must also strive to protect it.

Prior to the 21st century, that idea may have conflicted with many who viewed the outdoors as a form of escape from political or societal complications. But the well-established scientific research surrounding subjects like climate change, Amie says, is too prevalent to remain on the sidelines.

“It’s very clear now that with climate change that’s just not acceptable,” she told Sunset. “We no longer have the luxury to not talk about this. It’s not just our livelihoods, but our passions are going to be diminished. We’re not going to have a trail or a ski hill to leave politics out of if we don’t get involved in politics.”

Data provided by Protect Our Winters shows that a staggering 35 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds who claimed to have voted in the 2014 midterms did not.

It is the hope of those like Engerbretson, Molina, and Jones, that Make a Damn Plan will streamline involvement in ways past isolated initiatives have failed. The campaign is also receiving a boost through contributions from partner brands, including Burton, The North Face, and Skullcandy.

This collective push has made Engerbretson’s involvement in Protect Our Winters’ growing community of athletes, scientists, and industry leaders a no-brainer, she says, calling the decision an obligation as a U.S. citizen, regardless of her background in outdoor sports.

Protect Our Winters

“That’s everybody’s duty,” she said. “You can’t get all the the benefits of the outdoors but not actually participate” in its preservation.

The true impact the outdoors can have on a single individual was made crystal clear to Engerbretson when, while lobbying on Capitol Hill alongside Jeremy Jones, she met with a Republican congressman from Florida.

“His idea of the outdoors looks really different than mine,” Amie said, “but the feeling we get from it is exactly the same. I can’t relate to his experience of boat trips on the Everglades, but the look in his eye when he’s discussing it and the way he’s reliving those experiences—that’s exactly the same as when I discuss skiing or canoe camping with my dad.

“It’s the ultimate unifier, and hopefully it’s common ground we can use to be welcoming and understanding.”


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