Kris Glenn: Finding her voice, finding a system

Kris Glenn knew she had a lot to say, but she didn’t necessarily know how best to say it. Several years ago, she found herself observing the world around her and becoming more concerned about a lack of social cohesion. People seemed to be increasingly polarized while losing faith in fundamental pillars of our culture. “If we don’t have trust in our institutions, how can we have faith in society?” she wondered. Seeking ways to better communicate her concerns about the social fabric led Kris to Northern Plains, but in a roundabout way.

Kris joined the organization almost on a whim. In 2018, she signed up for a public speaking workshop Northern Plains was hosting in Billings, the town she grew up in and returned to after 20 years living overseas as an engineer. She saw that the workshop offered a discount for members and decided to take a chance on a group she didn’t quite understand. “They seemed harmless” she considered even though she “couldn’t quite figure out what the organization did.”

Not knowing the full details about Northern Plains’ organizing model didn’t deter Kris from engaging with her local affiliate, Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council (YVCC). She stuck her toe in the water by supporting YVCC’s work to expand access to local food. But when the affiliate asked her to help engage members, she was hooked, even if she still didn’t quite “get” the nuances of Northern Plains. What was unmistakable to her, however, was the fact that Northern Plains and YVCC were actively building and strengthening community. “People working together can be unstoppable,” Kris thought.

Eventually Kris attended one of Northern Plains’ essential workshops for member-leaders, Western Organization of Resource Council’s POCO (Principles of Community Organizing). From there, everything clicked. The nuances of community organizing were clear to her after learning more about the nuts and bolts of the work. “Because I’m a systems engineer, it was exciting to see there was a system, a structure to follow.”

Kris quickly took to this system and has become a passionate leader within the organization. She sits on the Northern Plains Board of Directors as the YVCC representative and has recently become deeply involved in our work to protect and defend democracy. She’s been studying the history of Northern Plains, too.

“I tell everyone to get a copy of Northern Plains’ history anthology, Standing Together” she says, noting how impressed she was to learn about the organization’s outsized accomplishments in its earliest days, helping pass federal coal reclamation laws on top of other major victories. She’s also been studying the history of the U.S. government and learning just how precious and important our democratic rights are. Taken together, this research is lighting a fire under Kris, inspiring her work to protect the Montana Constitution and our right to participate in the decisions that affect our communities.

“I learned how important citizens’ voices are with respect to shaping our communities,” Kris says. “Without democracy and our formal right to speak to our government, Northern Plains can’t do our work.”

It’s obvious that Kris discovered more than expected after attending that first Northern Plains workshop. She may have been seeking ways to be a better public speaker, but she gained something much deeper.

“I learned how to get involved and how to make my voice heard,” she says. “Northern Plains gave me a voice.”

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