If the biggest draw to your annual event is one outstanding guest speaker, why not three?

The 2023 Evening for the Environment, hosted by Maine Conservation Voters and Maine Conservation Alliance, featured spoken-word artist-activist Signature MiMi, Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Bryant and marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, co-editor of the bestselling climate solutions anthology “All We Can Save.”

Four hundred people – including college students, philanthropists, activists, scientists, teachers and elected officials – turned out to hear these climate feminists Nov. 29 at the University of New England’s Portland campus.

The Evening for the Environment raised $138,000 to support the alliance’s work protecting the environment, safeguarding democracy and acting on climate. In addition to ticket sales, the event had 34 business sponsors, 26 organization sponsors, four foundation sponsors and more than 100 host committee couples or individuals.

“Many people working together always brings good results,” said Dianne Kopec, a Maine Audubon board member from Hudson. “And we sure need it right now.”

The reception at Innovation Hall included information tables for social justice and youth organizations: Atlantic Black Box, Community Organizing Alliance, JustME for JustUS, Khmer Maine, Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Maine Environmental Education Association, Maine Outdoor School for All, Maine Youth Action Network, Maine Youth Power and Wabanaki Alliance.


“We wanted this year’s Evening for the Environment to better reflect our commitment to fostering inclusivity and to highlight the inextricable link between our pro-environment, pro-climate, pro-democracy missions and racial justice and equity,” said Development Director Stacie Haines.

“These groups lead with honesty, courage, creativity, open minds and open hearts and often challenge us to do and be better,” said Executive Director Maureen Drouin.

Maine Conservation Voters President Jennifer Melville introduced the three guest speakers, describing Signature MiMi, Ambassador Bryant and Dr. Johnson as “women who inspire hope for the future through their intellect, their dedication and their grace.”

Signature MiMi, a self-described “expressionista,” opened the program with an emotional spoken word piece entitled “When the Rains Come.”

Then Bryant, who also serves as president of the Wabanaki Alliance, led a conversational interview with Johnson, a national figure in climate change policy who joined the faculty at Bowdoin College this fall as an environmental studies professor.

“Growing up on the Penobscot River, my ancestral homeland, I’ve always had this deep connection with and real concern for the health of our river,” Bryant said. “The saying ‘Water is life’ has come into public consciousness because of the Standing Rock pipeline protest, but it has always been the way in Indigenous communities.”


Johnson, wearing a sweater embroidered with the phrase “Climate Feminist,” said she decided to become a marine biologist when she was 5 years old and saw a coral reef on a glass-bottom boat in the Florida Keys.

“I think about climate through the lens of saltwater,” she said. “The latest research analysis is that 35 percent of our climate solutions are found in the ocean. That includes offshore renewable energy, decarbonization of shipping in ports, sustainable seafood and regenerative farming in the ocean – which Maine is leaning on in creative ways – and restoring our ecosystems like wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs, kelp forests and oyster beds. Some of these ecosystems can absorb five times more carbon than a forest on land.”

Johnson signed copies of “All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis,” which she co-edited with Katharine K. Wilkinson. Random House has slated Johnson’s forthcoming book, “What If We Get It Right? Visions of Climate Futures,” for a July 2024 release.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at amyparadysz@gmail.com.

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