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Talkin' To a Politician: An Interview with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett about Sustainability

In today’s very informative post, I interviewed Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett regarding sustainability and how citizens can effectively demand change from their local leaders and representatives.

Although I have often heard “effective ways” to contact politicians from other organizations, I wanted to get an answer straight from a politician. I wanted to know: what really is the most effective way to get their attention and to ultimately create change in our towns and cities? 

Below are some of the topics I talked about with Mayor Barrett:

What are the most effective ways for people to get the attention of or contact their local representatives to demand change?

According to Mayor Barrett, the most success in terms of change comes from us. 

Mayor Barrett explained that, in many cases, citizens come to him with ideas to make changes and to implement new sustainable practices. In these cases, Mayor Barrett says “go run with this idea, gather a group and come back so that we can implement them” but in reality, many people never come back. These examples show that the people need to be deeply involved in the process of creating change and that in reality, we have a responsibility to take action ourselves. 

In Milwaukee, a group of citizens came to Mayor Barrett and suggested the creation of a “green team” that could work to make the city more sustainable. Now there is a sustainability office, where there has been an increase in green roofs, more renewable energy, and neighborhood/urban gardens. All of these changes came from local input, showing how together, communities can urge politicians to prioritize sustainability and make sustainability offices of their own. 

From the stories and advice in my interview with Mayor Barrett, it is clear to me that demanding change is best received when there is a plan of action, a group who is advocating for the same action, and a dedication to the cause. 

Why do you think sustainability is important?

Mayor Barrett said that for him, sustainability is “important for our planet, to end the reliance on fossil fuels, and to ensure that climate change is accepted and taken seriously.” He said that we have an obligation to take care of our land and our cities, especially for the future.

In an interesting discussion, we talked about the cities that young people today find most appealing. These cities are often ones that embrace sustainability and economic activity “as going hand in hand” such as Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and many others. Through these examples, it is overwhelmingly clear that economic activity and sustainability can go hand in hand, and that it is attractive for young people that love to travel but also value the environment and sustainable practices. Not only will improved sustainability efforts benefit the environment, but it will make cities more attractive for visitors and its own citizens alike. 

Any tips for people who reach out to their local leaders and representatives? 

Mayor Barrett says “like the Nike commercial, JUST DO IT!” 

According to Mayor Barrett, the more that people can come out with neighborhood or community plans with many people in support of it, the more that local leaders and politicians will respond. 

It is important to take the time to plan and create a plan of action for your cause! A well-developed plan or strategy will demand the attention of your leaders and will ultimately lead to more action and change.


In my interview with Mayor Barrett, I learned a lot about how to effectively reach out to my local leaders to demand improvements in sustainability. It is really great to hear that politicians are more responsive to a concrete plan from community members themselves, and that we truly do have the power to demand the attention of our leaders. 

Addressing environmental issues is really a group effort, and it is our job to work together to advocate for the places in which we live.

Even though these times make it difficult to physically come together, you can work with community members via petitions, zoom calls or letters to politicians/leaders. 

Let’s keep planning, working together, and CREATING CHANGE!

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