For rural people, Jane Fleming Kleeb explains, most everything is tied to the land: livelihoods, family histories, hopes, and aspirations. They will fight to protect it, and increasingly, they see wind and solar power as threats. She wants them to take ownership and thrive on it instead.
“The land in rural communities can harness enough clean energy to power America for the next century and beyond,” she says. But in order for that to happen, rural people need to embrace clean energy development, and that requires organizing to break down opposition, build new alliances, and ensure that projects truly benefit local people. “This is an economic opportunity to transform America’s energy system with people—and land—at the center of change.”
Create a shared vision of renewable energy development for rural America that is rooted in land justice and beneficial to local residents by building diverse and inclusive alliances of communities.
Jane has successfully mobilized unlikely allies before. A progressive organizer in a conservative Florida family, she founded Bold Nebraska in 2010 after marrying a rancher, moving to the state, and loving it. Her goal was to shift the political landscape by connecting with rural residents on typically progressive issues.
She had not set out to take on the oil industry, until she learned of an imminent Keystone XL pipeline hearing in Nebraska that had farmers and ranchers worried about potential threats to their land and water.
Jane listened, amplified their voices, and persuaded them to join forces with Native American tribes and environmental activists to block the project. They called themselves the “Cowboy Indian Alliance.” Jane organized high-profile actions, like placing 12 tipis on the National Mall; building a clean energy-powered barn on the proposed pipeline route; and hosting Nebraska’s largest advocacy concert, Harvest the Hope, in a corn field with Willie Nelson and Neil Young.
The fight took more than a decade, but they finally got the government to rescind the project’s permit in 2021. By then, Bold Nebraska had become the Bold Alliance, doing grassroots organizing across rural America to stop risky fossil fuel and industrial food projects and training others to replicate Jane’s successful strategies.
As a demonstrated organizer among rural communities, where many climate groups still don’t dare go, Jane wants to use her 2023 Climate Breakthrough Award to build new alliances to catalyze renewable energy development across rural America. She wants to promote an economic model in which every citizen in counties that host large-scale energy projects gets a share of the profits.
“We cannot repeat the mistakes of the fossil fuel corporations, where rural people were often taken advantage of, land was taken by eminent domains, the Sovereign Rights of Tribal Nations were trampled, pollution was left behind, and only a few well-connected people benefited financially,” Jane says. “We want to center the people who are most impacted, putting more control in their hands and ensuring that they are part of the wealth creation.”
The Keystone XL fight “changed my life,” Jane says, “and inspired me to never give up on anyone, anywhere… I am inspired by the small but mighty groups of people who punch above their weight for change. The ones who give a damn about leaving the world a better place.”
Jane Kleeb is an experienced grassroots organizer, manager, political strategist, and nonprofit entrepreneur. In 2010, she founded Bold Nebraska, which later became the Bold Alliance, a network of diverse coalitions in rural states of America working to protect the environment.
As Executive Director of the Young Democrats of America from 2004 to 2007, Jane implemented the first-ever national youth coordinated campaign to mobilize the youth vote and worked with an alliance of diverse groups ranging from Punk Voters to Stonewall Democrats.
As Nebraska State Director of the SEIU Change That Works Project in 2008–2010, she brought together leaders from advocacy and faith groups, doctors, farmers, ranchers, and small businesses to secure a key vote for passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Since 2017, Jane has served in a volunteer capacity as Chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party. She is the author of Harvest the Vote: How Democrats Can Win Again in Rural America, published in 2020. She has a B.A. in religious studies from Stetson University and an M.A. in international training and education from American University.