Marylee Orr, Founding Member of LEAN
I’m so excited to feature Marylee Orr here at Bossy Like Me! I met Marylee when I was working for Waterkeeper Alliance during the BP Oil Disaster here on the Gulf Coast in 2010. But I knew her work for years before our first meeting. She was one of the women leaders on environmental protection that I had learned and followed for so long. When I moved back to Louisiana during the oil spill, Marylee welcomed me into her family and I’m so grateful for her continuous support!
Marylee was one of the original founders of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network , and is currently the organization’s Executive Director. LEAN was formed in 1986 by community leaders in Baton Rouge searching for solutions to the large number of environmental problems facing Louisiana residents.
What is your most hard fought win?
The hardest fight I’ve ever won might be the first, to help give "birth " to this organization. We were creating something from nothing, before our organization was founded there was no state wide voice for people particularity on environmental justice issues. It took 2 and a half years just for a committee to agree on our name. In many ways, the environmental movement in Louisiana was championed by women, wives of plant workers and mothers of sick children. That in itself was somewhat revolutionary, just thirty years ago you did not find as many woman running organizations and stepping out as activists. That LEAN is still here over three decades later is a testament to a lot of hard work and commitment by many people, particularly women. Perhaps that perseverance, tenacity, years of earning respect and accomplishing what many people (often men) told me was impossible, perhaps that is my most hard fought win. We've had many victories that take the shape of cleaner air for communities, community relocations AWAY from environmental hazards or a myriad of other tangible results but really my greatest win is LEAN itself. We are here, that we have been here and will continue to be here to help.
What has been your most surprising failure?
I think my most surprising failure was my realization that I wasn't thinking big enough. I held myself back. I really think it comes down to that sometimes women have not always been encouraged to think big. I never thought of myself as a CEO and never really aspired to have a fancy office or big staff, perhaps I should have. I’ve seen and been lucky to assist many organizations form during my career and I’ve seen some grow and prosper with enormous staffs and huge budgets. I think that is great but that has never been success to me. I truly believe that being able to make real change and solve real problems, which does not necessarily take more people and more money, is success.
The environmental challenges we face in Louisiana can seem so huge and overwhelming and they have been around for so long it can be hard to envision something different. It takes vision to create an organization that has never existed and it takes great vision to imagine a future where Louisiana has overcome its environmental issues. But being able to make change and bring solutions often starts with vision. My most surprising failure has been recognizing that there can be a limit to vision, that sometimes I am not thinking big enough or creative enough. But that is also why I try to surround myself with the right people to keep pushing me into new and hopefully better work.
What is your favorite book in the past 12 months?
Much of my work requires me to listen, I love to hear peoples stories and I admit I've been accused of being a story teller myself. I am lucky enough to be able to hear and connect with people in a meaningful way through my work. The opportunity to listen and the opportunity to share these stories and my own as an advocate keeps me inspired, learning and busy. But when I do have time to read I find myself returning to a book one of my best friends in the whole world gave to me: The Gift by Hafiz. He passed away not too long ago but I will forever cherish the inscription he wrote to me inside the front cover. The spiritual nature of the book's poems and it's lesson are something I go back and read often.
How do you define success for your current job?
As an organization we often define success as cleaner air, land or water in a community, reducing pollution, lessening public health risks, those sorts of things. But personally, when I see a leader, of which many are women, doing a much better job advocating for their community then I could do, I consider that a huge success. Empowering and educating people to realize they are experts in their own community, that they have the ability to take control and make things better for their family and their neighbors, that is success. I can’t think of anything better than being able to help someone realize they have power and they have hope, there is great success in that for me. It is always about the people.
Where do you find news and new information?
I read some newspapers. I have to admit I get much of my news off of social media. I even tweet for LEAN, who would have thought! I like some blogs but I have to admit I don't sit down and read a newspaper the way my parents did. The way we get news and communicate has changed so much. I google a lot to find out new information. I will spend a good bit of time googling a topic that I need to know more about . Where was google when I was in high school : ) It is an exciting time and if you don't filter some of it.......a confusing time.