Not only has the Sierra Student Coalition made critical contributions to national priority issues, like protecting the Arctic Refuge, its recruitment and training programs keep inspiring new generations of activists.
by Tom Valtin
Emily Duncanson isn’t old enough to vote, but she knows how to get her congressman to listen to her concerns.
When Dave Reichert, a Republican from suburban Seattle, explained why he wouldn’t vote for a budget bill that included Arctic drilling, he waved several large “photo petitions” from his constituents back home. “You have to listen to the people you represent,” he said at a November 9 press conference.
Duncanson, a high school senior, Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) activist, and president of her school environmental club, created one of those photo petitions. She photographed fellow students and other local residents with quote balloons saying, “Rep. Reichert, don’t drill the Arctic,” then pasted the photos on a posterboard that was delivered to Reichert.
A D.C. lobbyist told Sierra Club organizer Shannon Harps that Reichert “went crazy,” telling reporters he’d received more than 1,600 phone calls about Arctic drilling, 95 percent of them favoring protection of the Arctic Refuge. His office was also flooded with postcards and letters about the Arctic that the Sierra Club helped generate.
Reichert was one of two dozen House Republicans targeted by the Club as swing votes, enough of whom refused to support a budget opening the Arctic Refuge to oil companies that the House leadership yanked drilling from the bill.
Duncanson says an environmental science class inspired her to join the SSC, the Sierra Club’s student-run arm, but it wasn’t until she attended an SSC summer training in July that she blossomed into a full-fledged environmental leader.
“The training gave me the tools, know-how, and confidence to be a leader,” she says. “Prior to the training, I didn’t know many other people who felt the same way as I did. Suddenly I was networking and socializing with all these like-minded people. It was very empowering.”
Under Duncanson’s leadership, her school club—which had 10 participants last year—has mushroomed to 65 active members. They meet weekly to sign postcards and write letters, and have started a Friday carpool day and Meatless Mondays in the school lunch program. Duncanson, who wants to become an environmental toxicologist, has also become a community leader on the SSC’s Arctic campaign, hosting letter-writing parties, arranging an Oil on Ice screening, and getting two dozen local businesses to sign a letter to Reichert opposing drilling.
The SSC, which has “graduated” many leaders into the ranks of Sierra Club leaders, has to continually recruit leaders of all ages, says excom member Rachel Ackoff, who joined the Sierra Club after attending a summer training. But opportunities abound for anyone who wants to jump into a leadership role. The SSC’s Midwest regional coordinator came straight out of a recent summer training. The national coordinator for the Arctic campaign last year was a high school junior.
Duncanson says the training sparked her idea for Kyoto in the Classroom, where schools can commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. “We got solar panels for our school this fall, we’re getting more efficient lighting installed, and we have a geothermal heating system supplying most of the school’s heat,” she beams.
“The summer training was a life-changing experience,” says Duncanson. “It gave me a huge sense of, ‘Hey, I can do this!’”
For info on the SSC’s summer trainings, go to www.ssc.org or contact Tamara Evans.
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