Greenpeace Student Network at Blair Mountain

When I was planning for this summer, I was faced with a choice. I could either take classes at my college to complete a double-major, or take this internship with the Greenpeace Student Network. It was a choice between two directions in my life—the activist and the academic. For years, I had followed the academic track. My interest in environmental issues was strong, but it was primarily intellectual and personal. Although I was passionate about learning about environmentalism and leading a sustainable lifestyle, I wasn’t taking action to organize with others or connect that lifestyle to the broader movements.

At college, that started to change. I joined my university’s environmental organization, EcoAction, and became involved with projects on campus to promote recycling, energy efficiency, environmental justice, and more. I began to understand that although the intellectual and personal aspects of environmentalism are vital, they must ultimately serve the cause of the collective movement. Activism became increasingly important to me. I started to devote less time to academics. As summer approached, I felt I was ready to pursue the activist track full-time. I decided to take the Greenpeace internship.

After only two weeks at Greenpeace, I can already tell that I made the right decision. I had the chance to join two exciting events: the March on Blair Mountain (not strictly with Greenpeace) and an action at a Senate hearing on nuclear energy. The march, which I describe here on EcoAction’s blog, was a five-day, fifty-mile action in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal (MTR) mining on historic Blair Mountain. People from Greenpeace and I drove to Blair on Saturday for the final day. It was my first time participating in a large, organized rally around an issue that I am passionate about.

The action at the Senate occurred during Thursday’s hearing on nuclear safety in the U.S. As Jim Riccio describes in this post, nuclear safety is an oxymoron—the U.S. must transition from nuclear energy to clean, renewable energy to ensure a safe future. While the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, two Greenpeace activists and I stood up, facing the senators, and held banners reading “Nuclear Never Safe.” The action was what Greenpeace co-founder Bob Hunter would have called a “media mindbomb”—a powerful image that sends a quick, clear message.

Yet these actions are not even the bulk of the work that I have been doing. I have spent most of my time doing research and writing for Greenpeace’s Student Network, and I am helping with administrative work for the Greenpeace Activist Summit. I visited the Greenpeace warehouse and met students from the Greenpeace Semester, a training program in environmental activism for college students. I also helped at a training that Greenpeace held for international students. The students learned about organizing and broke into groups to design a campaign to take back to their home countries. Their energy and knowledge about environmental issues was amazing—I probably learned as much from them as they did from me.

My internship experience has reinforced my beliefs that movement-based, collective environmentalism is ultimately the larger cause that intellectual and personal environmentalism must serve, and that it is necessary to work actively for the change you believe in to feel like a productive citizen of the world. It isn’t enough to read and write about mountaintop removal mining if you don’t take the chance to march up a mountain and protest MTR yourself. Interning with Greenpeace has given me the chance to do that.