“The greatest lesson I will take from 350 Spokane is hope.”
This spring semester of my sophomore year I have had the pleasure to be an intern for 350 Spokane. This has been a unique experience for me. I have always done volunteer work, but never have I been so involved with an organization that has actually inspired me to change and grow. I have learned a lot of things with 350- some of them good, some of them bad – but all are valuable lessons.
I am currently a student at Gonzaga University, and my main goal with 350 Spokane is to create a bigger 350 presence on campus. I am trying to advertise 350 more to students and people my age. This is an important task to me personally, because my generation has begun or has been voting in elections. A lot of people in my generation are passionate environmentalists and understand the risks and dangers of climate change. However, I have observed that many young people tend to be on the sidelines when it comes to taking action or being involved with their community. Specifically at Gonzaga, there tends to be a ‘bubble’ around the campus. Students are very involved within our school and campus, but once something goes beyond the boundaries of Gonzaga, students have little interest in participating. A lot of students believe their stay in Spokane is temporary and that any action they take is unnecessary. I wish students my age would understand that if Gonzaga is their home, then Spokane is their home, too, and that being active in your community is necessary and meaningful. Although a student’s stay in Spokane may be necessary, their actions and the effects of their actions are permanent.
Another important lesson I have learned from 350 is how much people do not like politics, which is funny because our country is built upon the citizenry’s active participation in politics. Obviously, these days the words politics and political, and even politician,all have negative connotations. A lot of our perceptions of politics come from the lying, corrupt politicians that tend to swamp our government offices. This negative perception of politics has a huge effect on environmental policy, regulations, and environmental protection because, unfortunately, the issue of global warming and climate change has become a partisan, political issue. People associate environmental issues automatically with democratic or liberal politics, and those who aren’t a democrat usually ignore the issues. When you say climate change, people often think democrat or republican? Is it real, or bogus? Trump or Obama? This is bad news for climate change. Since it has become a political issue, people sometimes avoid the topic of climate change, because people hate politics. Politics are still the number one way to make a dinner go from nice and calm to tense and awkward. Yikes.
One day while I was tabling for 350 Spokane in the Hemmingson, my French professor approached me. Originating from France, she asked what being an environmentalist was like in the United States. A few friends and I explained to her that it could be frustrating at times, but that it was normal otherwise. Then one of us mentioned how some people don’t support environmentalism, and how some people don’t believe in climate change. My professor thought we were joking around and she laughed with us- but once she realized we were serious, she was flabbergasted. She didn’t understand how people could disregard such a serious problem that affects the entire world. In France, and many, many other countries, people don’t just not believe in climate change. In other countries, climate change is seen as a very important and pressing issue that is taken seriously and not ignored. America is a unique case; the rest of the world seems to understand the risks of climate change, but why are we so behind?
Although the things I’ve mentioned above are a bit negative, I have learned many positive things from 350 Spokane. I have learned that ordinary people are powerful. Being an environmental activist can be difficult because you’re going up against big politicians and industry who have more money and a bigger network. Things can look hopeless sometimes. But, the best thing we can do is keep going; even when we hit a wall, we have to find a way around it. Our persistence and our constant efforts to stand up to the big players are our greatest weapons in the fight for climate protection. People are the agents of change.
The greatest lesson I will take from 350 Spokane is hope. A lot of people care about protecting the planet, and as long as people care, there is hope. It amazes me how much work 350 has done, and how much our members have accomplished. Such a small group of people is capable of so much, and that’s what gives me hope.
A lot of people have asked me why I do this internship when it is solely unpaid volunteer work. My answer is this: I do it because it’s right. I do it because it’s what I need, and what we all need. I do it because our world is fascinating, and we owe it to her to be respectful and sustainable. I am a part of 350 Spokane because I genuinely believe that our work is meaningful, powerful, and capable of greater change.
“Very few young people are involved in the environmental movement. This must change.”
As a young environmentalist, I had always been interested in the work 350.org was doing. I read Bill McKibben’s books, signed petitions, and participated in 350 Los Angeles marches. I thought it would be a perfect way to become more involved in an issue that I am deeply passionate about.
At 350 Spokane, one of my main roles is to run our social media accounts. I create content to post, share scientific articles, and inform people about future events. Social media, especially Instagram and Twitter, are used more widely by the younger generation. However, through my time as an intern, I have realized that very few young people are involved in the environmental movement. This must change if the environmental movement is to continue. And, I believe social media is an excellent way to get more young people engaged with an issue that will greatly affect their lives. Reaching out over a platform like Instagram, seems more personal and relatable for much of the younger generation and, because of this, I believe social media is a necessary tool to build the environmental movement.
Through working with 350 Spokane, I have been able to apply much of what I have learned in classes the past three years to real world experiences. It is one thing to know theories of what should happen, but it is another to know what actually happens in real world circumstances. I now better understand the concepts of human rationality, morality and ethics in practical terms. The real-world knowledge I have learned during the four short months of my internship will serve me well throughout my future career.
Since I have started working with 350 Spokane, I have learned so much about what it means to be an activist. Anyone can be an activist and many people who are activists do not think of themselves as one. My definition of an activist is a broad one—it is not always the person holding the sign at a protest march. But, to be an activist you must be in touch with your local community, be knowledgeable about the issues in your region, and have a strong belief in what you are doing. The root of the word is “active” and I believe this is the biggest component. You must be actively trying to make positive change in your school, your community, your nation, your world and there are countless avenues to make that change.
I also never realized how much behind the scenes work (and how many emails!) goes into making these types of organizations run. There are always events to plan, articles to share on Facebook, and city council hearings to attend and 350 Spokane could not function without all these little moving parts. Although they might not be as exciting as a big protest march, I have come to realize that all of the little tasks contribute to big change. And I have witnessed the change 350 Spokane has made in the greater Spokane Area, only a year into its creation. Although I have had little to do with these successes, it is exciting to be a part of an organization that is truly making a difference in my community.
350 Spokane has also given me the opportunity to work with and learn from so many passionate, intelligent, and driven individuals. It is so exciting to be surrounded by people who have similar interests as you and to be involved in meaningful and impassioned conversations. Through these conversations, I have realized that I much more to learn, but I’m thrilled that I can learn so much more throughout the rest of my time with 350 Spokane.
Madison Dougherty and Olivia Jackiewicz have been interns at 350 Spokane since the beginning of this year. Madison just completed her sophomore year at Gonzaga University, majoring in International Relations and minoring in Environmental Studies and French. Olivia, an Environmental Studies major with minors in Social Justice and Journalism, will start her senior year at Gonzaga in the fall.