Greenpeace invited two Cal Poly students to attend a training conference for the country’s leading youth environmental activists called “Change It” in Washington, D.C. this summer.
Social sciences senior David Kirk and political science senior Lizzy LaMotte-Mitchell were named two of the top 100 youth environmental activists in the country by Greenpeace this summer. They were awarded an all expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. from July 28 to Aug. 3 to attend workshops, special guest speakers and a campaign simulation organized by Greenpeace and Seventh Generation, a manufacturer of eco-friendly household cleaning products.
Kirk was chosen for his organizing and campaign experience at Cal Poly and the local community. He founded Poly Greens; the Green Party’s campus chapter designed for students. Poly Greens participated in the campaign to replace the red handprints, educational awareness on corporate personhood and the Renew CSU campaign.
“If Poly Greens continues to succeed and grow after I graduate, that will be my biggest accomplishment,” Kirk said.
He is also the Program Coordinator for SAFER Men, a sexual assault awareness campaign based out of Cal Poly’s Women’s Center, and is active in the Progressive Student Alliance club on campus.
Like Kirk, LaMotte-Mitchell’s full resume of campus and community involvement is what got her chosen for the youth environmental activist award. She interned for Greenpeace last fall and traveled to college campuses to involve students in the fight for recycled tissue products.
LaMotte-Mitchell also attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and organized demonstrations to pressure the international community into reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.
“I think personally my biggest accomplishment has been working to change my own lifestyle, because I feel like our lifestyles are probably the biggest problem,” LaMotte-Mitchell said.
One of the things Kirk learned from the training conference is to never give up on his goals to make the community and the world more environmentally aware.
“If you know what you’re doing is right, you’ve just got to keep doing it. Change has always got to start somewhere,” Kirk said.
Greenpeace designed the “activist boot camp,” as Kirk calls it, to develop students’ skills in campaign strategy, event planning, media relations and non-violent direct action taught by the experienced staff at Greenpeace. The students’ abilities were then applied to a three-day campaign simulation, dividing them into ten teams working to achieve specific competing campaign objectives.
LaMotte-Mitchell sees her experience at the conference not only as an inspiration to keep working for a cause, but as a great networking tool.
“There are hundreds of other students out there who are working toward a better future and who want to make change,” LaMotte-Mitchell said.
The conference culminated in the kick-off of Greenpeace’s Project Hot Seat, a national global warming campaign focused on the November 2006 elections. Students gathered on the Capitol lawn to form a human arrow pointing at the Capitol Building and held up a banner reading, “global warming starts here,” and then another reading, “global warming stops here.”
Students delivered photos of the demonstration directly to congressmen, along with letters about global warming and how it can be stopped by legislation. However, they did face resistance from guards in the Capitol Building who thought they were trying to protest, which turned out to be a valuable lesson.
“That was pretty insane, just how hard it can be trying to communicate with your congressman because they are afraid of all these college kids,” LaMotte-Mitchell said.
Both Kirk and LaMotte-Mitchell plan to use the skills they gained from the conference to continue working on different environmental campaigns on campus.
Kirk is working with other leaders on campus to form Empower Poly, a coalition of campus organizations who want to establish Cal Poly as a model of economic, social and environmental sustainability. In working with Empower Poly, Kirk hopes to use the conference as a model for training club leaders and student organizers on campus.
“I think it has a lot of potential for a lot of big changes on campus,” Kirk said.
LaMotte-Mitchell is currently working with Greenpeace and the National Resource Defense Council on their Kleercut campaign to stop Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Kleenex brand paper products, from destroying the largest remaining ancient forest in North America, the Boreal.
“Basically we’re asking them to stop using wood fiber from ancient forests, ensure that virgin fiber is Forest Stewardship Council approved; and increase the recycled content to 80 percent. That’s the standard,” LaMotte-Mitchell said.
She is also bringing the Kleercut campaign to campus, working to rid Cal Poly of Kimberly-Clark paper products. She hopes to gain student support and create a contract with Cal Poly’s Facilities Department to stop buying from Kimberly-Clark and find a more environmentally friendly alternative.