Intern Guest Post by Julianna Martinez
This summer, I hoped to learn how a nonprofit organization helps bridge the gap between the input of local people and that of elected officials. I was eager to understand what role nonprofits played in influencing policy at both local and global levels. As the “Our Forests Aren’t Fuel” Policy Intern here at Dogwood, I experienced this firsthand. I worked very closely with campaign organizers here at Dogwood to develop strategic policy angles to stopping the biomass industry in the Southeast. It just so happened that a large portion of this exploration occurred either in, around or via Betina.
What or who is Betina, you ask? Betina is none other than the super rad tour van that I traveled around in for roughly 2 weeks across 5 southern states in the U.S with 6 incredibly passionate people. We were on our Save Our Southern (SOS) Forests Tour. We set out to raise awareness and equip communities across the South to challenge the destructive biomass industry and send a clear message to decision-makers that our forests aren’t fuel. Throughout the course of 2 weeks, we held 10 powerful events in 6 different cities, reaching thousands of citizens and dozens of local organizations.
My top priority for the summer was to lead outreach and recruitment of local elected officials to attend events in each tour location, engage with the issue, hear the concerns of community members regarding biomass export facilities in their cities and have meetings with us. I succeeded in reaching over 80 elected officials across the Southeastern US who became aware of this issue. More than 500 local citizens united by sending SOS messages directly to decision makers, engaging with local officials and creating SOS human banners.
The SOS Tour events generated incredible dialogue about what can be done to change the way our forests are valued and how we can work together to highlight the fallacies of the biomass industry. Local communities are now aware of biomass facilities in their area and how the industry poses serious threats to our health and lifestyles, destroys much of the biodiversity in the Southern US and is entirely driven by unsustainable subsidies, which creates unfair competition with our traditional wood products industries. I loved recruiting elected officials for these events because their engagement with this issue is critical to mitigating the effects of the biomass industry.
In addition to recruiting officials, I also collected petitions, created and edited campaign materials, phone banked and organized post-tour follow-up and wrap-up statistics. Outside of the SOS Tour, I created an investigation flyer for Dogwood’s most recent investigation of a biomass facility in Southampton, VA and Ahoskie, NC. I also communicated with Australian elected officials, encouraging them to vote against the inclusion of native forest biomass in Australia’s renewable energy target. Post-tour my top priority has been recruiting a diverse group of organizations across the South to sign a letter to the EPA to help protect Southern Forests.
Betina was an integral part of my experience here at Dogwood. She helped me travel with the team to meet with effected communities to identify key concerns and ways to address these issues. She facilitated my development of a strong understanding of the biomass industry and campaign messaging. She even exposed me to a variety of methods for change, including organizing, policy advocacy and local government. However, the 6 other bodies that Betina transported were what made my experience here at Dogwood incredible.
My team, along with my other co-workers at Dogwood, are some of the most intentional, passionate, supportive people with whom I have ever had the privilege of working. They inspire me each day to work for a better world and a better me. Whether it’s packing extra cherries to share around the office at lunch time, teaching others how to race crabs at the beach or recycling cigarette butts, these people are so aware and intentional with their actions. I can only hope to surround myself with such a community in the future, and I look forward to witnessing the change they make beyond the foundation we have laid this summer.