GRN Hosts Successful Student Leadership Training

The weekend of January 22-24 was filled with students learning how to fight for the health of the Gulf. Our student interns from around the Gulf, service learners from Tulane and a few great activists from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette gathered in New Orleans to gain the skills, knowledge, and experience they’ll need to work with GRN to protect the natural resources of the region.The Students United for a Healthy Gulf Leadership Conference kicked off on Friday night with an overview of the history of the GRN’s work by Executive Director Cynthia Sarthou and a screening of Paradise Faded: The Fight for Louisiana.The foundations of good organizing come from an understanding of the issues and hands-on training. For many of the students participating, it was their first attempt at grassroots organizing so they started off with the most tried and true method: petitioning. After a presentation on the dangers of cypress mulch by Campaign Organizer Dan Favre, the students on the basic organizing track went out into Audubon Park and across the Tulane campus to speak to the public about this important issue. In a little less than an hour the students returned with over 230 signed postcards! The students were excited to see that they could make an impact in for the health of the Gulf just by talking to the average citizen out on the street.Meanwhile the students on the event planning track learned how to plan an event of their own. Again we focused on Cypress and the students were given to tools to plan a rally at a mulch retailer and then set forth to make that happen. They divided responsibilities and held a meeting to get the other students excited and engaged about the rally they were planning for Sunday.Interspersed with other presentations by GRN staff focused on maintaining healthy waters, stopping global warming, and organizing strategies for the Gulf; students went on to learn how to recruit and train volunteers, turn people out to events, and earn media coverage of our issues.At the end of the day of training and presentations the students went home excited to get out and see the marsh and protest the sale of unsustainable Cypress mulch the next day! On we could not have ordered a better day for a walk in the swamp. We were able to see 4 alligators and learn about the places we are fighting to protect.Energized from our walk, we headed over to the Home Depot where we started to protest its selling of unsustainable cypress mulch in front of the store. We were quickly told to leave the property, but not before we got inside to get a few pictures of some of the students standing next to a pile of cypress mulch with a sign explaining why it kills our coast!We moved over to the neutral ground where we chanted at the passing cars and encouraged them not to buy cypress mulch. Our new cheer for the day was a big hit: “Who dat? Who dat? Who day selling that cypress mulch? Who dat? Who dat? Who dat buying that cypress mulch?” Everyone headed home feeling good about our contribution to the fight for the coast and more ready than ever to make plans for future efforts. We’re excited for the semester!Helen Rose Patterson is the GRN’s Campus Organizing Intern.

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