Friday 5:00 PM, the parades are lining up and the city becomes un-navigable.Of course, this is the time for our local and regional interns and student activists to coalesce at Tulane University to begin a weekend of grassroots organizing training. The local interns, Laney White, Mallory Domingue, and Megan Milliken, make it there along with a big crowd of interested students and our Tulane service learners. With traffic and transportation difficulties, we had yet to see a regional intern. By 6:00 PM, the last of the regional interns finally arrives. In spite of everything working against them to get there, everyone is rearing to get started on their environmental advocacy education.The Students United for a Healthy Gulf Conference brought together students from all over the Gulf to learn about the pressing environmental issues facing the Gulf and how students have the power to affect positive change. The weekend was a great success, and all the students gained the skills and knowledge they will need for a successful semester working with the GRN, and it started them down the path of a lifetime of civic engagement.Once everyone arrives, I rush off to grab some dinner to bring back while Cyn Sarthou, GRN’s executive director, introduces the organization. As I come back in with po-boys and French fries, Aaron Viles, GRN’s campaign director, is briefing students on the situation facing the coastal wetlands and the Flood Washington campaign he crafted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Next up, Casey Mintzer, a GRN fall semester intern, does a quick intro to the basic principles and tips for public speaking because being able to present your message to large groups of people is a key component of environmental advocacy campaigns. Afterwards, all the students dig into the food before heading off to enjoy a Mardi Gras parade.Bringing young Gulf conservationists together helps build the sense of community across the region and it creates a movement of engaged and concerned young citizens. With the locals hosting the regional interns, we helped create something that weekend that transcended any one person present, student or GRN staffer.The next morning we come back together in the same place to begin a full day of training. But first off, we enjoy a delicious breakfast and coffee generously donated by Whole Foods Market. Thanks Whole Foods! In the first briefing of the day, Dan elaborates on the knowledge the students gained the night before by giving a presentation on the Save Our Cypress Campaign, effective campaign strategies, and the campaign’s relevance to wetland restoration and environmental change. After he finishes up, Anat Belasen, a GRN fall intern, discusses the grassroots organizing tool of postcarding and how we utilize postcards to show Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot that there is public support against their sale of cypress mulch. She goes over the keys to successful postcarding and then has the students pair up and practice doing the rap with each other. Due to bad weather, they unfortunately don’t get to take their new skills to the street.When lunch is done, Sarah Helm, our intern from Texas A&M, bravely stands up and delivers an example of the class rap Casey had demonstrated the night before. Stephanie Powell, GRN Outreach Associate for the Healthy Waters Program, and I begin a skills training on volunteer recruitment and management because engaging volunteers is the best way to build the environmental movement. Our high school volunteer, Sophie Giberga, had really awesome ideas for what makes a good leader. The students all participated in role-playing how to train volunteers to postcard and how to lead an individual meeting with a volunteer. Megan did a great job encouraging her group to get over their initial discomfort. As we wrapped up, Matt Rota, director of the Water Resources Program, came in to talk to students about the pollution that causes a huge part of the Gulf of Mexico to be completely devoid of life every summer and what we can do about it. The training day ends with a briefing on internet organizing. Dan discusses the opportunity the internet provides to educate and activate people and lays out ways the students can raise the visibility of the GRN and its campaign on the web.The ability to recruit, train, and manage volunteers; talk to community and campus groups and classes; and educate people and advocate for a healthy coast are all essential skills for organizing to protect cypress forests and the Gulf of Mexico. The Students United for a Healthy Gulf Conference did a great job of training young students and activists that they are capable of great things. Each and every one of the participants has now become part of a new generation of environmental activists. You all rock!The next morning, we all come together again at Tulane to enjoy a tasty free breakfast compliments of Whole Foods and see some of the ecosystem we are all pumped to save. We drive out to Manchac to go on a boat tour with Professor Rob Moreau of SELU. When we arrive, Rob gives us a wetlands presentation specific to Turtle Cove and the Manchac area. It’s a chilly day so all of us bundle up as we head onto the boat. Rob shows us the areas devastated by logging and the loss that continues to take place as a legacy to the logging. As we head back to our cars, we leave with a vision of what could happen to all of the wetlands if people don’t act now.We encourage you to get engaged. Sign up for our email list, take our e-actions, and join us as a member. Take a line from these students and help us fight for the coast every day.United for a Healthy Gulf!Amy Medtlie is an Outreach Associate for the Gulf Restoration Network.

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