Washington, DC. The Capitol. Never thought I would be spending part of my summer in DC, yet here I am. How did I get here and what kind of adventures have I been going on? Let me tell you…
Call From California
On one of the many hot days working on the Organic Farm at Clemson, I noticed my phone started ringing. It was a call coming from San Fran, California. It doesn’t matter even if I know it’s a telemarketer, I answer calls from California. Always. California is my dream state. I love it there.
However, my hands were covered in dirt and I had to let the call go through to voicemail. So, after cleaning up for the day, I anxiously pulled up my voice mail and played back the message.
“Hey Alex, I’m from Greeenpeace and just wanted to tell you about our summer program for students in DC…” Working for Greenpeace in DC? Was I dreaming? When I got back to my dorm, I pulled up Greenpeace’s website and sure enough they had a summer program in DC for students. At this point, I had very vague plans for my summer, so I jumped on the opportunity and filled out an application. Next up was an hour long interview. Everything moved very quickly and within a few weeks, I got the call I had been waiting for. Accepted!!
The Greenpeace Semester
For those that don’t know who Greenpeace is, they are an international environmental organization. In the US, they have headquarters in DC and San Fran and currently run five campaigns: forests, oceans, toxics, nuclear, and climate change. Clearly these are broad areas and they have focused targets and goals for each campaign. One really cool thing about Greenpeace is that they don’t take donations from corporations or the government. This enables them to be truly independent and puts them in a position to make the most impact on campaigns.
Once I convinced my parents to allow me to attend the program and we agreed on the finances, I began to prepare for the trip and started to really get excited. Very quickly, I found myself hugging my parents goodbye and walking through security at the ATL airport. On my own again and heading to the Capitol!
As we arrived in DC, I caught a glimpse of the Washington monument and of course, immediately thought of National Treasure. I made my way to baggage claim, hopped on the metro, and texted my roommate to update him on where I was.
Finally, the metro arrived at College Park – University of Maryland and I hopped off. Time to meet my new roommate, Ace..
Yeah, he looked like Ace Ventura. Except with much crazier hair and an even more crazy outfit. Oh, boy. Turns out he was pretty cool and did an awesome job of setting me up in the apartment and giving me a ride to the grocery store the next day. Exhausted from travel, I crashed immediately after unpacking my stuff.
Sunday wasn’t anything special. At 9am, I tuned into NorthPoint online to watch the next message in a series called “Climate Change” (so fitting haha). Good message, but what was really cool was that about ten minutes in, the speaker pulled up a familiar picture. A stunning green Lamborghini. Wait! That’s the lambo from my dad’s office. So funny to see it pop up in a sermon.
For supper, I headed into the city to meet up with some of my fellow classmates. We wandered around Chinatown and finally settled on a place called Wok and Roll. Good conversation and good food (miso soup and a rainbow roll). That night I went to sleep excited for what our first day might hold…
First day was a whirlwind. It was almost surreal being in the Greenpeace office in Washington DC. After meeting our two leaders for the first time (we had talked on the phone a lot in prep for the summer), we got a tour of the office. Of course, most of the materials were recycled and the office was designed to minimize energy use. On our tour, we got to meet a head of the media team which is responsible for capturing official Greenpeace images of campaigns. What’s especially cool about the office is that it’s actually six different buildings with the walls between the buildings blown out to create one space. Oh, and the technically illegal solar panels on the roof are cool too.
After the tour, we got a good overview of what the next five weeks would entail… field trips, campaign trip, climbing. We then did an activity called “Life Maps” where we essentially traced out the major events of our lives and how we ended up at the Greenpeace semester. It was incredible to hear other’s stories. The rest of the day was a blur and before I knew it, I was home trying to figure out supper and lunch for the next day.
On Day Two, we got to go on our first field-trip. But before that, we got a briefing on Greenpeace’s toxic campaign by someone actively leading it. In the US, Greenpeace mainly focuses on chemical plants and how they pose a threat to surrounding citizens. Here’s a map showing some of the chemical plants in the US: Greenpeace Chemical Map. All of this data came from the government, but what’s weird is that the government will only give you data on 10 plants/day. Strange.
After our discussion ended, our two leaders took us on the metro over to the “Warehouse.” It’s basically the base for Greenpeace actions and holds everything from boats to vans to an indoor rock wall to the Greenpeace airship. Definitely a cool place.
Rest of the Week
On Wednesday, we talked to the Oceans team and got briefed on a special project we will be doing for them about Japan’s puppet nations in the IWC (International Whaling Commission). Gotta keep it under wraps though, so no details unfortunately. Afterward, we received training on Actions. We stepped through a lot of Greenpeace’s campaigns and talked about how actions are used; for example, some are used for photo ops. To end the day, we Skyped with the San Francisco crew.
Thursday morning I woke up to a text “My car got towed, sorry no ride to the metro today.” from an amazing friend that has been giving me a ride everyday. Luckily, I woke up early enough to walk to the metro. We started the day off with a briefing from the Coal campaign team, then our two leaders decided to mix up the schedule and take us over to the National Press room to hear a speaker talk about the EPA hearings going on this week. Right after we got our seats, some lady grabbed us, handed us “I love Clean Air” shirts, and set us up behind the speaker to form a cool backdrop. That was unexpected.
After listening to a couple of speakers, the whole crowd broke out into group discussions. One was on climate change science, another on politics, and the third one was about environmental justice & faith. Oh, and there was free food. Win. Eventually, we headed back to the office for a very exciting training, Petitioning 101. After a quick training and some practice, we hit the streets to petition. We only went out for 30 minutes, but collected around 90 signatures across our group. Not bad.
Friday consisted of a ton of trainings at the Warehouse. We also had a very interesting book club discussing our readings from the week (How Twitter Shapes Campaigns, The Green Revolution, and Corruption in Modern Environmental Organizations).
This Is Ridiculous
Early Saturday morning, I headed to the National Mall for the first time. I was blown away. Everything was enormous and larger than life. My first stop was the Capitol.
On my way up to the steps of the Capitol, I passed through security gates set up for the National Memorial Concert that was scheduled for Sunday and got to hear Daughtry doing a sound check for “Home.” Sweet. After a while, I made my way to the National Museum of Natural History. I figured that I would spend a couple of hours wandering around then head somewhere else after lunch, but I pretty much spent my whole day in this incredible museum. There was way too much to take in… from the Hope Diamond to the T-rex from the movie Night at the Museum to the Origins of Life exhibit. For lunch, I ate inside the museum and was blown away by the quality of my vegetable ciabatta sandwich. Smithsonians all around rock.
As lunch was settling, I made a quick visit to the Washington monument and the White House. It was surreal seeing them in person. I thought about making a trek over to the Lincoln memorial, but it was extremely hot outside so I decided to head back to the Natural History museum and wander around before watching an epic IMAX called “To the Arctic.” Great way to end my first week.