Post 1: Political Activism with the Sierra Club – My First Weeks as an Intern

For the past several years, I’ve known that I wanted to work as a professional environmentalist. More than anything, I love being outdoors and find significant value in spending time in natural spaces. The idea that human behavior is driving climate change, and permanently altering the face of our planet – destroying ecosystems, exterminating wildlife, depleting natural resources, and making our communities unlivable – is deeply disturbing to me. However, I quickly discovered that protecting the environment for the sake of nature alone is impossible, and often problematic. Social issues including economic and racial injustices, access to healthcare and housing, and political participation are intimately connected to the environmental challenges our world is facing. Marginalized and oppressed populations are systematically exposed to greater environmental harm, have less access to environmental benefits, and as the effects of climate change worsen, they disproportionately bear the burden of our degraded world. Combating these injustices requires wide-scale political change, and the passage of progressive policies that simultaneously protect the environment and human rights.

Sierra Club is the largest grassroots environmental organization in the country, with nearly 100,000 members and volunteers in Massachusetts alone. They create environmental educational opportunities, promote access to nature by running outdoors trips for their members, and engage in political activism for issues relating to environmental justice. Most importantly, their mission is to “protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment,” centering human rights and social justice in their activism.

This summer, I’m working for the political arm of the Sierra Club, at their Massachusetts chapter, based in Boston. Their team and its members engage in political advocacy through several mechanisms, including organizing rallies, lobbying in the State House, phone banking and canvassing, and endorsing local politicians who reflect their values. As a political intern, I was assigned to work on the Erika Uyterhoeven campaign, a Sierra Club-endorsed candidate who is running for State Representative in the 27th Middlesex District, representing Somerville.

Erika Uyterhoeven’s endorsements, including Sierra Club. (This is a graphic I designed for a fundraising campaign).

Erika is a young, first-time candidate for elected office who is running on a progressive platform of structural reform, fighting for affordable housing, single-payer healthcare, fully-funded public education, a transparent democracy, and–most directly relevant to the Sierra Club–a Green New Deal for Massachusetts. She believes in a government that works for the many, not the few–referring to the powerful corporate interests that control our political systems and create social and economic injustices that leave marginalized and low-income populations behind. She is a grassroots activist for environmental causes, and her values and legislative aspirations closely reflect those of the Sierra Club. Therefore, as an emissary for the Sierra Club on her campaign, my role is to provide her with additional resources to help her win, ensuring that a progressive, environmentally-conscious candidate is elected.

My remote summer workspace

Due to the fact that State Representative races are typically small-scale and low-budget, Erika’s campaign staff is limited, and she relies heavily on volunteers and political organizations to assist with the leg-work of campaigning. This means that I am fortunate enough to play a fairly large role in the day-to-day work of the campaign. My tasks have included curating her social media strategy, organizing fundraisers and volunteer recruitment, engaging in phone banking (the primary form of voter contact, due to the constraints of COVID), drafting policy platforms, creating content for the campaign’s website, applying for additional endorsements, and participating in daily organizing calls with the campaign staff. The diversity of work I have been assigned, in several different policy areas, has already given me a well-rounded understanding of the dynamic challenges faced by a candidate for public office.

I have been given an opportunity to have hands-on exposure to environmental and political advocacy, and I have been made to feel as though my work will have a tangible impact on electing a candidate whose platform I truly believe in. Although the fast pace of politics has definitely involved a steep learning curve, I am grateful for the experiences this campaign has offered me, and I am learning that the seemingly minor tasks I am doing day-to-day are substantive contributions towards creating policy change.

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