Green Power: Alumna battles for environment at grassroots level

During her senior year at Emory, Mary Nicol 05C successfully competed for one of twenty-five spots in the Green Corps Field School for Environmental Organization from among a field of more than one thousand candidates.

While many of her classmates accepted competitive post-college positions in urban centers like Atlanta, New York, and Chicago, Nicol found herself working out of a set of drab, shabbily carpeted offices in downtown Concord, New Hampshire.

Far from complaining about her lot, Nicol was excited to be working at the grassroots level to oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“In the environmental movement, there aren’t many people just on the ground acting as field organizers, and there’s a need for young talented folks out there doing this work,” says Nicol.

Green Corps is a nonprofit, privately funded environmental organization based in Boston whose stated mission is “to teach the next generation of environmental leaders the strategies and skills they’ll need to win tomorrow’s environmental battles while providing critical field support for today’s pressing environmental problems.”

When her one-year paid engagement with Green Corps started at the beginning of August 2005, she and her twenty-four colleagues completed three weeks of intensive classroom training covering grassroots organizing and the current political situation. She ultimately was recruited by the Alaska Coalition to fight in New Hampshire’s state capitol against inclusion of oil leasing rights in this year’s congressional budget.

Upon arriving in New Hampshire, Nicol immediately went to work pressuring the state’s congressional representatives to reject any budget that includes drilling in ANWR as part of its revenue provision.

She also canvassed the University of New Hampshire and recruited students to join her cause and attend a town hall meeting of New Hampshire Representative Jeb Bradley to voice their opposition.

She then recruited fifty students to fill a bus and drive to Washington to participate in the Artic Refuge Action Day rally in September. Nicol says the rally, which drew more than five thousand participants, was the largest single environmental rally than has ever been held.

Her group was the first to arrive at the West Lawn, and Shoren Brown, the national coordinator for the Alaska Coalition, greeted her enthusiastically and hailed her arrival as the symbolic beginning of the day. “That was just such a great moment and a huge accomplishment,” Nicol says, “and I certainly know that without my Green Corps training I would never have been able to do that.”

Even if the efforts of Nicol and her fellow advocates are unsuccessful, the amount of public interest they can garner will be important for future environmental efforts over the fate of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve and the current moratorium on offshore drilling in federal waters.

Though drilling in ANWR looks more and more like a political certainty, Nicol is in the environmental fight for the long term.

“Having learned these leadership and organizational skills, its almost like there’s nothing else to do,” she says. “You know how to do it, and you see what’s going on currently and how much work needs to be done to ultimately bring about the society that you want to see, which prizes environmental protection and human rights and labor issues—and so it’s kind of not even a choice whether I’m going to continue to do this.”—D.M.S.



 © 2006 Emory University