SOS Summer: Interning to Save Our Southern Forests

The Dogwood SOS Tour group gathers for a send-off
The Dogwood SOS Tour group gathers for a send-off

This summer I had the privilege of working on the Our Forests Aren’t Fuel campaign as an organizing intern. As a second summer intern and student board member, I was excited to dive into a campaign I’ve been following closely and learn about the organization from yet another angle. Under the leadership of Campaign Organizer Emily Zucchino, my responsibilities included assisting with SOS Tour promotion and outreach, logistical support, volunteer engagement and on-the-ground tour work.

When I arrived in the office in mid-May, coordination of the SOS Tour to Save Our Southern Forests was already well underway. I began helping to iron out travel logistics and lodging arrangements as well as developing city profiles to make our journey across five Southern port cities smooth sailing.

The most time-intensive task was phone recruitment for the tour. Phonebanking is one of the most effective methods for getting folks to turn out for an event, and attendance for our SOS human banners in Savannah and Wilmington was crucial. To manage the timing and effectiveness of our phone recruitment strategy, I coordinated our calling schedules and spreadsheets and wrote phone raps (campaign blurbs for voicemails and for guiding conversation with people on our list). During this time, I worked with Rowdy Keelor, one of Dogwood’s organizers, to plan a volunteer night at the office, not only helping us to reach our phone recruitment goals, but also to engage our Asheville base in the campaign. With the help of local volunteers, fellow interns and staff, we dialed over 1000 numbers! We had wonderful conversations, left some voicemails and had a few hang-ups.

However, some of my favorite moments on the tour were meeting individuals that we reached through phone recruitment.

Traveling with the SOS Tour across the Southeast was an opportunity critical to my personal growth as an aspiring organizer. Working with the team to help execute two weeks of tour events and travel proved to be exciting and challenging: from event set-up and breakdown, to spreading the word about the issue to local citizens, to reflecting on our strengths and weaknesses. The constant high energy throughout the tour was palpable, and I was inspired by the passion that both new and veteran activists had in each of the cities we visited.

The SOS Tour is part of an ongoing movement to change the way we think about forest conservation in the South, and I can’t wait to see what grows from the seeds planted at community meetings and visibility events this summer.

All SOS Tour petitions go into the SOS Tour bottle to be sent across the ocean to EU decision-makers
All SOS Tour petitions go into the SOS Tour bottle to be sent across the ocean to EU decision-makers

In addition to helping make the SOS Tour a success, I also accompanied Dogwood staff on two investigations of Enviva logging practices. During these investigations, I witnessed first-hand the alarming and destructive practices of Enviva, including wetland clearcuts—right up to the edge of the waterway, leaving behind only cypress knees and stumps of awe-inpsiring, old trees. These shocking experiences helped me to communicate the urgency of the campaign to people we met across the South. Like bookends to my internship, I went on these investigations during my first week in the office and one of the last.

Going to the source of the campaign on these investigations reminded me what we’re fighting for, and why I’ll continue to fight after my internship ends.

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