Earlier this month, dozens of Audubon members around the country were busy preparing their talking points and clearing their schedules to meet with their members of Congress about a collective passion—seabirds. Now in its third year, Audubon’s 2021 Seabird Action Week brought together 70 grassroots activists—our largest group yet—to build the movement and use their collective voice to protect seabirds and the places they need.
Like last year, this “fly-in” didn’t involve getting on a plane to Washington, DC—it was held entirely on Zoom. Despite this challenge, it was joy to see our participants bring their own personal stories to the meetings. Ranging in age from high school students to retirees, these dedicated activists found they had a lot in common as they trained up, held meetings, shared stories with one another. Participants came from Audubon chapters like Sea & Sage, Spokane, New York City, Detroit, Bucks County, and Menunkatuck—some returning for their second or third fly-in in as many years.
Building people power for seabirds
Over the past three years, Audubon staff and members have been organizing, training, and talking to people throughout the Audubon network about the threats facing seabirds. The Audubon Campaign Team’s guiding strategy is to bring ordinary people who care about birds into the legislative process, to put targeted and sustained pressure on decision-makers to act for birds.
That’s why we brought together Audubon members from key districts around the country to participate in the virtual seabird fly-in, because their elected representatives serve on important congressional committees that oversee marine policies. Our yearly fly-in is one way that we bring people together to meet face-to-face with the people in government who have the power to positively change federal policy for birds, and to build a community where we put our values—like care, passion, stewardship, and civic engagement—into collective action.
This year, participants asked their representatives to take action to make the Magnuson-Stevens Act, our nation’s only fisheries law, more “seabird friendly” by better protecting forage fish as the basis of seabird’s diets, and preventing seabirds from being accidentally hooked or entangled in fishing gear.
"The Seabird Fly-In was my first experience actively advocating for policy change," said Monica Cuoco of New York City Audubon. “I learned a great deal about the Magnuson-Stevens Act and policy. The interconnectedness of the forage fish to the seabirds paralleled the ability to represent my chapter within Audubon's state and national programing. It truly all matters. The involvement felt important and meaningful. I was inspired by the team leaders and my fellow constituents."
From Individual Action to Collective Action
One participant asked a great question during our meeting training beforehand: “What’s the difference between a fly-in and meeting with our representatives on our own?” The answer: collective power! When we meet with our representatives on our own, we’re just one person making an ask. But when we act together in an organized and coordinated action, we are demonstrating for the collective power we as advocates have. It changes your ask from a one-off demand to a demonstration of widespread support, all across the country. Seabirds can’t advocate for their needs, so that’s why it matters that activists join together to keep them healthy and safe.
“I make personal choices to try and protect seabirds, but for large-scale change, advocacy plays a huge role,” Sree Kandhadai from San Diego Audubon Society explains. “This was my second year participating in the fly-in, and I feel I'm becoming more confident and comfortable with each meeting! As a high school sophomore, I find this is a valuable way to learn about and engage with the political process. I worry that with all other immediate issues we're facing as a society, our environment and the life around us is going unnoticed. I'm so grateful I have the opportunity to use my voice to bring to light the things I care about.”
Audubon will be working on two key pieces of legislation expected in this year’s Congress: a reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the reintroduction of a forage fish protection bill. By educating their elected representatives on the real-world importance of marine policy for birds and people, fly-In participants are sending the whole Audubon network into this legislative session with the momentum we need to be ready for the work ahead to win these legislative victories. Together, we have a powerful collective voice to advocate for seabirds and the ocean we all depend on.
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