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Student Advocates Help Make Advocacy Day a Success

Remote tools like Zoom help young conservation leaders join Audubon North Carolina to engage in advocacy.

At eighteen, Christyna Reagan is already active in the conservation field. She has led a clean energy campaign with Audubon North Carolina and even spoke at an Arctic Refuge seminar about the importance of renewable energy storage. More recently, she added to that body of work by attending her first advocacy day.

Reagan was one of nearly 100 people with Audubon North Carolina who helped pioneer a new way to advocate for the environment with their legislators. Because Covid-19 made in-person meetings impossible, Audubon North Carolina and its advocates took to Zoom for their advocacy efforts. These North Carolinians spoke with lawmakers through their computer screens about increasing the state’s conservation trust funds, supporting a cleaner energy future for birds and people, and finding solutions to the heirs’ property problem.

As it turns out, advocacy was not all that difficult for long-time advocates and first-timers alike. “I was definitely nervous at first seeing all those people who are a lot more qualified and experienced in advocacy,” says Reagan. But it turned out that virtual lobby day allowed individuals like Reagan to conveniently and confidently advocate using familiar tools like Zoom. And despite the lack of physical interactions that Reagan missed dearly, she enjoyed every minute advocating for conservation issues that she is so passionate about. 

Megan Damico, an environmental health science Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, was another first-time participant.

Damico has been following Audubon’s advocacy and policy efforts closely for quite some time. With many uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, Damico was thankful Audubon North Carolina decided to go virtual so constituents could still connect with lawmakers. She believes the virtual component will allow more young people to access advocacy.

“My career interest is to connect lawmakers to scientific experts so that we can make better policies surrounding environmental issues, which is exactly what Audubon’s policy team is doing,” Damico says. “People like me, we are technology-savvy. The fact that it’s all online and entirely social media-driven is a huge appeal to young people since we are always on social media.”

But even those with in-person advocacy experience liked the digital approach. Mary Whiteacre, currently a field technician at Florida Wildlife Commission who attended this advocacy day and the previous one as a founding member of Lees-McRae College Audubon campus chapter, says she might prefer the online format. Before advocacy day, Whiteacre thought the transition from in-person to virtual might be difficult, but it turns out that Zoom was actually a pretty effective way to connect with people.

“I was surprised. I expected a tougher transition from in-person to computer, but it was comparable,” she says. “Even when lawmakers weren’t available, sending them a recording of the meeting is better than leaving a note in their offices: they can play it back and see how passionate we are about the issues at hand. Non-verbal language is very powerful.”

What’s next for these young and impassioned leaders besides future advocacy actions? As Reagan goes off to college, she plans to start an Audubon campus chapter and mobilize her peers in birding and conservation. Damico intends to “bug” her lawmakers to address sound environmental policies. As for Whiteacre, her attention will be on conservation work on the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. 

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