Ah, the summer between high school and college, time for relaxation and soaking up your last moments of being a kid, right?
Wrong. At least for Sonia Sen, 17, of Ahwautkee Foothills, who instead is diving into her work at Greenpeace, an organization that exposes environmental problems, and will attend its summit and protest in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 5.
Sen graduated from Desert Vista High School in the spring and will attend the University of Arizona later this month. She has been a lead activist for Greenpeace for two years, since the organization had a local campaign called Project Hot Seat.
Sen said she had always been interested in the environment, so when the campaign came to town, she jumped at the opportunity. She worked to get state representatives active in environmental care by petitioning at Arizona State University and going to the representatives to ask them what they were going to do about global warming, etc.
Ever since then, she has delved deeper into the world of Greenpeace.
“Greenpeace is really important because it’s not your typical lobbyist organization. There’s not a lot of people in high places; it’s so grass-root based,” she said. “It depends on normal everyday people from high schoolers to retired teachers.”
On Aug. 5, Sen will be one of 50 activists to attend the organization’s first summit including both students and adults, said Diana Silbergeld, the national activist network director for Greenpeace. The summit will teach participants the tools needed to help save the environment by training them on how to talk to the media, write a campaign plan and recruit volunteers.
“They can go back home to their schools, and they can make a real impact,” Silbergeld said.
Greenpeace hopes the summit will become an annual event, with summits in other parts of the country as well, Silbergeld said.
Sen was selected to attend the summit after she applied. She thinks she was selected because she is young, and the organization is trying to reach out to more young people, she said.
“The college audience is the prime audience to get involved with things like this,” Sen said. “It’s definitely becoming kind of ‘cool’ in our culture, like with the whole ‘Go green’ thing.”
She hopes the summit will teach her more ways to get other people involved. While she worked in coalitions at her high school, Sen said it was hard for her to keep people interested.
“People are definitely interested at the start, but then it kind of gets a little annoying for them,” she said. “They have other things going on that seem more important. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find ways so that we don’t become annoying to people.”
After the training on Aug. 9, the group will engage in a protest outside of the Capitol building, according to a news release. The protesters will stand with their hands covered in fake oil made from chocolate syrup with a large banner that will read, “Congress, you have oil on your hands.”
Silbergeld said the act will symbolically represent how Congress is influenced by dirty oil money. The group will use the protest as a way to ask Congress to get the dirty money out of politics and put money into creating clean energy and green jobs, the release said.
Sen, who has never participated in a “full-on” protest, said she was excited to make a stand, especially after the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Media wise, I think it will be cool to see that, ‘Oh, these people are a little crazy, but they’re trying to get a point across,’” she said. “You see pictures of the Gulf and these animals drenched in oil and it’s saddening and disgusting. I think this will make a bigger statement than just standing out there with signs.”
Sen hopes the action will make other people realize that people are doing things about the environment and encourage them to do the same.
“It they pick up their phone for two seconds and call their Congress member and say, ‘Hey, we live in Arizona, why aren’t we using solar energy like crazy?’ it can create jobs and save the environment,” she said.
Sen will study biochemistry in college and she hopes to continue her work for the environment long after she finishes school. Her dream job would be field research in a place like the Amazon rainforest or the Arctic pools.
“I want to try to find out how we can not only make our society more efficient in working with other parts of the world, but try to find out more about the environment itself,” she said.
Jolie McCullough is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Arizona State University.