Environmental Activists Carry on Despite the Pandemic
By Annabelle Wang l February 16, 2021
COVID-19 may have slowed down the efforts of environmental activists, but the Watershed Institute in Hopewell Township has found a way to carry on. The institute is holding a virtual volunteer program beginning March 3 that teaches participants how to promote water protection at a municipal level and how to identify waterway issues.
The free Community Watershed Advocate Program is designed for central New Jersey volunteers of any age and background.
The Watershed Institute introduced its community advocate program last summer to volunteers through webinars, Google Docs, Zoom meetings, and Slack discussion threads. The goal of the program is to promote direct action towards environmental conservation by inspiring people to engage more with their local governments and become more aware of the waterways around them.
Volunteers will start off with an introduction to environmental advocacy, which covers topics like the functions of different township committees and communication with municipal officials. Volunteers will then learn about what makes a waterway healthy and how green infrastructure like rain gardens can keep waterways clean. By the time volunteers finish the program, they will be able to present Watershed-supported initiatives to municipalities and engage in local advocacy, which emphasizes policy-based solutions.
The program focuses heavily on collaboration. Slack, an online discussion application, and Zoom allow township residents to connect with each other and share ideas with other towns, turning social distancing into an asset.
“It’s fun to see how towns start to learn from each other," said Sophie Glovier, a municipal policy specialist at the Watershed and a program leader. "Maybe one town is working on sustainable landscaping and another town thinks that’s great, or somebody finds a great way to educate merchants so they can prepare for the single-use plastics ban. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel so much- we can just spread the information around."
Although local advocacy is one of the easiest ways to get involved in environmental conservation, Glovier says “no one teaches you how local governments work.” The Watershed hopes to change that by encouraging everyone to participate in the advocacy program as much as they can.
Glovier also noted that even though young people are often wary of attending township meetings, “everybody listens to them … it is very powerful.”
Priscilla Oliveira, an outreach specialist and creator of the community advocacy program, reflected on the program: “The volunteers themselves usually have really good ideas of what they want to do in their towns, and I’m looking forward to seeing what that is.”