Intern name: Melissa Burrell
Major(s)/Minor(s): Environmental Studies and Peace Studies double major
Title/place of internship/fellowship, etc.: Climate Justice Intern on the Pipeline Resistnace Team with MN350
How did you find out about your internship/fellowship/etc.? I originally discovered MN350 through my Environmental Studies professor and mentor, Corrie Grosse in the summer of 2019. I was completing research under Corrie focused on coalition building and green energy. Through this concentration, we wanted to get involved in actions around Minnesota, thus connecting with the Pipeline resistance team in MN350. I continued to work with the organization through the school year and reached out for an internship for the summer of 2020.
What were your responsibilities at your internship/fellowship/etc.? As a Climate justice intern, I worked on a variety of different projects for the Pipeline Resistance Team (PRT). My goal was to work on educating as many people as possible about Line 3, a proposed tar sands oil pipeline project to go through Northern Minnesota. As this internship was completed in the summer of 2020, the entire process was remote. Ways I was able to complete education through social distancing included the creation of a Stop Line 3 podcast with interviews of organizers and Native people. I also worked to build a quarterly online event titled "Stronger Together to Stop Line 3." This call is targeted at high-level executives and legislators around Minnesota to recognize the expansive quality of the Stop Line 3 movement and ask them to sign on to say to this pipeline. With speakers from different climate centric organizations all around Minnesota, this is a powerful event to partake in.
In addition to these educational opportunities, I had the privilege of coordinating Lawn Sign distribution all across the Minnesota area. I was the regional coordinator for the St. Paul area, where we contacted Minnesota residents who requested a lawn sign and connected them with a distributor to gain a lawn sign showcasing the statement "Stop Line 3."
The great "socially distant" campaigns continued throughout the summer! "Relay For Our Water" was a summer social media relay event that began with a sacred ceremony at the Mississippi Headwaters to bless a quart of water. This water was then transferred through biking, running, canoeing, horseback riding, etc., from the community to community all around Minnesota to emphasize our commitment to protecting the Minnesota water and saying No to Line 3.
I finally would like to speak to some of the more logistical responsibilities I held. I took notes at all meetings attended, curated posts for the MN350 Instagram, and sent out blast emails for people to sign on to our campaigns. The catalog of projects worked on and the responsibilities I held is continuous, but these are some of the highlights I loved about working with MN350.
What was the most beneficial aspect of your experience? The entire experience of organizing with MN350 has been one of the most beneficial things I could have done for my education and career. I learned that the most joyful aspects of the climate movement comes through the people power of those who have hope. We would be working against the climate crisis and the Line 3 proposal project if we did not have hope that we will be successful. Through this unmeasured optimism, I got to see various styles of activism, including art, targeting elected officials, base-building, and frontline support.
Generally, the most beneficial aspect of interning with MN350 was watching compassionate people tailor their work to real-time events happening all around Minnesota. As a climate justice organization, volunteers provided food and resources to protestors and those most impacted by the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter Uprising during the summer of 2020, putting other projects on hold. These are real people doing important work, and I am grateful to have been a part of it.
What was the most surprising thing you experienced or learned during your internship/fellowship/etc.? I was so impressed with the dedication of the volunteers through MN350. As this is a non-profit, social justice grassroots organization, the bulk of the people working are volunteers. The fantastic connections I made were with people coming off of working an average 9-5 job, and then logging on to complete tasks for MN350. These people saw a need and went for it, even on personal time.
This gives me hope for the future. If the people I have met through MN350 are the people fighting for a sustainable future, I want to be a part of it.
How can you apply what you experienced at your internship/fellowship/etc. in the future? In the future, I plan to use my experience at MN350 in all aspects of my life. In terms of career, my drive to work for Climate Justice and against the use of fossil fuels has been solidified. Opportunities like this make me excited to wake up in the morning, and I recognize there will always be a need to bring justice to our communities.
In terms of my life, I plan to bring the compassionate personalities of the connections I have made into each interaction I have. I want to embody what I have seen through MN350: uniting people across the state to create a just and healthy future for all in the name of climate justice. The drive and dedication of these organizers inspires me to continue optimism and hope everyday.
What advice would you offer to future students interested in this experience? Do not be afraid to make this experience your own. Any sort of organizing work for social justice can be tailored to your strengths, and there is a place for everyone. Maybe you are most interested in art-activism (artivism), maybe you have a background in policy for the legislation behind climate justice, or maybe you just have the desire to create a sustainable and safe living space for all. You are NEEDED. Your voice is WANTED. To make a change, we need everyone, including you.