By SARAH CAGLE and STEPHANIE JOHNSTON, Staff Writers
This weekend's historic Threshold conference, sponsored by the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) of the Campus Y, closed Sunday as participants voted to work over the next months to protect forest lands in the United States. The three-day national student environmental conference, heralded by organizers as the first of its kind, drew more than 1,600 people from 43 states as well as from several foreign countries. Events included internationally renowned speakers, workshops and discussions on how to better organize and succeed in environmental action.
Participants spent about two hours discussing various short-term campaigns at Sunday's assembly at the Forest Theatre and decided that upcoming congressional action protecting the Tongass National Forest in Alaska should be their most pressing concern. "The forest is a representative issue of the fundamental concerns of everyone here," said Alec Guettel, one of three SEAC co-chairmen. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have voted on a bill to protect the Tongass Forest, which developers are destroying. Threshold participants said the House bill would provide stronger protection. Participants will write letters to their Congress representatives to ensure passage of the House bill and organize a simultaneous march on their state capitals to raise environmental awareness. A date for the march has not been set. Other ideas considered in the vote included targeting for major campaigns multi-national corporations that are harming the environment.
Organizers of the conference said the Tongass campaign gives Threshold participants an opportunity to further develop the network the conference has helped create. "I hope it's just a start," said Blan Holman, co-chairman of SEAC. "I hope people will meet the challenge." Ericka Kurz, co-chairwoman of SEAC, said Threshold participants were eager to keep the momentum from the communication going. "The conference wasn't strictly environmental. There was a sense of strong desire to reunite the student movement as a whole. The most amazing thing is there's more to come."
Threshold organizers said they were pleased with how well the conference went. "Students came away with clear ideas," said James Langman, conference chairman. "They're ready to work together and start a unified student movement on a local and a national level." Guettel said the participants fulfilled the goals for the conference. "It was better than expected. One of our objectives was to educate people about the most effective methods of grassroots activism. We went over them here. Another objective was to build a new student movement and campaign. That was the greatest success of this."
SEAC member Sharon Wells said she had received a lot of compliments on the organization of the conference and the selection of the speakers. "I think it went very well. The discussion groups allowed everyone to really talk. Everyone will go back with a goal to work towards."
Students who attended Threshold said they learned a great deal at the conference. "The conference got a lot of environmentalists with different priorities together," said Dana Hollish, a sophomore at George Washington University. "We want to do something for all the concerns, but we have to choose one. The conference will have a lot of aftereffects. It will bring about more big conventions like this more often." Paul Haught, a sophomore at Georgetown University, said he was pleased to see people show they wanted to do something about the environment. "I like the fact that people want to do something specific, but there are a lot of conflicting views," Haught said. "I expected a low-key, moderate conference of maybe 300 people," said Heather Fuller, a sophomore at UNC. "It was enormous. To see all the passion from so many students was incredible. It was almost shocking."