Ep 36: We Don’t Want It

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Season 3, Episode 4

The Relationship:

Oceana Chief Policy Officer Jackie Savitz and U.S. House Rep. Joe Cunningham

Jackie Savitz is Oceana‘s Chief Policy Officer for North America and has spent over two decades working in marine and coastal conservation. Oceana is an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans on a global scale. Jackie also has a background in marine biology and environmental toxicology. In recent years she has been an active leader against offshore drilling, bringing together bipartisan groups and using new community-centered strategies. You can read about the success of these efforts in her feature article, New and Strategic Approach Lead to Winning Results.

Joe Cunningham is a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives from South Carolina’s 1st congressional district, which is home to Charleston. Rep. Cunningham was elected in the 2018 elections and, on his fourth day in office, introduced a bill in congress meant to put an end to offshore drilling at federal level, H.R.1941. He also has a background and training in ocean engineering. 

Others you’ll hear from:

Queen Quet is the Chieftess and Head-of-State of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and is an author, preservationist, and activist. She is the founder of the premiere advocacy organization for the continuation of Gullah/Geechee culture, the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition.

Miriam C. Green is the mayor of Awendaw, a small town on the coast of South Carolina between the Francis Marion National Forest and the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

Jimmy Carroll is the mayor of Isle of Palms, a town on a slender barrier island in the greater Charleston metropolitan area.

Chip Campsen is a Republican member of the South Carolina Senate representing the 43rd district. He introduced a state budget proviso prohibiting permits for the onshore infrastructure necessary for offshore drilling.

Rep. Joe Cunningham speaks at the Don’t Drill SC rally and press conference in Charleston on August 5th, 2019

The Conversation:

What exactly does it take to successfully address a topic like offshore drilling? It takes collective effort with collaboration across the aisle and a movement in tune with the communities values.

In this special episode of The Nonprofit Experience we hear the diverse groups united in the fight to ban offshore drilling. Our audio is recorded live from the Don’t Drill SC rally/press conference in Charleston, SC on August 5th where we’ll hear from community leaders like two mayors of small coastal towns, the head-of-state to the Gullah/Geechee nation, and a state senator of South Carolina, as well as our two conversation participants: North America Chief Policy Officer of environmental group Oceana, Jackie Savitz and South Carolina U.S. House Representative Joe Cunningham.

A few hours before the rally took place, Jackie and Joe sat down to talk about the big picture and the importance of the bipartisan effort on this issue. Jackie talks about what needs to happen to make a change in policy and how important it is to have not just environmentalists fighting for the coasts, but members of congress, senators, and governors. Joe reiterates that offshore drilling doesn’t just threaten coastal ecosystems but also multi-billion dollar industries like fishing and tourism, which are too important to jeopardize for oil.

The two also discuss the importance of the public speaking out for what they want and what they don’t want to see on their coasts and the impact of demonstrative evidence, such as Rep. Cunningham’s airgun stunt in Congress demonstrating the disruptiveness of the seismic blasting precursor to offshore drilling. Now, the Carolinas are national leaders in the fight to ban offshore drilling and this is in large part due to the community-based and bipartisan efforts of environmental and educational groups like Oceana. What is at the heart of their success is the bipartisan and collective efforts of a diverse group of constituents. 


Topic Timestamps

Prologue – “God’s gwine trouble de water”

  • 00:00 – Gullah/Geechee Chieftess, Queen Quet leads a rendition of Wade in the Water at the Don’t Drill SC rally/press conference in Charleston on August 5th.
  • 00:23 – Host Sandy Cyr introduces the Don’t Drill SC rally and talks about the Gullah/Geechee nation and their connection to the Atlantic coast and the South Carolina Lowcountry. Queen Quet represents the Gullah/Geechee nation in the Don’t Drill South Carolina Coalition, a coalition of South Carolinians opposed to drilling off the SC coast including elected officials and policy organizations like Oceana. In this episode we’ll hear from different organizations and individuals that need to be involved in order to successfully protect the coast.

“Dammit stop! Stop the drilling.”

  • Don’t Drill Our Coast sign from the rally
    01:30 – Producer Preston Wittwer sets up the context for the push for a ban on offshore drilling following President Trump’s proposal to reverse Obama-era protections and open up America’s coasts for drilling. This proposal became a call to arms for individuals and organizations dedicated to protecting our oceans and shorelines, such as Oceana’s Chief Policy Officer for North America, Jackie Savitz. In an effort to maximize her strategies, Jackie has developed partnerships between organizations, voters, businesses, elected officials, activists. It’s these partnerships that we explore in this episode.
  • 02:44 – Jackie speaks at the rally/press conference about offshore drilling as massive job killer and economy killer. Just on the East Coast, 1.5 million jobs are threatened by offshore drilling. Jackie calls for a unified galvanization to defend recreation and fishing industries.
  • 03:11 – Local elected government leaders from South Carolina speak at the Don’t Drill SC rally/press conference:
    • 03:34 – Miriam C. Green, mayor of Awendaw, finds Biblical connections to the issue of offshore drilling: “God don’t want drilling nowhere because it destroys our ocean, our beaches, and not only that, it destroys the welfare of our community… You don’t need to drill because Jesus fed his people with what? Fish and bread. So don’t destroy what God has planted for you. Because we all will suffer.”
    • 06:03 – Jimmy Carroll, mayor of Isle of Palms, talks about the richness and beauty of South Carolina, the bipartisan unification of local and East Coast mayors and governors against offshore drilling, and the danger offshore drilling poses both economically and environmentally: “We don’t wanna risk these islands… We don’t want off shore drilling…  We live in a place that we cannot afford to lose”

“We aren’t going to destroy our coasts”

  • 10:02 – What does it take to actually protect the coast? Legislation, policy. Jackie Savitz sought allies like SC State Senator Chip Campsen and U.S. House Representative Joe Cunningham. State Senator Campsen introduced a budget proviso that prohibits sale of permits for onshore infrastructure required for offshore drilling, which passed in a Republican-controlled State Senate in a vote of 40-4, before getting approved by the State House of Representatives and signed into law by Republican Governor McMaster. Senator Campsen believes that it is South Carolina’s multigenerational connection to natural resource that has unified state’s elected officials.
    • 11:02 – Senator Campsen quotes John Sawhill, former president of the Nature Conservancy: “A society defines itself not only by what it creates but also by what what it refuses to destroy.” Campsen emphasizes that South Carolina decided decades ago that they weren’t going to destroy their coasts, connecting it to the connection that South Carolinians have with their natural resources. “It’s what we made a living from”: South Carolinians have lived on and off the land and water for generations.
  • 12:20 – State protections are important but limited as state marine jurisdiction only extends 3 miles off the coast before it becomes federally controlled. The prohibition of offshore drilling in federal waters requires national-level legislation. This is where Rep. Joe Cunningham comes in. On just his fourth day in Congress, Rep. Cunningham introduced bill H.R. 1941 in Congress meant to put an end to offshore drilling at federal level.
    • 13:18 – Rep. Cunningham reassured the rally attendees that offshore drilling is an issue that they will will “tackle in every single corner” and talked about how H.R. 1941, or the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act, will put a nail in coffin of offshore drilling. He thanked attendees and emphasized how the message against offshore drilling is one that was championed and borne by the many people who fought for it.

“Why would we endanger our beaches and our coastal areas?”

  • Rep. Cunningham’s Charleston office
    14:23 A few hours before the rally, Rep. Joe Cunningham and Jackie Savitz sat down at the congressman’s Charleston office to talk “big picture stuff”: What happens next? Who do they need to keep interested? And how do they do it?
  • 14:53 – Jackie Savitz talks about how the ocean is not a partisan issue, which is crucial because a bipartisan effort is the only way to really get things done. Currently, all the governors on the East and West Coasts oppose offshore drilling but that’s not where we started. Jackie emphasizes that the efforts can’t just be on the part of the environmentalists but must come from the people who have the ability to affect the president’s decision: members of congress, senators, and governors.
  • 15:45 – Rep. Joe Cunningham reminds us that offshore drilling could happen could still happen and why it’s important to keep fighting. “Everybody recognizes that when you drill ,you spill”: If there’s offshore drilling, oil will end up in the water and on the beaches. It’s not just the environment but South Carolina’s economy and natural resources which are too important to jeopardize.
  • 16:34 – Jackie Talks about when the Obama Administration put forward their “All of the Above” energy policy, she asked officials “Why didn’t you take the Southeast off the table?” They’re response was that the people in New York and California didn’t want it. To that, she responds, “Well the people in the southeast don’t want this either. But it hadn’t said so.” Emphasizing the importance of centering a movement on community values, Jackie explains that this campaign is about getting the people to say what they want.
  • 17:23 – Joe notes that the conversation has come a long way and there is every reason to ban offshore drilling saying that it’s a needless risk to endanger American waters, beaches, and shorelines.
  • 18:02 – The first step to offshore drilling starts with seismic blasting.  Jackie and Joe discuss Joe’s “airhorn stunt” in which he demonstrated to Congress the disruptiveness of the seismic airgun blasting to crucial marine life like lobsters and the North Atlantic Right Whale: “You can’t say with a straight face that this won’t have an impact on our marine life… We have less right whales than we do members of congress.”

“We need to partner with everybody in the community”

  • 21:59 – Joe and Jackie talk about Joe’s bill, H.R.1941, to ban offshore drilling along the Eastern seaboard and the West Coast and about the importance of public support and outcry. The public response is a testament to groups like Oceana educating people about it, as well as the help from educators, observation groups, community organizations, local business leaders, fishermen, realtors, and others.
  • 23:33 – Jackie talks about how important these local partners are to the mission. At the beginning, the environmental community had no traction at all in offshore drilling, and no constituency opposing it. But once Oceana started reaching out to local partners, “They got on board because they understood that it was their coast that was at risk.” The Carolinas have been leaders in this opposition and it’s a model that can and has been replicated in other regions like California.
  • 24:57 – Joe re-emphasizes how this isn’t a partisan issue: “We want to have something to pass along to our children, our grandchildren.” The two of them discuss how the success of this opposition makes it feel like the coalition is winning but it could change at any moment, so it is important to stay read and prepared and to continue fighting through efforts like the H.R. 1941 bill.

Outro and Epilogue

  • 26:48 – Outro: Recycle an old cellphone, buckle up that seatbelt, like the Philanthropy Journal facebook page
  • 27:25 – We close with Queen Quet singing “Wade in the Water” and addressing the Don’t Drill SC rally, saying in the Gullah/Geechee language: “The only black gold we want upon this here coast is we, and we be Gullah/Geechee”

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