Closing the Gap
by Noah Tobias | June 14, 2021
How Crag internships bring younger advocates into the environmental movement.
For Courtney Johnson’s first task as a Crag intern, she had no clue where to start.
“Ralph gave me something like, writing a motion for extension of time,” she remembered, “but I literally didn’t know what a motion was yet.”
The now-executive director had just finished her first year of law school, and after meeting Crag’s co-founder Ralph Bloemers at a career fair, she landed a summer internship doing the kind of work she had always wanted to do. She quickly discovered how little she knew.
“Ralph was willing to take me on and lead me through it, helping me work through things, and I think that really set the tone for the internship program as a learning opportunity,” Courtney said. “It’s not just to get work done – the equal measure of that is that you get the opportunity to learn about what we do.”
That’s the purpose of an internship with Crag – closing the gap between the theoretical and the practical.
“Fundamentally, we have a core mission to help train the next generation of environmental advocates. If Crag helps crack open a door and show people a path forward, that’s part of it too – to help younger people find their career, to see what is out there and to be inspired for themselves.”
“I’ve lost track of how many interns I’ve worked with, but it’s certainly been many,” said Ralph. Crag’s first volunteers were law students, working on procedural and legal questions. Since the start, though, Ralph has made room for others to get involved.
“I have always seen space for high school and undergraduate students to do communications work, to do the really important storytelling during cases,” he said. “I’m always impressed by how much further along undergrads are than I was at that point.”
Why is it important to work alongside younger people?
“The key is to be very inclusive and to make our work accessible to the broadest audience we can,” Courtney said. Including multiple perspectives allows projects to take on a broader scope. It also helps Crag stay true to its mission: putting communities at the front of conservation.
Interns have tackled a variety of projects over the years, from intensive research on wildfires to community service initiatives based on environmental justice.
“I went to Cascade Locks on my first day,” remembered Ka’sha Bernard, a former intern and legal fellow who worked on Crag’s victory against a Nestlé water bottling plant in Hood River County. Now a legal organizer with the Center for International Environmental Law, Ka’sha gained practical experience in organizing and advocacy at Crag, where she helped mobilize communities throughout Oregon against pollution and unhealthy development projects.
“They intentionally tried to get a bunch of different interns from different backgrounds, to make a more informative intern experience,” Ka’sha observed.
“I would often take one, sometimes two interns in a summer,” Ralph explained, reflecting on years gone by. Now, after 20 years and more than 150 interns, the Crag family has grown larger and stronger than ever.
Noah is a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studies Environmental Science and Global Studies. He loves exploring the stories behind species conservation, environmental injustice, land use, and more.