A crush – a silly, silly crush. He was one of the conference organizers and the only reason I’d signed up to volunteer at PowerShift West 2009, an environmentally-focused conference that saw 500+ students from six states in the Northwest. But I wasn’t there to learn; I was there to flirt.
So when I couldn’t find the object of my affections, I had to make a choice: leave and hope that I’d get another shot at romance, or stay and see what all the fuss was about. Ultimately I stuck it out, and what I experienced that weekend changed the course of my life forever.
I learned about environmental issues, of course, and heard amazing speeches from people who saved the planet, through various ways, for a living. I attended workshops and connected with youth from Montana, Washington and everywhere in between. One morning I volunteered to make breakfast; I remember standing in the large kitchen of a co-op, slicing bagels and listening to others’ stories of why they came to PowerShift. And when we rallied in the student union and marched around campus, banners and giant planet-saving puppets in tow, I felt alive. I felt the unity, support and sense of urgency that, as I’ve learned over the years, is at the heart of the global climate justice movement.
In her keynote speech Bernadette del Chiaro of Environment California said, “At the end of the day it’s not about your carbon footprint – it’s about your carbon-busting fistprint! It’s not your lifestyle, but your life’s work that matters.” This quote summarizes the feeling of empowerment and responsibility that I took away that weekend. We live in a world where carbon emissions are almost inevitable: even if we lived completely off the grid and produced our own food and never used fossil fueled-transportation, as citizens of the United States we use more natural resources than what two Earths could supply.
But we can change this. Young people have always been at the forefronts of social movements, from civil rights to the Vietnam War to AIDS awareness and treatment. We may be idealistic, maybe even a little naive, but we act because we still have hope. We refuse to let our futures be decided by industries that don’t care whether we live or die, or who gets to drink clean water or breathe fresh air. We are rising up to shift the power and reclaim our rights to a sustainable and prosperous life.
To do so requires us to stand up to some of the most powerful – and poisonous – industries in the world. As more and more people join the fight against fossil fuels, millions are poured into politics to silence our voices, deter us (via legal and sometimes physical threats) from taking action and keep the power with the status quo.
What the status quo lacks, however, is people-power – and that’s what we do best. When we come together and stand up for what we believe, that’s when we shift the power from them to us. We draw upon the heroic stories of the past and use them to inspire us to keep going. We know another world is possible; we just have to work a little to get to it.
Now I’ve got something to ask you, the reader: will you join us and support the youth of PowerShift Canada? If you can attend the conference, amazing; if not, spreading the word and donating so that others can attend would be great. Individual contributions may seem small and ineffective but in reality they’re the opposite: your support keeps the movement going – it literally fuels the fight for a better tomorrow.
Today I’m heading up to Ottawa on a bus full of young Canadians, many of whom have never attended a PowerShift. I’m so excited to see the next generation of climate justice activists grow into organizers and leaders. I hope you’ll join me in supporting the youth of PowerShift – together, we will shift the power back to the people and ensure a healthy, livable planet and future for all.