Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Report on Powershift 09

I wrote the below article for Pipe Dream, the student-run newspaper at Binghamton University. I've never written for a newspaper before so I'm sure it could be improved but I'm posting the rough draft here to help sum up my experience. The only thing I would have changed at the conference was to have more actually strategy discussion instead of the more pep-rally mentality that pervaded over the course of the 4 days. I was very excited by how many people showed up. It is inspiring to know people actually care. The only thing I wonder is where the heck these activists of ages similar to that myself were when I was growing up??!! I often times felt like I was the only one who really cared that so much of the world was going to shit but now all of these people are emerging out of the woodworks!! Just had to note that, haha, but it is truly nice to see people involving themselves in social activism and change. =)

Friday, February 27th through Monday, March 2nd marked the historic national summit of 12,000 citizens at Powershift ’09 held in the Washington Convention Center of Washington, DC.

Among those attending included 18 Binghamton University students. The Powershift conference, as its name implies, aims to “successfully fight for clean energy solutions” such as solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and wind energy, as well as for “the creation of a new green economy.” Conference-goers made a point, however, to differentiate between true energy alternatives and options like clean coal and ethanol which do not hold up as well in the scientific community.

The conference were hosted by the Energy Action Coalition, a network of non-profit organizations and their member supporters, which aims each year to educate and empower youth to make change in regards to climate and clean energy policies. Energy Action Coalition is responsible for the Campus Climate Challenge, of which a chapter exists at Binghamton University.

During the course of the 4-day conference students and concerned citizens chose between around 200 options of panels, seminars and workshops to attend. These ranged from addressing leadership and campaign development, to empowering youth through special high school based workshops, to nonviolent direct action strategies, questions of faith and its role in eco-activism, and discussions of local food systems.

The conference gave out prizes to the top-attending universities, including optimal seats for the evening addresses and performances. This was just one way of giving youth an incentive to organize and rally up as many of their friends as they could.

“The more people you bring you bring with you, who experience what you experience, the more you can bring the momentum of the conference back to campus and make some real changes,” said Mary Davis, President of Binghamton University’s chapter of the Student Environmental Awareness Club (SEAC). Davis’ efforts ended up bringing more than half of the total participants from the Binghamton University.

The key note address was opened by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, the first African American to hold the position. She spoke about the importance of funds appropriated to the EPA so that it could adequately carry out its duties and praised President Obama for the $10.5 billion budget he proposed the day before. The EPA is entering its 40th year and with proper funding Jackson confidently assured the audience, the “EPA is back on the job.”

Evenings were filled with other high-profile speakers such as Secretary of State for the Interior, Ken Salazar who stated the importance of everyone doing their part to stop climate change. “Our nation doesn’t end at our borders; we are one planet and one people,” says Salazar. Salazar also announced, to a very enthusiastic audience, the plan of the Department of the Interior to create “thousands of jobs in sustainable energy, and resource management, restoration and protection,” to be opened within the next few weeks. One of his other current projects is focusing on creating the “best 21st century youth conservation corps the world has ever seen.”

Jesse Tolkan, the Powershift ’09 Organizer enthusiastically stated, "it was unbelievable for me to stand last night behind the stage with Administrator Jackson and Secretary Salazar and to realize for the first time in my life as an activist that I had partners and allies inside government to work beside us. They literally said we need your help to make this happen, we need your 12,000 leaders."

Some of the lesser hyped but equally powerful speeches came from names like Van Jones, whose organization Green for All is focusing on the creation and expansion of green-collar jobs. Majora Carter, whose work includes the revitalization of communities in the South Bronx, also made an impassioned speech. Carter pointed out that “Obama” is actually an acronym for “Officially Behaving As Magnificent Americans” and said that we need to take advantage of the energy crisis that we are in right now because “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

To round out the very busy days and evenings, the nights were filled with musical performances by groups like The Roots, London Souls, and an eco-friendly fashion show.

The conference culminated on March 2nd on Capital Hill where participants met with their Congressional Representatives to express their support of legislation increasing the viability and use of clean energy alternatives. Although faced with freezing temperatures and less than ideal weather conditions, approximately 2,500 activists toughed it out and proceeded to the Capital’s coal-fired power plant to form a blockade as an act of civil disobedience. The 99 year old plant has been publicly criticized by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi and NASA Climatologist, Dr. James Hanson, for emitting almost 1/3 of the capital’s green house gasses. After nearly four hours the blockade broke up. No arrests were made.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Marisol-
    Nice account of the activities-imagine, an administration receptive to energy choice realities and consequences.
    Elizabeth Kolert wrote this interesting profile of Van Jones in the New Yorker. Some good points on how green choices affect the poor, and vice versa. Jones's goal is to get "the greenest solutions to the poorest people."