Powershift draws activists to D.C.

Posted by Tess Wendel

What do we want? Green jobs! When do we want them? NOW!

This was just one of the many messages students gave to Congress in Washington, D.C. last weekend. Eighty-two students from Skidmore College joined 10,000 other students from around the U.S. for Powershift, the largest environmental youth summit in the nation.

The idea behind Powershift is to create a network of environmental leaders across the country who can share ideas and experiences and through these partnerships and bring regional change to their schools and communities.

This year there was a strong focus on leadership training but there were also more specific workshops like the future of electric utilities, how to ban bottled water on your campus and promoting public transportation.

Students heard from world-renowned speakers like Van Jones, Bill McKibben, Al Gore and Rita Jackson of the EPA, who urged them to keep up the fight for a greener future.

There were also lobby trainings and direct action workshops to prepare for the third day of the conference where there was a large rally and march to the capitol.

Half of the students scheduled meetings with their representatives and senators and urged them to continue supporting the EPA and protecting the Clean Air Act, which has been under attack, particularly by the Republican party.

The other half of students took part in a direct action by marching to the Chamber of Commerce to protest the huge subsidies given to oil and coal corporations and then moving to the Department of Interior to protest the land being given up to uranium mining for nuclear power in Wyoming.

The environmental movement is incredibly diverse, but the beauty of Powershift is that it recognizes that all of the different smaller campaigns within the movement can be united through a shared goal of a clean equitable future for all.

One can become overwhelmed with the number of problems that need to be solved, whether that is human trafficking, hydrofracking or corporate greed and campaign financing.

The conference is designed to give students the tools to tackle these important issues and form a successful campaign to bring change.

However, the weekend is not just about learning the tools for change. As organizer Rachel Chalat says, it is there "to provide the inspiration and motivation to come back to campus and make personal, college and community changes."

This is the third year Skidmore students have gone to this biennial event organized by the Environmental Action Coalition, an umbrella organization for many smaller environmental groups, and the weekend continues to be a catalyst for change at Skidmore.

The last conference in 2009 inspired Laura Fralich ‘11 to start the Skidmore garden and spurred Becca Drago ‘11 to start the cool cities campaign, which led Saratoga Mayor Johnson to sign the Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement.

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