Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Power Shift '09: The Youth Climate Movement takes DC by Storm

by Colette Cosner

In primal societies, adolescents go through rites of passage, when confronting their own mortality is a gateway to maturity. In analogous ways, climate change calls us to recognize our own mortality as a species. With the gift of uncertainty, we can grow up and accept the rights and responsibility of planetary adulthood. Then we know fully that we belong, inextricably, to the web of life, and we can serve it, and let its strength flow through us. Joanna Macy

With these words, I begin my journey to Power Shift ’09 and the exploration of the youth movement in creating sustainable social change. On February 27th an estimated 10,000 youth will converge on the nation’s capital with demands that the president and Congress pass bold federal climate and energy legislation in 2009 that dramatically reduces carbon emissions, creates millions of green jobs, and transitions the nation towards 100% clean energy. The four-day event will feature inspiring seminars, panels, and workshops on climate, energy, and the economy. Along with legislative briefings and activist trainings, the youth will participate in a massive day of action in which they will flood the halls of Congress to lobby their representatives. Included amongst Power Shift ‘09’s featured speakers are Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Representatives Donna Edwards and Ed Markey, Van Jones, and Dr. James Hansen. There will even be special musical performances by The Roots and Santigold. In other words, Power Shift ’09 is a big deal.

But perhaps what makes this event truly special, beyond the glitz and glam of its speakers and intended actions, are the individual stories of its attendants and organizers. These youth activists are creating “The Movement” described by Bill McKibben as a necessity for saving our planet: “We need a political swell larger than the civil rights movement—as passionate and as willing to sacrifice.” I enter this movement as a listener, already humbled by what I’ve read of the youth attending this event. From Marisol Bacerra, who helped map and inventory the toxins found within 150-miles of her Mexican-American community in Little Village, Chicago to Kandi Mosset, who after surviving cancer at the age of 20 dedicated her life to getting tribal youth educated and involved in promoting clean energy solutions. I am floored by the dedication and accomplishments of youth activists in the climate change movement.

Why the youth? Why now? As I begin to interview these dynamic and powerful young people I will pay close attention to what characterizes the climate change movement as a youth movement at this particular moment in history. The growing awareness of the intersection of global justice issues and environmental destruction gives a voice to communities previously left out of the climate change discourse. As Van Jones points out in an interview with Sarah van Gelder, “I know that many of the best people have not been heard from yet. People of faith, African Americans, Latinos—a lot of people who you might assume don’t care about the environment and don’t know anything about climate change. They do know what’s going on. But they haven’t had the chance to work together in a way that they feel comfortable and respected and where their other concerns –like their concerns about thrown-away kids—are part of the conversation.” Herein lies the true hope of the youth movement on climate change; young activists are making the structural connections that bind issues together. We can no longer talk about pollution and ignore the needs of the most affected demographics, namely low-income communities and communities of color. We can’t shop local and call it a day. Inclusiveness is finally taking center stage in climate change debates and it is the youth who are putting it there.

Power Shift ’09 is a prime example of this shift in climate change discourse towards inclusiveness. I had the chance to chat with Jessy Tolkan, Executive Director of Power Shift and organizer of Energy Action Coalition, about the unique characteristics of the youth climate movement. She spoke these words over the cheers and shouts of her co-organizers who were celebrating each new registered participant. “…We are not just any 10,000 youth. We are 10,000 young people reflective of our generation’s diversity. This is really a multi-issue movement unified around climate. The cross section of individuals attending shows that diversity. They are coming for green jobs, they are coming for healthy communities, they are coming for engineering and science involved in greening our society, they are coming to see US foreign policy change, they are coming for racial justice. They are coming because the climate change fight interweaves so many other fights. Where we are united is in the solutions, solutions wrapped up in the energy crisis.”

Jessy emphasized that what makes this moment so critical is that the elected officials might actually listen. The youth vote was the swing that put the new administration into power and the youth climate movement wants elected officials to remember that fact. “Twenty four million young people showing up to the polls was only the beginning,” she stated. “Our demographic decided this last election, but that was only one way we are showing up to get our agendas through.”

When asked about where the movement stands in comparison to the Power Shift ‘07 conference, Jessy joked that Power Shift '07 was “the coming out party for the youth climate movement.” Since then the swell of media attention, legislative triumphs, organizing efforts, and energy has “shifted,” if you will, into a full-on movement. “The urgency for climate change issues could not be more apparent, and our economic situation exacerbates that urgency…we have reached a critical moment in history and our goal is to leave with a game plan that grows this movement exponentially.”

As I move through my own understanding of “planetary adulthood,” I look forward to hearing more words of wisdom from these young leaders; their stories are the oxygen of a new era in American consciousness.

Registration for Power Shift 09 closes tonight at midnight. Come be a part of history.

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At 12:11 PM, Anonymous kt said...

speak it, girl. i am anxiously awaiting more.


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