Friday, March 06, 2009

Reflections on Power Shift at 30,000 Feet

by Colette Cosner

“How do you get to a rest which is legitimate and deserved?” Wendell Berry asked the audience of Artists for the Climate last Sunday night. Good food for thought for a group of people about to participate in a mass direct action.

Berry, along with other climate justice activists such as Bill McKibben and Vandana Shiva recently called for mass civil disobedience against the coal industry. Chesapeake Climate Action Network's Artists for the Climate event was the convocation to the historic action taking place the following day. The question of rest seemed a poignant one to this multi-generational audience, half of whom were reflecting on their lifetimes spent in the movement and half of whom were exuberantly upholding the popular slogan of Power Shift '09,“This is just the beginning.” As the night unfolded with poetry, song, and prayer, activists were reminded of a humanity which only art can portray; a humanity worth fighting for, worth breaking the law for.

The next morning, DC woke up in a winter wonderland. Social networks were hard at work spreading the word that all Lobby Day and Capitol Climate Action events were still on. Powershifters converged in front of the Capitol to hear Nancy Pelosi speak, wearing green hard hats -- as much for warmth as for the symbolic demand of green jobs. With only a megaphone on stage, the speeches soon faded into the chatter of excited youth lobbyists just returned from meetings with their representatives. The previous day, Powershifters had gathered by state to discuss strategies and unite about issues particular to their region. The culmination on Monday morning was the largest lobby day on climate and energy in our nation’s history. Coming of age under the Bush administration jaded my perception of democracy in this country, but to be privy to these conversations rejuvenated in me a sense of hope.

Just down the street from the Capitol gathering, affinity groups gathered in the Spirit of Justice Park preparing for a march around the coal-fired Capitol power plant. The intent was to blockade all the plant’s entrances using non-violent direct action. The demonstration was peaceful but not passive, sending a clear message to the public: our tolerance for coal is over and our planet does not have time to wait for legislation to be passed. We must take action now for clean energy and a green economy that includes all people.

As I fly back across the country to Seattle, I am reflecting on the appropriate complexity of my long journey. As Wendell Barry stated, “I’ve been flying all over the country for 40 years, to tell people, in effect, that they ought to stay home.” As I try to sift through the words, organizations, concepts, innovations, and tactics I’ve learned at Power Shift, I realize it is the people I’ve met that ultimately shaped the value of this experience -- inspiring activists like Energy Action Coalition's Jessy Tolkan, Marcie Smith of the Kentucky Clean Energy Corps, Ursula James, working for climate action in the heart of Texas oil land, and Elandria Williams of the legendary Highlander Research and Education Center.

We come together to renew ourselves, to be reminded that we are not alone in what is often a thankless fight. A fight, I might add, we don’t have that much time to win. The enormous value of this collective solidarity travels back with us to our communities.

While the youth climate movement fills me with pride in my own generation it is also a bittersweet reminder that this movement is not about me. As we marched down the sludgy streets, climate justice chants wearing out our vocal chords, a six year old boy came out onto his porch to cheer us on.“This is for you! This is for you!” echoed the marchers for miles on end.

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At 9:26 PM, Blogger Jane said...

Colette it has been so great reading and learning about this. What an incrdible experience for you and through your words for all of us.



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