Focus on Focus the Nation

On the eve of Jan. 31, more than 700 community members filled Kane Hall to hear Mayor Greg Nickels, Senator Phil Rockefeller, and King County Executive Ron Sims talk about how they are planning to handle the effects of climate change. Photo by Sarah Kuck

More than 1,000 came to hear messages about how to further the climate change movement at the University of Washington’s Focus the Nation teach-in. Yet the scene, complete with over-lit concrete rooms, rigid desk chairs and PowerPoint presentations, was a stark contrast to the atmosphere of the 60’s teach-ins.

Climate-change-conscious students, faculty and community members in every state in the union took part in Focus the Nation events. Held at more than 1,700 institutions, the widely anticipated and well attended January 31 event featured keynote speakers, panelists, and lecturers discussing the climate-change movement.

Whether they were attending merely for class credit, as a member of a community organization, or as someone looking for ways to take action, most came with some hope of hearing about solutions and about how to get involved. Instead, attendees listened to a lot of talk about climate change: what it is (an ethical/moral problem that is having an affect on the entire world), who will have to deal with its effects first (the poor), and when it's going to happen (it's already here and the problems are about to come at us quicker and become more rampant).

Focus the Nation should have been a time for discussion and involvement. The event’s organizers, however, treated those who attended as vessels to be filled with information from leaders, politicians and academics instead of treating them as partners in building the movement.

The most creative part of the UW’s event was the space provided for more than 40 community groups and exhibitors, who set up displays of their work in the Husky Union Building’s West Ballroom. This was the event’s saving grace, for it actually wanted to and did get people involved.

image of Focus the Nation event, photo by Sarah Kuck
The Husky Union Building’s West Ballroom was transformed into the Climate Action Café for Focus the Nation. Attendees mingled with members of community organizations, City employees, and UW professors presenting their respective work with climate change. Photo by Sarah Kuck

Although it sort of resembled a science fair, complete with hinged poster boards, graphs and project reports, the “Climate Action Café” was an exciting place to find out who is doing what in our community to help solve the global climate crisis. The Café became the hub for all event goers, exhibitors, and community organizations to connect about local initiatives and issues like sustainability, transportation, and conservation.

As performers strummed acoustic melodies on stage, attendees strolled around with fair-trade coffee in hand and Clif Bar in mouth, talking to whatever exhibitor caught their interest.

SCAN community-access television and, an environmental and social justice focused e-zine which I co-edit with Brandi Bratrude, took some footage in the Café. We asked people why they came to Focus the Nation and why they care about coming up with solutions to global climate change. We also did some work on the Green Finger Project, engaging people by asking them what they are working to protect.

For those who felt like Focus the Nation could have been better, that’s because it could have. When we think of the 60s, we picture students gathering on campus lawns or lounging on bean bag chairs, speaking their minds and taking part in a free flow of ideas with their professors.

image of Greenhands project at Focus the Nation event, photo by Sarah Kuck
SeattleDIRT and SCAN TV asked Focus the Nation attendees “What will you be voting to protect?” Participants painted their fingers and wrote their answer on their palm. The Green Finger Project is an idea from last fall's Step It Up campaign. Photo by Sarah Kuck

Want to know why as many students don’t attend teach-ins or protests to the extent and with the energy that they did in the 1960s? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because they don’t care. It’s partly because to attend these events they must suffer the consequences of missing class; in ditching lecture to attend a teach-in or protest, they receive more lectures—not exactly motivating. To improve the movement we must make participation enjoyable, creative and rewarding.

Focus the Nation was billed as a way to get involved, a way to build the movement. Instead, we were told the same messages about climate change that most of us already knew. What we needed to hear was leadership and solutions.

Bottom line for me, for us: we have to forgo some of the comforts we've gotten used to. I'm not talking stone age here, I'm talking eating smaller meals, taking public transportation, turning off the TV, conserving water, buying organic, turning down the thermostat by 4 degrees, and cutting your overall ecological footprint. Who knows, getting rid of some excess stuff might be good for us.

The bottom line for our leaders: pick your crying, screaming, kicking, whining constituents off the floor and tell them this is the way it's going to have to be. Tell us that it's our responsibility. Tell us we have to take this opportunity to do something about it. Lead.

When our children ask us what we did during the tipping point, what do you want to be able to say? I hope it can be, “I was fighting for change.”



To be green, we're going to have to spend some green

image of Greenhands project at Focus the Nation event, photo by Sarah Kuck

That's because we and our grandparents and parents haven't been paying full price for almost 100 years. The hard truth is, we have to start paying it now or it will be up to our children and grandchildren to take care of things and pay even more.

:: Support taxing carbon emissions

:: Buy organic

:: Buy recycled goods

:: Invest in renewable resources

:: Buy efficient appliances


YES! Story button Is “cap” and “trade” the best way? :: Food to Stay
Judy Wicks: In Business for Life :: Zero Waste Economics
YES! Action button Who's Willing to Step Up :: Get Stuff Free
YES! But How?—Tips for Sustainable Living



But not too much green…

Going green or carbon neutral isn't always expensive. Saving resources also saves money. And it creates gains in other areas: time, health, beauty, happiness, community, resilience.

:: Walk places

:: Cook one big dinner with friends and roommates, using less energy for cooking and sharing food resources

:: Start a garden or volunteer at a community garden

:: Use less water—in the shower, in the sink, in the toilet (yes, that means letting it mellow)

:: Turn off the lights

:: Turn off the television

:: Change your light bulbs to high efficiency bulbs

:: Build your community so you can share resources


YES! Story button People Taking Charge :: Building a Just World—One Garden at a Time
Seeds of Change :: The YES! Water issue: Whose Water?
YES! Action button Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Eating Local :: Guerilla Gardening
12 Step Program For Getting There On Less :: Beware of the Stand-by Mode


Photo of Sarah Kuck

Sarah Kuck was an editorial intern for YES! from Fall 2006 to Spring 2007. She is now working as co-founder and editor of , an e-zine dedicated to uncovering environmental and social justice news in the Seattle area. A nature lover, traveler and yogini, Sarah loves anything that helps her focus on the present and enjoy the world around her.

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