Power Shift 2009


Photo courtesy of Shadia Fayne Wood

Federal action on climate change. Green jobs. Youth empowerment… and economic development. Am I buying it? Yes. Are energy companies buying it? Sometimes.

I am – by default (because of age) – part of this Millennial generation, and we’ve been called lazy, yes, but we’ve also stood up for the things we believe in. Maybe we’re not as radical as the baby boomers that protested the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation, but our voices are heard – sometimes.

We were heard in November 2008. While former President Bush was making it "easier for coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys," I was part of a campus coalition at the University of Maryland protesting corporate banks that financed mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.

Why? I’m not entirely against coal. I’m just against the destruction of the most diverse temperate hardwood forest in the world, and all the water pollution, cultural damage, and landslides that accompany that destruction.

Photo courtesy of Vivian Stockman

We weren’t the only ones in the nation protesting. Rainforest Action Network had organized 50 groups to stage protests in front of Bank of Americas (BofA) and Citibanks. A couple weeks after the protest, I heard on public radio that BofA decided to begin de-investing in coal companies whose primary method of extraction is blowing up the tops of these mountains.

Holy return from oblivion, Batman! It worked! Well, it’s a start. And thanks to countless community organizers, non-profits, and the Natural Resources Defense Council who coaxed BofA executives to tour key mountaintop removal sites, the fight continues.

The point here is that the power of young people cannot be overlooked in money and politics. And my feeling is that it’s going to have a profound impact this weekend in D.C. where Power Shift ’09 is happening. It’s the convergence of 10,000 young people who are demanding “comprehensive and immediate federal climate action” from our new administration.

The broad scope and message of Power Shift is attracting many different groups. I caught up with a few groups from the West that are attending. They told me the reason they’re going to D.C. is to unite with others that have common dreams and to take home new approaches to combat injustice in their communities.


The Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) from Arizona will show up to Power Shift with a group of 30 Native youth from many nations: Navajo, Hopi, Jemez Pueblo, White Mountain Apache, and Tohono O’odham. The students were chosen, because their mentors thought they represented the future of positive leadership.

Photo courtesy of Black Mesa Water Coalition

“For a lot of them, it’s the first time off the reservation,” says Chelsea Chee, the tribal campus climate challenge coordinator at BMWC. “It’s a great opportunity for them to see and be empowered by the number of youth.”

For the group, which even includes one elementary school student, the large issues that hit home are a campaign to reverse the “Life-of-Mine” permit and, at the same time, a campaign for Navajo green jobs. The "Life-of-Mine" permit was a last-minute Bush administration move to allow Peabody Energy to consolidate two mines into one large complex on Navajo and Hopi reservations.

Some of the college students had been involved with a campus climate challenge, but for many, it’s the first time they’ve been involved in this type of activism. And that’s what many campus and community organizers are looking for.


Environmental responsibility is synonymous with social and economic justice for many of the communities in the West. Juan Reynosa, a field organizer for New Mexico Youth Organized, will be introducing Van Jones, a keynote speaker at Power Shift. Jones’ message of pulling underrepresented people out of poverty with green jobs rings loud bells within Reynosa.

Photo courtesy of Juan Reynosa

The majority of jobs in his hometown, Hobbs, NM, are in the oil and gas industry. One of Reynosa’s main goals now is to create other opportunities so destructive jobs in the dirty energy industry aren’t the only option.

“We’re creating a pathway,” says Reynosa of the impact at Power Shift, “—not just waiting for federal action… We’re all mobilizing across the nation.”

Reynosa has been working with Albuquerque and New Mexico legislatures to promote green jobs bills – ones that would fund training programs and also create incentives for green businesses. And at Power Shift, he’ll be testifying in front of Congress on Monday.


Photo courtesy
of Nina Rizzo

I talked with Nina Rizzo, the California campus organizer for Global Exchange, just minutes before she boarded her flight from California to D.C. Rizzo counted about 400 students from California that were heading to D.C. – about a quarter of whom were from the Bay area.

Rizzo helped lead the University of California system pass important climate change policy, and her latest focus has been to work with community colleges and California State Universities.

“The reason for that,” she says, “is that I feel that the students at these other schools have less access to resources than myself.”

Recalling how the first Power Shift in 2007 catalyzed many campus organizations nationwide in the past two years, Rizzo, a graduate of UC Berkeley, says she wants to convey to students how this perfect storm of youth activism is so important right now because of the upcoming Copenhagen talks on climate issues.

“I want to inspire the thousands of people in my generation to act on clean and just energy for the long term – to literally change lives.”

As the co-facilitator for the multi-racial caucus at Power Shift, Rizzo will help participants in discussing “how we can use our identity to make the movement stronger.”


This weekend, thousands of young people will unite in D.C. to learn about the different issues in communities across the nation. They'll participate in hundreds of sessions aimed at topics like: Diversity in the Green Movement, Ecopedagogy, Non Violent Direct Action, Stop a Bulldozer and Hug a Tree for Jesus, Examining Issues of Identity & Climate Change, and Lobbying 101. Then theoretically, they'll take home lessons learned and apply them to community issues.

My only two complaints:

1. It doesn't look like there will be any sessions aimed at water usage in the American West.

2. On the front page of the Power Shift website, a rotating photo of Santigold, one of the musical acts, shows her in a leapord skin coat. Let's just hope that's a FAUX leopard skin coat.


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