Youth Climate Action at Powershift 2011 and Beyond

Surrounded by thousands of youth decked out in green construction hats, I made eye contact with an employee on the umpteenth floor of BP’s Washington DC office. I held my “Make Polluters Pay” sign high and shouted for climate and energy justice, feeling the power of the youth climate movement lifting me up. It was this moment, among many others during our march from the White House and the US Chamber of Commerce to the headquarters of BP and GenOn, that I was overcome by that familiar sense of empowerment that comes from uniting with other passionate youth activists, all of whom would seemingly do anything to achieve serious environmental change.

As a student at Connecticut College and budding activist myself, I always treasure the moments when members of our movement come together to share experiences and goals for the future. Some of the most inspiring moments in my life have been at conferences like Powershift 2011, the youth conference which culminated in the march I just described, where I have been motivated by the dedication of my peers to push beyond the familiar status of participant and rise up as a leader in the youth climate movement.

For the past few months, I worked tirelessly to organize a group of 60 students from my college to attend Powershift 2011; many of whom were freshman and sophomores eagerly awaiting an opportunity to get more involved in the youth climate movement. We journeyed to Washington D.C. and joined over 10,000 youth from across the country and world and were thrown into organizing trainings, panel discussions, film screenings, and state break-out sessions all focused around informing us about the causes and effects of climate change and empowering us to take action on the national scale as well as in our local communities. Together we harnessed every available moment to connect with our fellow youth activists about perceptions of the present and future of our movement and brainstorm new innovative ways to hit the ground running with meaningful action to hold our government, high power corporations, and polluting energy companies accountable for helping to create the sustainable and just world that we all want to live in.

Having participated in Powershift 2011, and attended the COP-16 UN Climate Change Negotiations this past December as a youth delegate, I found myself constantly running into familiar faces at Powershift 2011. I was elated to have three full days to share project ideas and personal developments in the world of climate activism, but I found myself equally if not more exhilarated to see the younger Connecticut College students who had accompanied me, immersing themselves in eye-opening panel discussions about subjects like corporate influence in politics and contributing to challenging discussions about the role of radical activism within our movement.

Throughout the weekend, noteworthy speakers like Bill McKibben, Van Jones and Lisa Jackson acknowledged the power and potential that the youth climate movement has, but challenged us to utilize that momentum to fight harder than we ever have before. On Saturday night, Tim DeChristopher of Peaceful Uprising delivered a powerful keynote in which he questioned us all, “What level of injustice is it going to take for the goals of our movement to be more important than us graduating on time?” This motivated a huge population of youth, including almost a third of our group from Connecticut College, to change their plans and stay for Monday’s march and day of action.

As youth we are unique stakeholders in the issue of climate change. Across the world we are starting to experience some of the devastating impacts and causes of this problem, from sea level rise to mountain top removal coal mining. We will be the ones inheriting the impacts of climate change and soon it will be solely our generation’s responsibility to pick up the pieces that have been left for us by our leaders and our consumer-based society.

While our challenge is high stakes, if I have learned anything from my own experiences organizing for climate justice and uniting with my fellow youth activists at massive gatherings like Powershift 2011, I have learned that we as the youth climate movement have the energy, ideas, dedication, and courage to stand up to the corporations taking advantage of the earth’s resources and our leaders who remain stagnant despite the urgent climate crisis we are in.

At Powershift 2011, 10,000 youth raised our collective fist and demanded change through marches, lobbying and sit-ins, but our action will not stop there. Being home from the conference for little more than a week, I have already seen my fellow students gather petition signatures against BP’s transgressions, engage in a national day of action against KFC’s environmentally degrading packaging policy, and start the foundation for organizing a statewide march for the environment – and that’s just within seven days! Imagine what we will accomplish in one year, let alone the next decade.

No wait, don’t imagine – become a part of the movement!

Join an IMatter march on May 8th
See what the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign is up to in your area
Learn more about summer climate initiatives through Energy Action Coalition

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