Stories from Power Shift 2013

October 25, 2013 at 5:30 pm Leave a comment

Imagine a place where a twelve-year-old Native American girl, standing up for her community, threatened by the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, can work with leading environmentalists like Bill McKibben and Michael Brune to help save her family’s health and her community’s history.

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This idea became a reality this weekend. The seven members of the UNC Beyond Coal campaign who attended Power Shift conference experienced similar incredible opportunities.

Approximately 6000 college students and environmental organizers gathered at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh from October 18th to October 20th to make national connections for their campaigns, learn strategies to take back to their campuses, and to get inspired to make serious changes in the world.

Upon our arrival, after a warm welcome from Power Shift volunteers, we were handed a sheet of business cards with our contact information and encouraged to exchange them with people we would meet throughout the weekend.  This set a precedent for the atmosphere of the conference, as even in the lobby of the convention center before the kick-off keynote presentation we spoke with people from campaigns all over the country so we could hear about their successes.

Even before the official conference kick-off, people organized protests outside local businesses like EQT, who supported harming indigenous people of Elsipogtog as they peacefully blockaded the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline over their land.

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The excitement for change in Pittsburgh was almost tangible.

The conference officially kicked off with exciting keynote speakers like Bill Peduto, the democratic candidate for the Mayor of Pittsburgh, and Ta’Kaiya Blaney, a twelve year old singer/songwriter advocating for a better quality of life in Indigenous territories who has spoken at the UN conference. These inspirational speakers challenged us to take advantage of everything Power Shift offered to have the best experience possible.

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Picture from US Climate Plan

Watch the video here.

The next day of the conference started the numerous workshops and panels, with a selection so large we sat in our housing site wondering how we’d be able to split ourselves up to cover everything that we wanted to see.  Topics ranged from “Protecting Human Health in Fracked Communities” and “Discussions on Food Justice” to anti-oppression trainings and divestment campaign breakout sessions.  We learned a lot of new information from these panels while also taking the opportunity to help lead some like “Getting Creative with Campus Media” and a breakout session focusing on starting your own divestment campaign.

Although we learned a lot from the panels, the best parts of the conference arguably happened outside the walls of the convention center.  Over the weekend we had the pleasure of spending lunch with friends at San Francisco State University, who just successfully divested from fossil fuels, and we attended an impromptu open mic night featuring environmental writers and musicians hoping to showcase their art to a supportive audience.  Also, we stayed in a hostel called the Pittsburgh Project along with many other Power Shifters, which had a game room with plenty of pool tables, ping pong tables, and places to relax and make friendships with like-minded people.  Times like these really supplemented the experience of the weekend. Footage from Open Mic Night 

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Now that we’re back on campus we’re pumped and ready to begin more hard work for coal divestment right here at UNC, but we’re so grateful that we had the opportunity to experience everything Power Shift had to offer.

–       Will Schoeffler

Want more information about the campaign?

The Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is a broad network of high school and college-aged youth from across the country working to protect the environment. The SSC is the youth-led chapter of the Sierra Club, the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. Our mission is simple: “to train, empower, and organize youth to run effective campaigns that result in tangible environmental victories and that develop leaders for the environmental movement.”

Want to learn more about the national campaign for university endowments to divest from dirty coal? Check out www.wearepowershift.org/campaigns/divestcoal 

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