Posts Tagged ‘social movements’

I just came across Jessie Jenkins’ Watthead blog, which made me aware of a youth movement in the States and Canada that not only has a vision for a “sustainable, just, and prosperous energy future” but also practically and strategically works on achieving it. I’ve copied and pasted a three part documentation of this activist movement from Watthead onto Melange; it’s fascinating, uplifting and empowering reading!

An Introduction: Beyond the Numbers (and the Irony)

On February 27th-March 1st, 12,000 young leaders from all fifty states, every Canadian province, and about a dozen other nations convened at the Washington D.C. Convention Center for Power Shift 2009, the largest ever gathering of climate and clean energy activists in U.S. history. On Monday, March 2nd, fueled by a fiery passion no snowstorm could chill, thousands stormed Capitol Hill, braving subfreezing temperatures to rally, lobby and even risk arrest in their efforts to ignite a clean and just energy future.

Image credit: Shadia Fayne Wood

If you read the mainstream media’s accounts of this historic weekend, that’s about the extent of the story you likely read. The focus of most coverage was the numbers – 12,000 students, 2,500 protesters, 350 lobby visits – or the supposed irony of a climate rally held amidst a few inches of snow. But beyond the numbers and ironic headlines, there’s a far deeper story on display at Power Shift 2009 – if only the press knew where to look.

I’ve been close to this movement for three years, as both a participant and as a writer and editor chronicling its progress at, where voices from across the movement share their stories. Rather than wait for the mainstream media to write an in-depth expose on this dynamic and growing movement, I’ll take you behind the scenes to uncover the stories behind the numbers in this three part series.

  • Part One focuses on the history of the maturing movement on display at Power Shift 2009
  • Part Two takes a look at the diversity of tactics and cutting edge activism employed by the movement
  • Part Three looks at how the movement has grown into an expansive effort to build a more sustainable, just and prosperous future and on the challenging road ahead for these young leaders

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I just came across Jesse Jenkins’ Watthead blog, which made me aware of a youth movement in the States and Canada that not only has a vision for a “sustainable, just, and prosperous energy future” but that also practically and strategically works on achieving it. I’ve copied and pasted a four part documentation of this activist movement from Watthead onto Melange; it’s fascinating, uplifting and empowering reading!

Part One: A Growing Movement Comes of Age

This is the part one of a three-part series taking an in-depth look at the youth climate movement and the stories the mainstream media missed at Power Shift 2009. For the introduction and links to the rest of the series, head here or see links at end of this post.

There were a lot of records claimed by Power Shift 2009. The largest gathering of youth climate activists in U.S. history; the largest citizen lobby day on climate change (for any age group); and at the separately organized but allied Capitol Climate Action, the largest-ever non-violent civil disobedience against the injustices of today’s energy system.

But Power Shift didn’t emerge out of the blue. The weekend’s successful events are a sign that the youth climate movement, the largest and most sophisticated grassroots movement to emerge in decades, has finally come of age. It is now maturing quickly and gathering size, diversity and power, according to Billy Parish, founder of the Energy Action Coalition, the organization behind Power Shift 2009.

The movement on display at Power Shift 2009 consists of literally thousands of student groups on hundreds of high school, community college and university campuses, a growing number of coordinated statewide networks, and dozens of official NGOs. The Energy Action Coalition (EAC) has become the movement’s torchbearer, playing a central role in coordinating and uniting these diverse organizations.

Launched in 2004, EAC began by organizing several nationwide days of action against fossil energy dependence, each larger than the last. In 2005, EAC launched the Campus Climate Challenge to help students press for commitments to clean energy and climate neutrality at college campuses, an effort that has so far secured victories at over 550 campuses.

These days, Energy Action Coalition has taken the jump off of campuses to assert the movement’s political voice in national climate and energy debates.

EAC brought 6,000 young leaders together for the first Power Shift summit in November 2007. In the year that followed, EAC launched the nationwide Power Vote campaign and rallied nearly half a million young voters to turn out and cast ballots for climate champions in the 2008 election.

“The youth of America turned out in record numbers to elect a new president and Congress in the last election,” said EAC executive directory, Jessy Tolkan. “We’re here now to take our rightful seat at the political table.”

The movement has indeed taken a literal seat at the political table. Tolkan joined four other young leaders to testifying at a congressional briefing held Monday by Congressman Ed Markey’s Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence.

“There will not be a more important hearing in Congress this year,” Chairman Markey declared after listening to powerful testimony on the young leader’s visions of a clean, just energy future and accounts of the work these activists are doing to make that vision a reality. “You are all the leaders of this clean energy revolution,” Markey said.

The young members of the youth climate movement are part of the most civically engaged generation in three decades.

That fact did not go unnoticed by the elected officials and Obama Administration officials speaking at Power Shift 2009. From Congresswoman Donna Edwards to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, every one of the government officials speaking at the conference credited the record turnout of young people in November 2008 with their electoral success [you can watch these keynote addresses here].

Those young voters are now organizing across the country to ensure they see the kind of change so frequently promised during the 2008 elections.

“We celebrated on November Fourth,” Tolkan said, “but we know the real work began on November Fifth.”

[Go on to read part two!]

I just came across Jessie Jenkins’ Watthead blog, which made me aware of a youth movement in the States and Canada that not only has a vision for a “sustainable, just, and prosperous energy future” but also practically and strategically works on achieving it. I’ve copied and pasted a three part documentation of this activist movement from Watthead onto Melange; it’s fascinating, uplifting and empowering reading!

Part Two: Strength in a Diversity of Tactics

On display at Power Shift 2009 was the diversity of tactics employed by the youth climate movement. From rallies and protests in the streets, to well-informed citizen lobbyists penetrating the halls of Congress, this movement finds strength in a diversity of tactics. In their efforts, these young leaders draw on time-tested community organizing techniques as well as a suite of cutting-edge, 21st century technologies to unite the movement, grow at a rapid pace, and secure climate and clean energy victories.

From the Streets to the Halls of Congress

At 1:30 pm on Monday, March 2nd, I stood in the back of a congressional hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building, listening to powerful testimony from five young leaders briefing the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming [watch highlights from the hearing here]

As the briefing commenced in the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building, thousands of students were in the process of holding over 350 lobby visits with elected officials from all fifty states.

At 2:00 pm, I got a text message informing me that just blocks away, hundreds more Power Shifters had joined an estimated 2,500, both young and old, and taken to the streets of D.C. to march for an end to the injustices of our current dirty energy system.

The march was the start of the Capitol Climate Action, and the assembled protesters soon surrounded the Capitol Plant, which heats the U.S. Capitol Building and the complex of congressional offices by burning a mix of coal and natural gas. The event’s organizers said they targeted the plant in a symbolic stand, calling for an end to dirty energy and a transition to a cleaner, more just energy system.

Image Credit: Franziska Seel

“This power shift, it has begun, we’ll get our energy from wind and sun!” chanted protesters, calling for an end to coal.

Groups of protesters illegally blocked every gate to the plant and rallied in the streets surrounding the plant for hours, as speakers including Robert F. Kennedy Jr, author Wendell Berry, and outspoken climate scientist James Hansen addressed the crowd. These more well-known figures were joined by activists and citizens from regions affected by coal’s mining and use, including residents of Appalachian states and Navajo living near Black Water Mesa in New Mexico.

The speakers all cited the many impacts and injustices of today’s dirty energy system – from asthma and mercury poisoning to the destructive impacts of surface mining and mountaintop removal, and of course, coal’s massive contribution to climate change.

While there were no arrests made, the organizers of the event declared the action a success. “The police said so many demonstrators showed up that they had no hope of jailing them all,” writes author and activist Bill McKibben in his account of the day’s events. “So we merrily violated the law all afternoon.”

The coincidence of Monday’s lobby day, hearing and civil disobedience evidences the diversity of tactics employed by this growing movement.

“Youth are willing to lobby in the halls of Congress, but we’re also not afraid to get arrested in the streets,” said Jaime Henn with, one of the more than forty groups sponsoring the Capitol Climate Action. “It’s this diversity of tactics that will continue to make us effective.”

Not Just Protesters of Injustice, But Practitioners of Solutions

Energy Action Coalition executive director Jessy Tolkan has spent years registering and turning out voters, organizing events like Power Shift and campaigns like Power Vote, and fighting for a seat at the political table for today’s youngest generation. But as proud as she is of these efforts to amplify the movement’s political voice, she makes sure to point out that the efforts of this movement do not stop at lobbying the political process for change.

“Over the course of the last three days, 12,000 of us gathered here in our nation’s capitol … and 24 million of went to the polls in November” Tolkan said at the Select Committee hearing. “But we are also in our communities as practitioners of the innovative solutions we are calling for.”

In fact, the tactics employed by many in this movement may not even look like activism to the outside eye. What occupies much of Timothy Den-Herder Thomas’s activism, for example, looks a lot more like a new brand of socially and environmentally conscious entrepreneurialism.

Thomas is a senior at Macalaster College and a leader with the Sierra Student Coalition. He wields financial spreadsheets and non-profit business models in addition to traditional tools of community organizing.

On March 2nd, Thomas told Chairman Markey’s committee about his successful efforts to establish a revolving clean energy loan fund at Macalaster. The fund enables investments in energy efficiency and clean energy projects at the Minnesota college, pooling the resulting energy savings to reinvest in more projects.

The fund has been a huge success, cutting energy use and emissions at the campus while netting a forty percent annual return on investment in its first year. “That’s four times what the stock market performs,” said Thomas, pausing for a moment, ”when it’s NOT collapsing!”

Thomas is now working with students as part of a program called Summer of Solutions to take the revolving fund model off campus and launch a new effort to “futurefit” entire neighborhoods – that’s Thomas’s word for the energy efficiency and clean energy retrofits that prepare homes and businesses for a clean, efficient energy future.

“There are billions of dollars just sitting on the table,” Thomas said, referring to profitable energy efficiency opportunities in millions of American homes and businesses. “But we’re not picking that money up. We’re letting it sit there.”

Summer of Solutions will be organizing efforts in at least a dozen communities this coming summer and similar initiatives are underway in other locations.

All across the country, innovative young social entrepreneurs like Thomas are working to transform their campuses and communities, set up green jobs training programs and otherwise get busy creating the clean energy future they are calling for as activists.

Their message: while we call on our elected officials to change laws, give us more resources, and invest in a clean energy economy, we’re not going to wait to get started building the future ourselves.

A 21st Century Networked Movement

This savvy youth movement draws from the long history of community organizing in the United States and the wisdom of past social movements, combining these time-tested tactics with cutting-edge 21st century digital organizing and communication tools with remarkable effectiveness.

“Each one of you is a walking technological superpower,” said green jobs advocate Van Jones, speaking to the Power Shift crowd packing the cavernous main hall at the DC Convention Center on the event’s opening night. “You have more technology on your person right now than the U.S. government had when we put a man on the moon.”

“Just think: ten years ago when a person could just sit on a bench and pull all of the knowledge of the world onto their laps, they’d be considered a god. Now, that’s just you, with a laptop, and Google!” Jones said, urging the crowd to “cease using those technologies as toys and start using them as tools.”

The most networked generation in history, the members of this youth movement are already utilizing 21st century technologies to unite online and strengthen their offline organizing.

Last April, as part of an annual nationwide day of action called Fossil Fools Day, hundreds of young activists traveled to stand with communities in Appalachia to protest the devastating impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. Through online networks, these activists were able to unite with students located about as far away from the coal fields of Appalachia as you can get: Washington state.

Student organizers with the youth-led Cascade Climate Network quickly launched a “photo petition” to stand in solidarity with their allies in Appalachia, snapping digital photos of hundreds of students at more than a dozen campuses holding signs reading “We can do better than coal!” and “Solar energy leaves the tops on mountains.” Through email, they collected the digital photos streaming in from across the state and quickly designed and produced a photo petition “yearbook” which students then delivered to members of Washington’s congressional delegation [click here to download the photo petition (PDF)].

The Cascade Climate Network students urged Congressman Dave Reichert, a Republican, to co-sponsor legislation that would curb mountaintop removal by reinstating environmental regulations gutted by the Bush Administration.

“Congressman Reichert had actually seen mountaintop removal flying from Washington DC to Seattle, but that was most likely the first time he had heard about mountaintop removal from his own constituents,” said JW Randolph, Legislative Associate with Appalachian Voices. “Students in Washington took up an issue that’s devastating communities in Appalachia thousands of miles away, and made it clear they weren’t going to tolerate injustice like that anywhere in this great nation. That’s what makes our elected officials take action.”

Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Cascade Climate Network students, Congressman Reichert agreed to be one of three chief sponsors of the Clean Water Protection Act, which was re-introduced in the 111th Congress last Wednesday with a record 117 co-sponsors.

The unprecedented, networked nature of this movement allows young activists across the country to connect with their peers, share information and best practices, discover and harness synergies, and grow in size and power faster than past movements.

And they’ll have to do so quickly. As we’ll explore in Part Three of this series, the movement has a challenging road ahead. It’ll take the best combination of time-tested tactics and cutting-edge techniques, as well as a big dose of old-fashioned people power to win the battles ahead. Stay tuned for Part Three…

I just came across Jessie Jenkins’ Watthead blog, which made me aware of a youth movement in the States and Canada that not only has a vision for a “sustainable, just, and prosperous energy future” but also practically and strategically works on achieving it. I’ve copied and pasted a three part documentation of this activist movement from Watthead onto Melange; it’s fascinating, uplifting and empowering reading!

Part Three: An Expansive Movement and the Fight Ahead

If you’ve made it this far in this series, you’ve already read a couple thousand words about the “youth climate movement.” I’ve been using that term throughout this series, but after spending even a little time amongst this movement, it’s clear that “youth climate movement” is something of a misnomer, adopted for lack of a better word. You see, this movement is growing into something much more expansive than those words capture.

What began partly as an environmental movement, brought together to prevent the ecological disaster of climate change, has morphed into a far-reaching movement tackling issues as far ranging as equity, justice, and economic reform.

“We are having a broader conversation than just climate change, or climate science,” said Marcie Smith, a student at Transylvania University in Kentucky, testifying before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “This is a conversation about justice, equity and opportunity.”

“All for green! Green for all!” has become one of the movement’s rally cries, a simple turn of phrase that has deep meaning for many pulled into this movement.

Juan Reynosa, a 27-year old community organizer with New Mexico Youth Organized, testified before Congress and shared his vision of a clean, green economy strong enough to lift up the currently marginalized and disaffected.

“It’s time to rebuild our communities,” Reynosa said. “This time we must include everyone in this new energy economy – single moms, drug addicts, ex-offenders. Everyone.”

“We must ensure that clean energy economy brings jobs to current dirty energy sacrifice zones. If not, we will have failed,” added Smith.

This isn’t a movement about saving polar bears or ice caps, these young activists make sure to tell you. Or more accurately, it’s a movement about that, but about so much more.

This youth movement is setting out to dissolve the inequities and injustices of the current energy system, to empower and lift up communities, and to build the kind of economy they ultimately want to work and live in.

While “youth climate movement” is the name it’s taken on, this is simply a movement for a more sustainable, just, and prosperous future. But I guess it’s hard for that to roll off the tongue…

The Greatest Challenges Lie Ahead

If Power Shift 2009 proves that the “youth climate movement” is growing up, then the real work is unquestionably still ahead.

The oil, gas, and coal industries are well aware of the PR and political fight for survival now on their hands and are spending tens of millions each year to flood the airwaves and internet with advertising and crowd the halls of Congress with their lobbyists.

Besides well-entrenched corporate interests, the path to victory on climate legislation also runs smack dab through a U.S. Congress that is divided on the issue along both partisan and geographic lines. In June 2008, the Senate briefly considered the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. Despite the fact that the bill was considered woefully inadequate by many in the movement, the Climate Security Act still fell far short of the sixty votes needed to advance in the Senate.

Photo Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood<

Against the assembled forces of the status quo, and the inherent inertia of the U.S. Congress, the youth climate movement will certainly have its work cut out for it. Victory will no doubt require the best high tech savvy these young activists can muster, as well as a major dose of old fashioned ‘people power.’

The good news is that those who attended Power Shift seem aware of these challenges and eager to embrace them.

This is Only the Beginning

At Power Shift 2009, each attendee received a credential badge that read “Leader.” Not participant. Not attendee. Leader. And that’s exactly what each of the 12,000 “Power Shifters” walking the halls of the D.C. Convention Center was: a young leader that has since returned to their university campus or home community to keep the pressure on – equipped now with new tools, new connections and allies, and a new energy to keep organizing until the power shift is complete.

“Each one of these leaders will return home and recruit ten of their friends to join us in the next month, and each of them will recruit ten more in the next month,” promised Energy Action Coalition’s Jessy Tolkan.

“This isn’t about one rally, or one lobby day, or one event,” added Billy Parish, calling for sustained engagement with elected officials over the coming year. “This is less like lobbying and more like, well, stalking!” he told the crowd at Friday’s keynote. “By the end of this, your elected officials should know every one of you by name.”

Plans for sustained political engagement are already underway. When representatives and senators return to their districts for the mid-April congressional recess, young leaders will greet them ready to continue the conversation about clean energy solutions begun this weekend at Power Shift.

Focus the Nation, an Oregon-based group with national aims, is helping students organize town hall meetings across the country during the April recess, creating forums to continue the discussion between elected officials and the young people who will be most affected by the political decisions made today.

“On April 18th, students and community members are holding town-hall meetings in almost every Congressional district in the country,” said Alex Tinker, the civic engagement director with Focus the Nation. “They will be inviting their elected officials to join them to explore solutions to our nation’s climate and energy challenges.”

Focus the Nation Executive Director Garett Brennan joins the Power Shift rally on the West Lawn

The Energy Action Coalition and partner 1Sky are also working to identify leaders, both young and old, in every voting precinct in the country, enabling widespread and effective grassroots organizing all across the nation.

Student activists also plan to join with affected communities and environmental NGOs to keep the fight against the impacts of coal’s mining and use active in the coming months.

Protests targeting coal plants in Illinois and North Carolina and mountain top removal coal mining in West Virginia are planned for March and April (indeed, action is heating up at Coal River Mountain, slated for destruction soon). The advocacy group, Appalachian Voices, is bringing coalfield residents to Washington D.C. to lobby for the passage of the Clean Water Protection Act and an end to mountaintop removal this month as well. And on April 1st, Energy Action Coalition will join the international Rising Tide network to organize annual “Fossil Fools Day” actions nationwide.

The fight is clearly just beginning, and the growing movement is ready. As Tolkan promises, a fiery commitment evident in her words, “We will not stop until we see the boldest possible climate legislation pass the U.S. Congress and land on President Obama’s desk.”