Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Experiential Journal: PowerShift 2011

By Amanda Nesheiwat

Thousands of students gathered in Washington D.C’s convention center from April 15-18th to come together to talk about clean energy and our concern about the environment. Friday night was full of fun and energetic speakers such as Al Gore who urged us to heed the warnings that scientists have been telling us about climate change and how it is the youth’s responsibility to set things right for future generations as well as our own. There were a number of young people who also spoke, encouraging us to take a stand and that this is our moment to unite to set things right. The theme of the entire weekend seemed to be that “every generation needs a revolution.”

The crowd of incredibly inspiring students roared with each speaker, but Bill Mckibben’s address was special. Bill Mckibben, author and environmental activist, showed up on Saturday night with an important message for the youth. He said we have an incredible responsibility, but it is also a terrible burden. “Very few people can ever say that they are in the single most important place they could possibly be, doing the single most important thing they could possibly be doing,” he said ,“that’s you, here, now!” Looking around me, some people were holding back tears. He continued on to say, “You are the movement we need if we are going to win in the few years that we have.” His speech set a mood for the entire room. It was then we all realized just how important this weekend was, and how important the actions that we make from now on truly were.

The next morning, we were all split up by region into different halls to learn leadership skills and the skills we needed to organize so that we can take this back to our campuses and organizations. The whole idea of Powershift was to make sure that every person left with the inspiration, motivation, and skills that this movement calls for. I had the privilege of representing New Jersey and being the state facilitator for our state breakout session on Sunday evening. Many colleges and universities from the state showed up and I was responsible for facilitating an open discussion on how we can come up with the solutions and create the network that we desperately need. Creating a state network was my number one priority and we successfully achieved this. The state of NJ now has a facebook page called, New Jersey Sustainable Collegiate Partners, where colleges will be posting events from their schools and participating in discussions and giving advice to schools that need it. At the end of our session, Josh Fox, director of the documentary Gasland, joined us to speak about what our next steps should be to ensure that hydraulic fracturing does not happen in our state and to vote and rally against it.

Monday, the final day of Powershift, was the most incredible day of all. We gathered outside the Chamber of Commerce and chanted, “The U.S Chamber of Commerce, Doesn’t Speak For Me!” After a short skit that I, along with a few other students from Ramapo College took part in, We started the march, chanting and singing towards the B.P headquarters where we chanted, “Make B.P. pay, not the EPA!” We continued on through the streets of D.C. together and eventually made it to the White House. After performing the skit there once more, most of us continued onto the Department of Interior, where hundreds of students stormed in and infiltrated the building. Cops frantically tried to take control of things without much success. 21 people got arrested and were released the same day at 11:00pm after singing folk movement songs the entire time in their cells.

Among the brave people that walked with us were Bill Mckibben and Tim Dechristopher. Tim Dechristopher, a fearless man who, through his activism, has been sentenced to prison for 10 years. When he addressed the “powershifter’s”, he said “We are the generation that has the task of steering our civilization through the greatest period of change humanity has ever experienced.” He said “…we’re not going to meet it in a way that fits into our school schedules and we’re not going to meet it in way that we can avoid sacrifices.”

This line rang true through the audience. The severity of these issues calls for a time of urgency. We are going to need to make a lot of sacrifices for this movement to work. The definition of sacrifice means to give something up for something sacred. Just as the men and women of our history have sacrificed and fearlessly stood up for what they justifiably believed was right, we must do the same. They started our revolution, now it is time to start ours. PowerShift was an amazing experience that we will never forget. It was the event that brought the youth leaders in this country together and the catalyst of the social movement that is to come.

If you are interested in being a part of the New Jersey Sustainable Collegiate Partners FaceBook page, find us or e-mail me at amandanesheiwat@gmail.com.

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