Students rally for the environment at Powershift

Twenty-six students at the College joined 12,000 students from around the U.S. and globe at Powershift 2009 this past weekend, the nation’s largest-ever summit on climate and energy action.

The weekend consisted of a series of panels and workshops, keynote speakers including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other prominent figures of the environmental movement, and performances by artists such as The Roots. The conference was geared toward empowering youth with the information and tools to effect change, with the ultimate goal of “letting our elected officials know, face-to-face, that we expect them to rebuild our economy and reclaim our future with bold climate and energy policy,” according to the organizers of the summit.

To achieve this end, the weekend culminated in a lobby on Capitol Hill on Monday, at which youth demanded climate and energy legislation of their representatives. “We wanted to make sure that these issues were on the table during the first 100 days of Obama’s presidency,” said Sasha Macko ’11, who organized the Williams trip through Thursday Night Group.

Despite seemingly universal sleep deprivation among the conference attendees, energy was high in the D.C. Convention Center, where excited cheering would periodically break out among the crowds between workshops.

Many Williams students agreed that two of their favorite aspects of the conference were the diversity of both the issues discussed and the students in attendance. The panels discussed the intersection of climate change with a wide variety of issues, from economics to global justice to the food industry to reproductive rights. The conference also “brought together a diverse group of students as far as interests and previous experiences with environmental work,” said Madeline King ’11.

Powershift also provided students the opportunity to meet and network with one another. Attending a panel on uranium mining in Native American lands, Jeannette Rivera ’12 met people from her own Navajo tribe while learning about the destructive effects of mining on tribal lands.
“People have the impression of environmental activists as radicals, but I saw that they are just passionate about the cause, involved in the movement, and trying to solve real problems,” said Dominique Rodriguez ’12.

Students were also impressed by the enthusiastic attendance at all of the weekend’s events. “The talks were all filled to capacity, with students overflowing into hallways,” said Chandler Sherman ’11.

Several students from the College remained in D.C. on Monday for Lobby Day, when students divided up to meet with their own congressional representatives. About 30 students met with John Olver, representative for Massachusetts District 1, which includes Williamstown. “We got his support to pass stronger climate legislation than is already in place,” Macko said.

In addition to the meetings with representatives, Lobby Day also included a protest at the capitol power plant. Five thousand people participated in the march, which was in support of “both anti-coal and pro-green jobs as solutions,” said Meredith Annex ’11.

Powershift was organized by the Energy Action Coalition, a collection of young people involved in organizations and groups dedicated to addressing climate change by winning clean energy victories at the local, state, national and international levels.

“I think people left the conference with a really great sense of accomplishment and excitement about these issues, and we’re really hopeful for the future,” Macko said.