What a great privilege to spend two days last week with Sierra Student Coalition leaders at their annual Shindig. National SSC Director Quentin James and SSC ExCom Chair Adriana Gonzales and their team assembled a wonderful group of new and veteran student leaders in St. Louis for this annual gathering to design their campaign plans for the coming year.
This year's Shindig was also the launch pad for the SSC's new 5-Year Vision and Organizational Plan. The SSC's goal "to train and empower youth and to run effective campaigns that result in tangible energy and climate change victories," will be accomplished through the four programs of youth empowerment, energy, anti-oppression and training.
No question, the SSC knows how to have fun! But don't be misled by their wacky humor, ebullient camaraderie, and enjoyment of late-night dancing. This is as serious and passionate a group of activist leaders mobilized to confront coal and oil and bring on the clean energy future as there is. They were fired up about building on their highly successful Campuses Beyond Coal work — to get a full third of the campus coal fleet offline by 2020, building the new Campuses Beyond Oil and Stop Oil Sands campaigns, and expanding their capacity to mobilize more campuses and collaborate with more chapters and groups.
[Snapshots from the Shindig's Ustream video — there was lots of planning footage, too, but these captured the fun.]
Reflecting on my two days with the "Shindiggers," two images come to mind that reflect their character. The first is from a session convened on instilling anti-oppression into their training programs. SSC members are highly motivated to respect difference and ensure inclusiveness in all they do. Even after an already long meeting day, the assembled group brought the same intentionality and intensity of focus to this task as was brought to discussions of campaign strategies and tactics. The SSC wants to win, but the victories must be for all to share.
Another lasting image is from the COP-17 planning session. A dozen leaders crammed into a hotel room for a late evening, two-hour planning session for the upcoming climate talks in Durban, South Africa. Two additional participants joined via Skype. A climate briefing for newcomers was followed by talk of strategy. The SSC aims to build on their successful efforts in Cancun to engage with Chinese and other youth delegates in collective calls for action. Then came a frank exchange about individual motivations for going to Durban — there is a keen sense of responsibility for the carbon emissions it will take to fly there. Let there be no doubt that the students attending Durban on behalf of the Club are passionately committed to making the most of the opportunity to build the international youth climate movement and secure the planet's future.
It is hard not to come away from that gathering inspired by the capability and determination of what has been called the "student arm of the Sierra Club" yet what is, really, the organization's lifeblood.
The planned demonstrations in Washington calling on President Obama to turn down the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline were much on the minds of the activists at Shindig, and our attention is focused on them this week. The students are highly motivated to go back to their campuses and help build the groundswell of demand for the president to do the right thing by denying this environmental outrage.
How welcome it was to hear our friends in the Transport Workers Union and Amalgamated Transit Union voice their opposition to the pipeline, invoking the "J" word the other day. Larry Hanley, president of the ATU was quoted as saying, "We think there are lots of ways to produce lots of jobs, and you don't have to foul the environment. We think there are issues that trump the simple question of jobs." Amen!
-- Robin Mann