Ten Thousand Youth Activists Push For Climate Action at Power Shift 2011
This article originally appeared on Scrapbook.
An estimated 10,000 activists from around the country converged on Washington, D.C., from April 15-18 for the third biannual Power Shift, a three-day climate summit featuring seminars, job fairs, films, speeches, panel discussions, and workshops in community organizing and movement-building. The aim is to train and recruit new front-line troops in the clean energy and climate movement.
Power Shift 2011, billed as the largest grassroots training event in the nation's history, culminated on April 18 with a gathering in front of the White House, marches to the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and British Petroleum's Washington headquarters, and a Lobby Day on Capitol Hill calling on lawmakers to reject campaign contributions from corporate polluters.
To make sure their message reverberated locally as well as nationally, demonstrators rallied on the steps of GenOn Energy's lobbying headquarters in Washington to demand the retirement of the Potomac River Coal Plant in nearby Alexandria, Virginia. "GenOn is literally making us sick," said Chelsea Roseberry, a student at George Mason University and a Sierra Club volunteer. "I'm here to expose the truth about Big Coal."
A Clean Air Task Force report has found that pollution from the GenOn plant is responsible for 37 deaths, 60 heart attacks, 610 asthma attacks, and over $287 million in total healthcare costs annually in the Washington, D.C. area. Nationally, GenOn is responsible for more than 12,000 asthma attacks, 815 deaths, and $5.6 billion in healthcare costs each year.
Former Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) Beyond Coal Campaign president Kara Dodson spoke at the rally. "I am fed up with the nearly $200 million Big Coal companies like GenOn spent last year to lobby our government," she said. "GenOn alone spent over a million dollars so they can continue to pollute our air and water." Activists also staged an evening vigil at GenOn's Potomac River plant.
Below, former and current Sierra Club presidents Allison Chin at Robin Mann represent for the Club.
"We don't want to just get 10,000 people together and get them hyped and excited," Courtney Hight, co-director of the Energy Action Coalition, an umbrella organization of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups including the SSC that puts on Power Shift, told the New York Times. "You want to get them hyped and excited and then send them off to take action."
At the White House, below, demonstrators called for bolder environmental action from President Obama, urging him to vigorously protect the Clean Air Act and invest aggressively in a clean energy economy. At the Department of the Interior, they called for the abolition of offshore oil drilling, coal mining, and tar sands extraction.
Friday's kickoff event at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center featured speeches by former Vice President Al Gore and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "There are four anti-climate lobbyists on Capitol Hill for every single member of the House and every single member of the Senate," Gore said. "What is the answer for this? It has to come from you. It has to come at a grassroots level."
Earlier that day, President Obama dropped in unexpectedly on a White House meeting his aides were holding with ten Energy Action Coalition representatives. Obama spent twenty-five minutes with the activists, telling them, "You have power, that's why I'm here."
Among the featured speakers on Saturday was author, climate activist, and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, who told the crowd, "We will never have as much money as the oil companies, so we need a different currency to work in, we need bodies, we need creativity, we need spirit. We understand the physics and chemistry of political power. In this case, it's not carbon dioxide that rules the day: it's money.
"Many of you are in the District of Columbia for the first time, and it looks clean and sparkling," McKibben said. "No. This city is as polluted as Beijing. But instead of coal smoke it's polluted by money. Money warps our political life, it obscures our vision, but just like with physics in chemistry there is no use whining. We know now what we need to do and the first thing we need to do is build a movement."
Power Shift is doing just that.
Check out this photo gallery of Power Shift 2011 by Sierra Club Board Director Jim Dougherty.
-- Tom Valtin