Connecticut College News
Powershift 2009: Students Storm D.C. For Change - By Ben Eagle ´0903/4/2009
Conn Representation at Powershift. Photo by Tyler Dunham ´09
The timing could not have been more perfect. The momentum began with a State of the Union Address in which President Obama outlined how important renewable energies are to America´s status as a leading nation. It picked up more speed when Obama outlined a budget that called for over $150 billion earmarked for renewable energy. And the movement reached critical mass when over 11,000 people swooped down on Washington D.C. to demonstrate their support for green energy by attending Powershift 2009. The conference began Friday night in a wash of optimism. Keynote speakers like EPA leader Lisa Jackson, now in possession of the largest budget in EPA history, encouraged students to get involved. Ross "Rocky" Anderson, the former mayor of Salt Lake City, told students we are here to "Powershift" from "a nation full of sheep…into bulldogs." The highlight of the evening for many was Van Jones, leader of Green For All. "Your generation was born to save this whole planet," Jones said addressing the crowd of eager students and activists. "I think I enjoyed his the most, because he didn´t just say stand up. He gave us new ideas," LINCC co-chair Dana Zichlin said. Zichlin drew a distinction between two types of speakers, those who outlined the problems affecting us in detail, and those who offered solutions for those problems. One of the solutions Jones offered was a different view on consumption. He said it was not the need to shift to green consumption, but rather a need to reduce consumption in general. The second day of Powershift was marked by a more ominous tone. "The growth in Powershift attendees has reflected the growth in the [environmental movement]," Professor Dorsey from Dartmouth College said in a panel entitled "Climate Change and the Economy: Making Sense of their Growing Connection" on Saturday morning. But when Professor Dorsey asked for a show of hands of how many attendees had spoken with prominent officials about attempting to affect change, few hands rose. "The trick for you all is how to leverage the personal commitments you´ve made. How do you shape-shift those [commitments] into political action. It´s that kind of political action that´s going to deliver the green economy we need." The talk itself aimed to be carbon-neutral as one panel member noted in jest that the room was heated entirely by human-power. The human-power itself was a mosaic. Attire ranged from business casual slacks to running shorts; from freshly shaved cheeks to beards cultivated over months; from button-down shirts to the green tie-dyed Powershift shirts that adorned every Camel´s back. Age ranged from high-schoolers to an older-set whose salt and peppered facial hair were no strangers to environmental issues. The panels and workshops were equally diverse. They ranged from "Get Rich or Die Trying: Fundraising Strategies Make Millions" to "Heterosexism & Queer Rights" to "Taking on Big Oil from Tar Sands to Refineries". The speakers had varying levels of experience as well. Bill McKibeen, author of over a dozen books spoke in a room next door to Ben Wessel, a sophomore from Middlebury College. While students were floored by the information and inspiration they were receiving in every session they did have one criticism: the lack of focus on tidal energy. "At a conference of this scale talking about renewable energy sources," Sprout co-chair Eric Dooley-Feldman said. "You would think we would focus on the whole spectrum. And tidal has huge potential, but there just isn´t coverage here. It´s especially important, because it´s something students don´t know a lot about." In the afternoon, students grouped together by state to do some leadership of their own. Led by Tyler Dunham ´09, Emily Conrad and Brett Juliano ´09, the Connecticut constituents (which consisted of representatives from Trinity, Eastern Connecticut University, Wesleyan, UCONN, Fairfield, University of Hartford, Quinnipiac and Southern Connecticut University) were asked, "What is the one most important issue that a united Connecticut coalition should address?" As the room of around 250 members broke into smaller groups, their answers varied. "We need to make Connecticut the Germany of New England," one participant said in regards to expanding Connecticut´s progressive environmental legislations. "In supermarkets," another girl said, "they often use two plastic bags. It drives me nuts." But as the groups were asked to organize their thoughts and present them to the entire group, they were a model of clarity and insight. One student eloquently noted the strength of Connecticut´s agriculture. "We have all this great organic stuff and we can keep it local," he said as he held the rapt attention of everyone in the room. Other ideas included a plastic bag tax, a civil disobedience lawsuit against Poland Springs and solar power. "I´ve realized the environmental movement is much more than a trend," Hans Eysenbach said in regards to the conference. "It is a calling to be, as Majora Carter said, Officially Behaving As Marvelous Americans."