Power Shift 2011 - 10,000 Gather in DC for Youth Conference on Clean Energy & Climate Change

Post Submitted by Dan Nicklebein, OPRF HS Class of 2010

As I get off the bus at the corner of 7th and M Street, I feel the excitement beginning to build in the air around me. I see dozens of other young people hurrying in and out of the crowded building, all wearing green lanyards. The rest of my fellow Macalester students pick up their belongings, and the 31 of us quickly get in line inside the Washington D.C. Convention Center. The mood inside the Convention Center is electric, as thousands of other passionate young people prepare to listen to Al Gore, Van Jones, and other dynamic environmental leaders. As I wait in line to register, I can’t help but feel energized as I see countless other students ready to learn, listen, and engage in ways to help fight climate change. This is Power Shift, the world’s largest youth conference on clean energy and climate change, where I am just one of 10,000 other young people interested in helping shape our future. We are the generation that will be most affected by climate change, and I am thrilled to see some many people my age interested in the development of clean energy.

As excited as I was for Power Shift to begin, I couldn’t help but feel relief as well. At Macalester, I was one of the campus coordinators that helped organize for and promote Power Shift on our campus. Getting 31 students to drop everything and take a 22 hour bus ride to Washington DC was somewhat of a difficult sell, but our campus is generally active in dealing with climate and energy issues. My fellow campus coordinators and I ended up raising $6,000 to cover the bus and food costs for us while we would be in DC. We heavy publicized Power Shift across campus and tried to convince as many students as possible to attend. We also found housing for all students so that no one would have to pay for housing while in DC. Macalester students stayed with a mix of friends, family, and Macalester alumni that generously opened up their homes to us for the weekend. After helping to organize all this, I was ready for the conference to begin!

After hearing Al Gore and Van Jones speak on Friday night, I returned to Power Shift on Saturday ready to get to work. Conference attendees were broken up by states in rooms throughout the conference center. The first part of the day, we were broken up into small groups of four or five and placed with a group facilitator. This session focused on telling stories, not just any story, but the story of who we are, why we were here, and what this conference meant to us. We learned new techniques to more effectively convey our desired message and how to best share our stories. After quickly grabbing some lunch, the Macalester delegation returned to the Conference Center to attend informative panels dealing with a variety of subjects. We had the option of choosing from nearly 40 panels, in subjects that included fracking, environmental economics, politics (one panel was appropriately titled “What to Do When the President is Just Not That Into You), and environmental racism. My favorite panel discussed transportation and talked about how to make environmentally friendly means of transport (like high speed rail) a reality.

The entertainment for the evening was none other than Lisa Jackson, the EPA Administrator. Administrator Jackson has been a champion for the environment, and has been willing to take on big polluters in order to do what is right for the environment and the American people. It was truly an honor that she spoke to us at Power Shift, and I consider it a testament to the strength the youth climate movement that she came to the conference. Another highlight of the evening was Tim DeChristopher, a young environmentalist who in March was convicted of disrupting a federal auction of lands in Utah in order to prevent oil and gas companies from taking control of the lands.

Sunday brought another round of training workshops and small group strategy sessions. One of the highlights of the day was the “statewide breakout” time, when state delegations met in rooms across the Convention Center to discuss ways to create a network of climate activists in their states. The Minnesota breakout was one full of energy and enthusiasm, and we set a number of tasks to accomplish over the next year.

Monday was our final day at Power Shift, and it was also the day of the non-violent direct action set to happen across the street from the White House in Lafayette Square Park. Over 3,000 students came to confront dirty energy promoters like the US Chamber of Commerce and BP and to show them that they do not speak for everyday Americans. As the protest was happening, hundreds of other Power Shift attendees descended on Capitol Hill, where they met with senators and representatives and delivered our message of clean energy and lowered emissions.

After three days of non-stop action, I just about collapsed as soon as I got on the bus headed back to Minnesota. Power Shift was an incredible experience, one that I will remember for the rest of my life. Being surrounded by 10,000 other passionate young people made me even more ready to continue the fight to reduce emissions and increase clean energy, and the tools and knowledge I gained at Power Shift will be helpful for many years to come.