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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Power Shift ’07 conference

Published: November 9, 2007
Section: News

News Flash: Were freaks! announced Ben Goldfarb, my workshop leader, last Sunday morning. He was right.

As he pointed out, how many college students wake up by 9 a.m. on a Sunday to attend a workshop on using the media to the advantage of climate change activism at a different university than their own, six states away?

It turns out that a lot of students do, actually. Last weekend marked the occurrence of Power Shift 07, a conference where college students learned how to organize and mobilize the fight against global warming. Blogs are reporting student attendance as between 5,500 and 6000 students, making Power Shift the largest activist event centered on global warming to date.

This wasnt even a gathering of hippy-dippy environmentalists. Sure, there were a significant amount of dreadlocked attendees, but most students at Power Shift looked like the stereotypical college student of today, decked out in sneakers and black North Face fleeces. These students werent just of one race or from one state the protest against climate change is being called the most diverse activist movement in history.

Thanks to the blood, sweat, and possibly tears of Brandeis coordinator Jake Yarmus, fourteen Brandeisians made their way down to the University of Maryland to take part in this historic event. Last Friday morning, a bunch of us trundled down to UMD in a huge maroon van lovingly dubbed The Abyss, since all the passengers were nestled among overwhelming mountains of backpacks, sleeping bags, and cereal boxes. Ten hours and six states later, we were still able to muster up enthusiasm at our arrival.

The thing is, Power Shift is a big deal. We werent a bunch of students having a big global warming-themed party at UMD (okay, so there was one dance party). Keynote speakers included beloved and charismatic environmentalist Van Jones, Step It Up rally organizer Bill McKibben, former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (maybe youve heard of them). Pelosi even reinforced in her speech one of the goals of Power Shift, an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

The big names and energized atmosphere of Power Shift made it socially acceptable to be excited about environmental activism, but more importantly, the conference gave students the resources and knowledge to make us feel like we can make changes in the world. On Saturday, students had the opportunity to attend three panel sessions, where speakers like Nader and a Greenpeace USA Research Director spoke on topics ranging from environmental justice to climate communications. These panels were built upon with Sunday workshops that taught students ways to approach the issues surrounding global warming, whether it be starting a non-profit, pressuring companies to assume better ecological practices by buying environmentally-friendly products, or even learning the essentials of a great sprit-lifting song to march by.

I just went to the workshop on water bottles. It changed my life, raved Justine Dowden 10 to me on Sunday afternoon. She proceeded to enthusiastically detail her plans to make Brandeisians aware of the wastefulness of water bottles (I wont list them here I have no doubt Justine will make them known).

But Justine, a consummate activist, wasnt the only one who came out of Power Shift with new ideas of how to make a difference. I entered into enthusiastic dialogue with Mia Goldwasser 10 about how to get the attention of people who might not attend an event with a strictly environmental focus (Fight global warming save hockey and skiing!). Susan Paykin 11 left her panel on environmental and social injustice in the South appreciating how truly interconnected the environment and so many social issues are. Literally every single person is affected, no matter in what area of the country. Approximately 200 students from Massachusetts gathered to plan events to encourage the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act.

To reinforce the message that Power Shift is about real and meaningful action, not about the hazy theory of environmentalism, the final day of the conference involved a rally on the Capitol steps. Hundreds of students made their presence known – wearing green hard hats personalized with stickers and spray paint, they held signs with declarations like No coal! and Green jobs! The students then attended lobby meetings, persuading senators to vote in favor of bills that will address climate change.

Now the question youve been waiting for – will Power Shift actually kick off a huge change in the way that the student movement addresses global warming? No one can say for sure, but having been at Power Shift, it seems hard to believe otherwise. If theres one thing I took away from the conference, its that environmentalists are not freaks, even if were willing to go out on a limb or look goofy for our cause.

Power Shift, essentially, was about giving students the tools to fight global warming and to join together for a common purpose. The members of the Brandeisian contingent learned to draw strength from our group in order to start making changes. That is a feasible goal.

.If theres one thing I took away from the conference, its that environmentalists are not freaks, even if were willing to go out on a limb or look goofy for our cause.

The big names and energized atmosphere of Power Shift made it socially acceptable to be excited about environmental activism.