What I learned at PowerShift
PowerShift 2013 was big. There were twice as many people there as at Netroots Nation, which is often billed as the biggest 'progressive' event of the year. It was also, as I put it, "twice as young" meaning that the majority of folks in attendance were in their 20s and late teens. It's really exciting to see that our movement is increasingly lead by young people fighting for their future and the future of the planet.
1) The movement is more focused than ever. In fashion sense, tone, and chants, not much has changed since the rallies of my youth, way back in the 1990's. But today's environmental movement has got its stuff together: folks at fracking rallies were well briefed, articulate, and on message. When we pivoted to talk about Keystone, the message changed too—without losing participants or energy.
2) The anti-fracking movement is the climate movement. While some younger attendees were unfamiliar with fracking or repeated fracker talking points about 'bridge fuels' and 'clean-er', there was at least one anti-fracking workshop during every session, and fracking was the focus of two major demonstrations during the conference. I was also inspired by how the local antifracking groups were integrated into the "front line" approach, where events are lead by people directly affected by pollution. This is a great sign for all of us who believe that fracked gas is one of the 'carbon bombs' America needs to leave in the ground (along with Keystone, coal exports, offshore drilling and others) in order to avoid a true climate catastrophe.
3) The Midwest represented! While the Pittsburgh location probably cut the attendance a bit (all previous PowerShifts had been held in DC,) Pittsburgh's location as the most-western city in an East-coast state led to a great turnout from the Midwest. As someone who grew up in Wisconsin, it was great to see Middle America (literally) providing such heart and muscle for the youth climate movement.
4) The climate movement still feels centralized. Though Bill McKibben gave his excellent stump speech, in which he expressed the hope that the climate movement would look like the local renewable power movement, most of the professional staff and visible members there belonged to either Sierra Club, 350.org, the host Energy Action Coalition, or the more-confrontational and all volunteer and decentralized Rising Tide North America. This is in contrast to a lot of the movements Environmental Acton has always worked with, including the anti-fracking movement, which rely on less-centralized local groups with deep roots well outside DC. PowerShift made me realize how many students are working for the planet at colleges, high schools, and youth organizing spaces. This gives our movement a power beyond the the few thousand of us who were at PowerShift, because we are not just a student movement, but a movement to save the planet for all of us, which happens to be lead by students (amongst others). You can watch Bill's and other major speeches of PowerShift below.
5) PowerShift is powerful. I love conference actions. If you've never been to an event like this, I can't recommend enough you do so—and there's a short video below to give you a taste of the action. There is just nothing like taking a town by storm, led by local hosts, after 3 days of talking about action. Stepping out of the convention center and deep conversations into the bright sunshine of a rally with thousands of amazing, energized youth didn't just make me feel younger, it made me hopeful. As the chant went, "I believe we will win!"
6) Even if you can't be there, be there with us: I know a lot of you probably wanted to attend PowerShift, or a global frackdown event this weekend—and were unable do to other events. I'm incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to represent thousands of Environmental Action members at events and rallies and protests all over the country. And for all of you who 'wished you were here,' you can still support those of us who did attend by chiming in on Facebook and Twitter, or making a donation to support our work. Your support will also help the next fracktivist, or youth-climate leader, or fellow environmentalist get to the next big event.