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From crippling drought to Hurricane Sandy, and overall record-breaking temperatures extremes across the country, it’s hard to ignore the effects of climate change. The American people recognize that the climate is changing.

Published in Youth Action

Midwest Power Shift was a huge success. Hundreds of youth gathered in Ohio to train and take action on a clean and just energy future. You can find this blog, photos and video from the weekend, and youth reflections from across the Midwest, at We Are Power Shift. The Will Steger Foundation was a proud member if the Midwest Power Shift Steering Committee and is actively engaged in building a unified Midwest youth coalition.

MWPS KystoneRally11This weekend, over 400 youth leaders from across the Midwest converged in Cleveland, Ohio to do some political organizing. Ohio is a critical swing state in the 2012 election, but these activists weren't coming to knock on doors for Mitt Romney or phone-bank for Barack Obama.

Instead, their mission was two-fold: continue to work together building the clean energy economy in the heartland, and two, stand up against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a major setback and threat for the Midwest.

Midwest Power Shift was one of the largest youth political conventions of the year and a clear sign that both parties should think twice about relegating climate and energy to the sidelines during the 2012 election. It's easy for the media or political pundits to quickly pass over such conferences, after all, what could a bunch of wild-eyed youngsters accomplish on their own?

Well, Occupy Wall Street has showed that we can accomplish quite a lot, actually. And if the energy at Midwest Power Shift was any indication of where we're headed, the youth climate movement is going to be making a serious impact in the months to come. More Power Shift summits are planned across the country, organizers are setting up shop in other critical swing states, and students up and down the East Coast are preparing to flood into Washington this November 6 to surround the White House in another major protest against Keystone XL.

MWPS KystoneRally211More and more, students are getting out of the classrooms and into the streets. On Sunday, after organizing and planning for on-going action, over 400 people streamed out of Cleveland State University to march through downtown. Our first stop: the Cuyahoga County Democrats Office, and an office for the Obama campaign. We showed up not to lambast them, but to pass our message to the campaign, and to show them that we're a force to be reckoned with. Outside the office, over a dozen 2008 Obama Campaign volunteers stepped out and talked about how they had worked so hard to elect President Obama, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and being the organizing force behind Students for Barack Obama. And they showed that they're committed to continuing to use the grassroots organizing tactics that they learned on the Obama campaign, however this time to build the movement against the pipeline: clipboards were passed to sign-up for future trainings, and hundreds of people broke out their cell phones to call hundreds more people and recruit them to attend future rallies, like our November 6 encirclement of the White House. They showed that this isn't just a movement of complaining, this is a movement of doing that it's continuing to build steam and wont stop, no matter what.

One of the most inspirational parts of the weekend was working hand-in-hand with #OccupyCleveland. On Friday night we caught wind that Occupy Cleveland was facing eviction, so over 200 of us marched down to them to stand with them and show our support. As we entered the park, the crowd went wild, cheers broke out: "The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated!" We're coming together to stand up against big corporations and political cronyism, and it feels powerful. It felt powerful to have them marching by our side as we marched the streets of Cleveland, and visited the OFA office, to demand President Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline, a pipeline riddled with corporate malfeasance and political corruption.

Something is stirring in America. Not just down at the encampments on Wall Street, but along the Keystone XL pipeline route in Nebraska, on campuses across the country, and right here in the Midwest. In 2008, young people rallied behind a candidate. In 2011, youth are rallying behind a cause. And that is what may just deliver the hope and change this country really needs

Whit JonesWhit Jones
Campaign Director
Energy Action Coalition

Where does the power of effective organizing begin? Is it born in the seed of a brilliant idea? Does come from the voice of our loudest leaders? How is it that a small group of committed citizens can indeed change the world? Marshall Ganz would argue that the power is born in the 'Story of Self'.

Marshall Ganz, Lecturer in Public Policy, entered Harvard College in the fall of 1960. In 1964, a year before graduating, he left to volunteer as a civil rights organizer in Mississippi. In 1965, he joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, where he worked for the next 16 years before becoming a trainer and organizer for political campaigns, unions and nonprofit groups. He is credited for Barack Obama's winning 2008 presidential campaign, strategic campaign planning for Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Brown, Alan Cranston, and Tom Bradley, and with devising the successful grassroots model used by many including the renowned New Organizing Institute. In contrast to the once-dominant approaches to grassroots movement-building stressing resource mobilization and political process, Ganz emphasizes the power of the social movement participants themselves, whose values, intentions, and narratives ('story of self') are at the heart of effective organizing.

PowerShiftEach one of us has a story, about how we made the choice we did, to commit to the passions we care most about. And when we share this story with others, as it relates to our shared cause, it has the power to connect. It is this connectedness, the bind of shared values and understanding, that allows us to build an organizing team. When we have a strong team we build capacity. Add to this strategic timelines and tactics and we can absolutely create a movement that will change the world. This spring, the New Organizing Institute, in the spirit of Marshall Ganz, will join forces with the Energy Action Movement to do just this - and grow the already vibrant youth climate movement at Power Shift 2011, the largest youth climate summit in US history.

My story travels a winding path over the Rocky Mountains of Montana, through the deep north woods of Minnesota, and out across the windswept tundra of the Canadian Arctic. I didn't set out to be an organizer in the youth climate movement, nor would I have imagined this work as a future career. But I have always had a commitment to justice. After many years in the wilderness, felt the need to re-engage with my human community in repair of the world. In 2007 I joined Will Steger and a team of six mushers on a three-month dogsled expedition to Baffin Island, in the far northern corner of arctic Canada. Our route took us up frozen rivers to remote villages, through mountains valleys beneath the tongues of receding glaciers, out across the frozen ocean, and through the heart of polar bear country. Looking back at it now, that was where I made my choice.

When the opportunity came to join the Will Steger Foundation team to develop our youth programs and engage young people in leadership on climate change solutions, I chose to accept. I left my life in the wilderness and returned to the human community to engage in the passions I care about - empowering young people to realize their potential a change makers, adding my energy to the organizing team that is working hard for a just and clean energy future.

PowerShift 2011
Thousands of youth rally at the US Capitol Building for green jobs and a federal climate bill at Power Shift 2009

A generational groundswell of climate activism is sweeping the globe. Thousands of young people across the country will come together in Washington DC, April 15-18, for Power Shift 2011, to fuel the movement for a clean and just energy future. Over the course of four days participants will take part in trainings, workshops, panels, and actions; hear from leaders in the environmental movement; and learn how to take these lessons back to their communities. Participants can engage in three campaigns:

  • Catalyzing the Clean Energy Economy - Building the ground force for clean tech growth and job creation.
  • Campus Climate Challenge 2.0 - Transforming higher education into the innovation hub for a clean energy society.
  • Beyond Dirty Energy - Campaign to fight for the rights of every community to have access to clean air and water, healthy food and an EPA that’s allowed to do its job.

And will have the opportunity to participate in the Clean Economy Canvass, Non-Violent Direct Action Training, massive youth Lobby Day on the US Capitol, and huge grassroots training facilitated in partnership with the Energy Action Coalition and the New Organizing Institute. Participants will also have the opportunity to breakout by state for strategic planning on local movement-building and next steps.

What is the goal of Power Shift? "Plain and Simple" you will read on the website, "Power Shift 2011 is a mission to recruit 10,000 youth leaders from every walk of life to be on the front lines in the fight for a clean energy future." But it doesn't end there. Power Shift is not only about getting more boots on the ground, it's about transforming the people wearing those boots so that they can walk the way to a just and sustainable future - through their choice to commit, the relationships they build, the teams they organize, and the actions they take. Power Shift is about empowering effective organizers who will return to their communities energized and ready to grow this movement, in the vision of Marshall Ganz, Cesar Chaves, and leaders of non-violent movements throughout history. Their own story is the seed. Power Shift is the catalyst to grow it.

Published in Youth Action
Tuesday, 21 December 2010 09:49

Optimism in the Face of a Daunting Future

Will Steger Foundation is a proud supporter of youth participation in UNFCCC international climate negotiation. A safe and healthy future for young people across the globe depends on the choices being made right now. While a commitment to behavior change on the part of individuals is critical, it is our policy makers that hold the power to effect the greatest change in the shortest amount of time.

Published in Youth Action

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