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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.
This 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.
More 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
Energy Action Coalition
Summer of Solutions Detroit launches their Green Energy Economy Training in the inner-city Highland Park neighborhood
At a glance, the Midwest hosts two of the most exciting programs in country. The ripple effect from Summer of Solutions, launched in 2008 by Grand Aspirations (a youth start-up non-profit based in St Paul, MN), can be felt across the U.S. What began as a local initiative has grown to include 16 youth-run summer programs across the country, including Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland and Iowa City. Not only are youth implementing clean energy solutions on the ground, they are also building new partnerships with local businesses, schools, community members, and local policy makers, and creating the green jobs vital to the transition to a clean energy economy. This focus on 'sustainable cities' parallels a growing focus area for Midwest environmental non-profits and foundations and lends itself to exciting cross-generational collaboration. The Will Steger Foundation is proud to play a role in fostering these connections through our Emerging Leaders Program.
Summer of Solutions Twin Cities youth flex their muscle at the Peace Haven community garden
Summer of Solutions Iowa City youth at ZJ Farm, run in the model of community-sponsored-agriculture
Driving through the night across Ohio and up through Michigan from Cleveland to Detroit on Friday with four of the most amazing women I have ever met, I was stunned and awed by the industry and power production surrounding us on all sides. Bright lights, flares and billowing smoke flooded the otherwise peaceful, moonlit night as we rocked out to Lady Gaga and Blondie barreling down interstates 90 and 75. Now, back home in Oberlin, Ohio, as I reflect on the weekend, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of magic and terror I experienced over the past few days. This country and region we call home are really quite extraordinary. We are consumed by so much beauty, grime and inertia on a daily basis. These are the things that lead me to join the environmental movement, and as a result I often find myself contemplating the same rehearsed question: how can I harness all of this power, innovation and social context for healthy and just change? Perhaps more importantly, how can I work toward this change and past this broken system while remembering to take care of myself and stay positive?
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