The conference Powershift attracts thousands of animated and passionate young activists and wannabe- world changers, which resulted in a delightful, incendiary, informative and inspiring weekend. Powershift is an annual event geared toward college students designed to empower and inform. It also serves as a space to foster inspiration, creativity and a sharing of resources, stories and challenges surrounding climate change and environmental justice for like minds and those interested in learning. The conference was dynamic and impressive in the scope of issues that it addressed. From tiny, grass roots groups run by students in Northern California, to the NAACP, there was an unprecedented emphasis on intersectionality and the integration of issues across the board, ranging from urban growth projects to reproductive justice.
Anti-oppression trainings, frontline panels and a plethora of sessions on social justice all contributed to the high energy environment of the event. There were more tools and resources available than any passionate student could ever hope to use. While the scope and breadth of the conference could feel overwhelming, the energy and concerted effort to provide attend- ees with concrete examples and resources to take even small actions was encouraging.
Despite the tendency of these types of events to lend themselves towards “ethical masturbation,” Powershift’s focus on “real-life” close to home issues ranging from food distribution to campus divestment campaigns illustrated that the push for change in any manner of arenas is not entirely futile. Deeper connections on emotional and personal levels can only lead to eventual systematic changes, whether it is through the voice of one elderly, gray-haired conference member admitting in his own words that “I don’t know the extent of my privilege and that scares me” or through the small actions of EMU attendees to pull weeds and clear brush for a community garden in downtown Pittsburgh. “Students and activists learned how to connect dots between capitalism and environmental degradation, were shown how health disparities are linked with fracking and fossil fuel extraction and — hopefully– took away practicable skills for ad- dressing these environmental issues.” (www.wearepowershift.org).
While far from a perfect event, and even far from perhaps predicating the next Civil Rights Movement or Green revolution, Powershift did inspire hope and perhaps dispelled nihilism for some members. As ardent tech-savvy youth tweeted at the end of the weekend, “If you breathe air and drink water, this is about you. This is above race, color and creed. We are all affected….Fight for people, not just the planet.” (http://www.wearepowershift. org/blogs/environmental-justiceinter- sectionality-powershift-storify)
-Rehana Franklin, Staff Writer
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