A snowy morning in Washington, DC has finally given me a moment to catch you up on the whirlwind of activity that’s been happening this weekend at Powershift 09. Powershift has brought together 12,000 students and young people to discuss, collaborate, and advocate for climate change solutions. GRN's Louisiana Global Warming Organizer, Jonathan Henderson, and I have been here all weekend helping to train the next generation of environmental activists and enlighten to the plight of the Gulf Coast.
After a long day of travel delays on Friday, I was riding the DC Metro with bleary eyes, but I perked up after two stops when a huge crowd surged onto the train. We weren’t anywhere near the conference center and yet Powershift badges hung from the necks of many of the new riders. A couple young folks from Washington University in St. Louis told me about that night’s keynote addresses, which included great speakers like Van Jones and Gillian Caldwell, and I encouraged them to come see the Restoring the Gulf Coast, Re-energizing America panel that I was speaking on the following day.
The next morning upon arriving at the convention center, I was amazed at the energy of thousands of people who were there to tackle climate change. Everywhere I turned, I ran into old friends and met new ones.
The Restoring the Gulf Coast, Re-energizing America panel was a huge success! Over 120 people filled the room to capacity (the next day someone told me she tried to get in, but she was turned away), and I noticed the smiling face of one of the young women I’d met on the Metro the day before.
Along with Karla Raettig of the National Wildlife Federation and Dr. Beverly Wright of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, we updated activists from all over the country about the issues facing Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast is ground zero for the impacts of climate change, and the continued loss of Louisiana’s wetlands leaves coastal residents more vulnerable to rising sea levels and stronger storms fueled by global warming. The young climate activists understood the link, and everyone in the room was happy to join our text campaign calling on the federal government to defend Louisiana’s coast.
After the panel, I spent over an hour speaking with those who came to the front of the room with more questions, and the energy for the coast continued to grow. I set up a table in the main room of the conference center and continued to speak with loads of folks about restoring the Gulf.
There are too many highlights from Powershift 09 to mention but I’ll list a few:
- State breakout groups where student networks were formed for the Gulf States.
- A rousing speech by Representative Ed Markey included the quote “Do you know the difference between the oil companies, coal companies, and gas companies and all of you in the crowd? You are right and they are wrong!”
- An amazing concert by The Roots energized the crowd who spilled out of the concert room in the conference center chanting, “Powershift! Powershift!”. And the momentum and chants went all the way to an impromptu late night rally at the White House!
- On Sunday, after more panels (I was busy tabling), 12,000 young folks learned how to do grassroots lobbying, some of them learning from our very own Jonathan Henderson. Today, thousands of climate activists will make hundreds of visits to Congressional offices, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will speak to a huge (and snowy) rally of Powershifters, and thousands of people are expected to blockade the Capitol coal-fired power plant as part of the Capitol Climate Action.
The power is shifting in 2009! This is the year to pass bold federal climate change policy that will drastically and immediately cut carbon, create millions of green jobs, ensure that the future is fueled with clean technologies and not dirty energy, and lead the world to a clean and equitable future.
Living at ground zero for the impacts of climate change, I can’t wait to see that pass, and to truly protect cities like New Orleans and other coastal communities, we must also restore Louisiana’s coast. Projects to rebuild wetlands will create green jobs, ensure those wetlands continue to act as important carbon sinks, and defend our communities from sea level rise and stronger storms. Click here to take action for our coast.
Dan Favre is the Campaign Organizer for GRN.