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Building Power at Power Shift

Last weekend’s youth climate summit felt like the beginning of something new

I stood on the plenary floor watching thousands of young people arrive to the fourth youth climate summit, Power Shift 2013. Phillip Agnew of the Dream Defenders was speaking, closing out our first night. He led us in a chant that I think I will always remember, not for its simplicity, but for the adrenaline mixed with immense hope that ran through my veins as I said the words over and over and louder and louder, “I believe that we will win.”

photo of a demonstrationShadia Fayne Wood | Project Survival Media

When I think of this year’s Power Shift one word comes to mind: Beginning. In a way, this is strange, because the recent gathering was by no means our first Power Shift, or our largest, or our loudest. But it finally felt like the youth climate movement had arrived.

To be clear, we haven’t figured it all out. Our strategies not fine-tuned. Our work to connect various strands of social justice and environmental movements is just starting in earnest. And we are still learning how to truly make space for communities most impacted by climate change to lead this movement.

But we are finding the true meaning of “home” in the hearts of our sisters and brothers in the fight for climate justice. We are discovering the true meaning of “solidarity” by creating an intersectional movement not bound by a single issue, but instead forged by our values. We are realizing the true meaning of “love” as we stand together, decolonizing our minds and putting our bodies on the line for what we believe.

This Power Shift has shown me that the movement I have worked so hard to build over the last eight years has emotionally grown to be a powerful force not just in words, but in deeds. Not just in direct actions, but in how we do what we do.

The first night of Power Shift 2013, we welcomed Dr. Reverend Gerald Durley on stage to preach to young people about the civil rights movement. A short video from Leo Gerard, the International President of the United Steelworkers Union, spoke about his union’s commitment to an environmentally sustainable clean energy economy. And Ta’kaiya Blaney, a 12-year-old girl, talked passionately about Indigenous Peoples rights and the rights of Mother Earth. Each of these speakers left me with chills – and left me with a renewed sense of hope that we are stronger together.

photo of a large auditorium full of people on their feet, fists in the air shoutingHeather Craig | Project Survival Media

On Saturday morning, I rushed to take photos of the first part of the weekend-long program: panels lead by frontline communities. As I opened the door to the panel called, “You are what you eat, So what are you? A discussion on food justice,” I was awe-struck to see 500 young people packed in a room, sitting or standing anywhere they could find space. They listened to frontline leaders working on issues including access to healthy food in communities of color and permaculture. I ran into friends leading panels on racism in the environmental movement and on the intersections of the prison industrial complex and environmental justice. At each of these, hundreds of young people were busy scribbling in their notebooks.

The afternoon came, and with it the “identity spaces,” so important because our movement is finally acknowledging in a real way that in whatever we do, we bring our identities along with us. Even more important, when we truly bring our identities to this movement, we are stronger for it. So, there was a space for people of color, for women, for gender nonconforming folks, for high schoolers, for gay/queer/lesbian folks, for working class people, people of faith, differently abled folks, and for people 35 and older.

photo of a woman speaking in a classroom situationRobert van Waarden | Project Survival Media

Another major priority of Power Shift was to equip young activists with tangible skills: For example, how to create a strategically savvy campaign; best recruitment practices; and non-violent direct action. I was even a panelist on the power of photography in a social change movement. It was a surprise when I opened the door to a room of 200 people, at least 30 of whom had to stand during the entirety of the panel. I was honored to share all that I have learned over the last few years in building up the role of coordinated photography in our movement.

The summit ended with a bang. On Monday we culminated our time together with a march through downtown Pittsburgh as we called on elected officials and major corporations to stop investing in polluting industries and start investing in the green economy. About 2,500 Power Shift participants listened to speakers impacted by dirty energy, including 2011 Brower Youth Award recipient Junior Walk.

Consol Energy met us at our rally location – Alleghany Landing – with a river barge filled with coal and a banner that read, “Support American Jobs, Support American Energy,” a sentiment we agree with – but without the coal, the cancer, and the destruction of our communities. Junior Walk brought to light that Consol Energy is divesting its coal assets to focus on gas extraction. Julian Mocine Mcqueen of Green for All helped us rectify the tension we were feeling as we were being protested by reminding us, “These dirty energy companies want us to believe that they own the narrative around good American jobs and ingenuity. But they are here because they are paying attention, they are scared that we are flipping this story on its head. We are here to build a better future for workers and for communities.”

photo of a march, signs reading, don't frack with our waterShadia Fayne Wood | Project Survival Media

As I marched through the streets, catching glimpses of friends that I have come to know as my family, and taking photos of the powerful spirits of my sisters and brothers, I remembered deep within my bones why I do this work. Every campaign we run, every direct action we design, is an opportunity to re-imagine our world healed. It is a gift we bring to our communities – knowing that there is a better way, and through creativity and collaboration we can bring that world into being.

As we marched, we shouted the chant that Philip Agnew had taught us a few days earlier: “I believe … I believe that … I believe that we … I believe that we will … I believe that we will win … I believe that we will win!” My eyes started to water. I felt deeply honored to be a part of this beautiful movement. Although the road is long – paved with frustration, systemic oppression, and trauma – there’s a foot path at the end of it: mossy, soft to touch, and filled with the scent of our mother calling us home.

Shadia Fayne Wood
Shadia Fayne-Wood is a founder and director of Project Survival Media, a global youth media network (sponsored by Earth Island Institute) producing photo and video stories of survival and ingenuity in the face of climate change. Shadia is also a member of the Energy Action Coalition Board of Directors.

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Simply incredible.  Thank you for all your efforts and love for our beautiful earth.

By Diana Lynch on Tue, November 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm

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