Power Shift calls for environmental justice

On October 18–21, over 6,000 college students and environmentalists from all over the United States congregated together for Power Shift 2013. Power Shift is an environmental conference run by the Energy Action Coalition. Power Shift 2013 was the fourth Power Shift, but the first to be held outside of the Washington, DC area. The venue chosen was the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which is LEED certified.

Friday night kicked off with some phenomenal keynote speakers, including Bill Piduto, who is currently a councilman of Pittsburgh and the democratic mayoral candidate; Ta’Kaiya Blaney, a 12-year-old singer from Sliammon Nation who spoke and sang; Josh Fox, a filmmaker who made two controversial films about hydrofracking, Gasland I and Gasland II, and Philip Agnew of the Dream Defenders, an organization that seeks fairness for all communities, regardless of race or other factors.

On Saturday, there were plenty of workshops and panels to choose from in many topics related to the environment, including environmental justice, hydrofracking, divestment, challenging power/supremacy, activism and the law, using campus media and other tools effectively in an activism project, recruitment, rainforest activism, and more. The goal of these workshops and panels was to both raise awareness of certain causes, such as environmental justice or hydrofracking, as well as provide the tools for students to continue being active environmentalists after leaving Power Shift. Students were also able to choose from several trips and activism opportunities, such as the chance to visit a community affected by hydrofracking.

Environmental justice as a concept was pushed throughout the conference, and especially during the keynote Saturday night. Many speakers in both the keynotes and the panels talked about the poor environmental conditions of their communities. A poorer community is more likely to be closer to a power plant or heavy polluting factory, for many reasons that have been studied extensively by social scientists. These speakers testified to this, and asked whether it was fair that their own families were dying of cancer or other diseases simply because they lived in more polluted places—and had no money to move elsewhere. Environmental justice is not only an environmental issue, but also a human rights issue. It covers not only pollution, but also food, fuel extraction, and more.

On Sunday, more workshops and panels started off the morning and continued through the early afternoon. Later Sunday afternoon, there were state breakouts, where people from various states or regions gathered together to come up with a plan to work on once they were back to their campus. Following the state breakout session, the final plenary with speakers such as Bill McKibben of 350.org occurred. Concerts followed the plenary and previous keynote speakers each night.

Monday was the day of action. Students gathered at a park near the Roberto Clemente bridge. Several speakers, including a hip-hop artist, got the crowd roused and ready to go. The rally proceeded along a predetermined route with cars blocked off by the police. The route took the marchers by PNC Bank, which funds hydrofracking operations, as well as by headquarters of a company that performs hydrofracking. Chants such as “clean energy, green jobs”, “this is what democracy looks like”, and “our water, our land; whose water, whose land; our water, our land” were shouted by the marchers, who carried signs protesting fossil fuels and environmental degradation, “water” (pieces of tarp), and banners.

After the march, some of the people participated in civil disobedience in the PNC Bank. Seven of them were arrested. Those who only stayed for the march did not get into any trouble.