Confessions of an international climate advocate at Powershift
I’ve just walked away from thousands of students who have taken to the streets of DC to tell the White House, dirty energy polluters, and Congress that they won’t rest until their vision of a clean energy future is realized. It was a strange feeling, really, to walk away from all the energy and excitement to go to an office to think about all the acronyms and minutiae and glacial progress that accompany the international climate negotiations.
These 8,000+ amazing young people gathered this weekend in Washington, DC for Powershift to organize, train, and working to ignite a movement and reaching that tipping point here in the United States.
The weekend’s experience marks an incredible contrast to where I was one week ago – in Bangkok for the first of several United Nations climate negotiations for the year. That meeting devolved into haggling over agendas, bitter discussions between developed and developing countries, malaise, and frustration. It was such a contrast to the defiance, inspiration, creativity and excitement that I felt today in Lafayette Park and this weekend all over nation’s capital.
When I go to these international meetings, I’m an international advocate working with friends from all over the world, but I’m still an American. And I’ve grown accustomed to my colleagues from abroad asking me what the hell is going on in my country and why, with all the hope that Obama represented such a short time ago, we’re not leading the way towards a brighter future.
I’ll be honest, after two years I’ve gotten lazy in my response. I tell them that our system is corrupted by money and our legislators are handcuffed by those corporations that are buying power. I tell them that the President is stuck in a tough place with the Tea Partiers, funded by the Koch brothers and other dirty polluters, on the right and the handcuffed members of Congress struggling to stay in office, on his left.
It’s an easy story to tell when I’m tired and fed up with a process that’s moving too slow and sick of reading about a city back home that’s deadlocked and refusing to take action on the challenge of our time.
But it’s not the whole story and this weekend at Powershift, I was reminded of that in spades. There’s another story out there that the world needs to hear.
It’s a story of high school students in the Gulf Coast waking up and seeing tar on the beaches in their backyards and deciding to take a stand by shutting down BP stations. It’s a story of young people in Appalachia fighting for their communities, standing up against the coal industry that’s trying to tear them down. It’s a story of students in Alaska and California and Georgia and Montana and Vermont and Minnesota and Colorado coming together and finding a way to rise up and make a difference.
It’s a story of those same students creating a movement that is built on love and respect, camaraderie and friendship, shown by the many hugs and laughter and singing and smiles seen in the halls of the DC convention center this weekend. But it’s also a story of those same students creating a movement that is sophisticated and smart, strategic, educated and passionate…and ready to take control. It’s a movement that’s also upset, angry, and fed up. It’s a movement that’s dangerous in all the right ways.
That’s the story that I’ve taken away from this weekend, and one the world needs to hear. It’s all too easy for the leaders of countries all around the world to look at the surface of the United States and hide behind the climate inaction that they see in the U.S. Congress. What’s more, it’s all too easy for our friends and colleagues in the movement abroad to get discouraged, thinking the US may never move, or at least not until it’s too late.
But if they all look a little closer, they’ll see this movement of amazing young people, and they’ll know it is all about to change. They’ll know it’s inevitable and they might as well get started on the path to a clean energy future now or else, all too soon, these “kids” are going to bring our country sling-shotting past them and they won’t know what him ‘em.
Its weekend’s like this that give me the hope to go back to the UN and continue the slog and tell the story and convince countries like Japan and Germany and Australia and Brazil and China to get on with it already and rest assured we’ll bring the US along in no time.
The next time I am asked by a friend from abroad what’s going on in the US, I’m going to tell them the story of Powershift. Because this is the story that matters and this is the movement that’s going to win.