Patricia Feeney is a senior biology major at Berea College in Berea, Ky., where she also studies sustainability and environmental studies. She is co-coordinator of Youth Power Shift, a campaign of the Student Environmental Action Coalition.

Tuesday, 6 Jan 2004

BEREA, Ky.

“What do you plan to do after you graduate from college?” the man behind the counter asked as my mom and I stopped in for a cup o’ fairly traded joe. She had brought me back to school this past weekend to begin another semester now that the holidays are over.

“The same thing I’m doing now,” I replied as usual. “Resist injustice and build hope in the face of a system that values profit over the quality of human life.”

“A lofty goal for a little lady,” the man said in reply.

No need to condescend. Little does he know, the resistance I speak of is a much greater force than myself. The work I do is in coalition with youth across the country, and in solidarity with people fighting injustice all over the world. There may be but a small handful of us working here with HEAL, the student environmental and social justice organization at Berea College, but we have the support of an entire network of young activists in similar situations — spearheading student initiatives that urge institutions to take action against dirty energy, racism, sweatshops, and other injustices, to be proactive in establishing policies that prioritize the health of communities.

This network is known as the Student Environmental Action Coalition, or SEAC, and after a productive semester and a restful break watching my gorgeous two-year-old niece grow more every day, I am ready to dive back into it. We are currently preparing for the January National Council Meeting, which will be held this weekend in Philadelphia and for which we had a lengthy conference call Monday evening. Full of excitement, we discussed the details of our gathering, which will plan for the governing of SEAC National and the affirming of SEAC’s role not only as a tool for grassroots campaigns, but as a resource and model for breaking down oppression within youth and environmental movements. Addressing various forms of oppression — sexism, racism, heterosexism, and classism — within our own organization brings attention to the interconnectedness of our efforts for a better world and also illustrates the beauty of SEAC, which is, I believe, its fearless embodiment of the power of youth.

I remember the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, when the representative of business in the Energy Plenary criticized demands made by the international youth representative for a future based on clean renewable energy by referring to her as being too idealistic. To refer to idealism as a weakness is to deny the possibility of progress and the pursuit of the ideal. As young people, we are a strong force in the movement for a better world because we have vision, and we have energy. As students, we have the resources and the people to provoke thought and action. As activists, we have technology, we have the streets, and we have one another.

Of course, no matter what resources I have, I am not going to force more hours into the day, so I exited the conference call early in order to get some schoolwork finished. By then it was after 10 p.m. Although I enjoy taking care of myself, sleep is often sacrificed as I find myself wrapped up in work until the early morning hours.

Before the conference call, I had three straight hours of class and then a HEAL meeting. My chosen role in HEAL right now is to urge my college to adopt a clean energy standard. In other words, I am encouraging my institution to reconsider the dangerous and unjust implications of not decreasing our reliance on an energy source that degrades our quality of life. This local campaign is closely affiliated with Youth Power Shift, a campaign of SEAC.

Youth Power Shift is a national youth-led effort to institutionalize energy conservation, efficiency, and clean power by pooling our resources and building collective energy for change. In the midst of our local organizing to build a new energy paradigm, students from all over the country will be gathering later this week to assess the campaign and strategize nationally for the coming months. This past year was an exciting one for Youth Power Shift and for SEAC as a whole, and I look forward to reflecting on 2003. Amidst our successes, the opportunities for learning only benefit this youth movement, as we are continually working in coalition with one another, sharing our resources and experiences to be a true force of resistance to injustice.