PowerShift 2009

PowerShift ’09 took place February 27 through March 2, bringing 10,000 high school and college students to the country’s capitol to lobby for climate and clean energy policy. Ten students from Champlain College attended the event. From the moment I entered the Walter E. Washington Convention Center I knew it was so much bigger than I was expecting. The halls were filled with students at all times.

I was able to attend one workshop, two panel discussions and a Toxic Tour of power plants around Washington DC. The workshop I attended was Global Warming for Dummies, it gave a foundation to understanding where Global Warming stands politically and the information necessary to educate the public on Global Warming. The workshop was interesting because it had about thirty students and we were able to converse with each other rather than just listening to the speaker for an hour and fifteen minutes. I attended the workshop with another Champlain student, Rachel, and we met two girls, Brady and Kate from Ohio, who were sitting behind us. We discussed various questions and arguments we have encountered from people curious and questioning the validity of global warming.

The first panel I went to was Getting to the truth: pulling the curtain back on false solutions to our energy crisis. This discussion included professional environmental speakers, Mary Olsen, Paul Gunter, Daphne Wysham, and Rebecca Tarboton . They discussed the negative effects of nuclear energy, aggro-fuels, mega dams, uranium mines and the myth that is “clean coal”. Here’s a great blog that talked more about the panel: Getting to the Truth. The last panel was Creative Activism featuring race car driver Leilani Munter, actress Daryl Hannah and Elliott May of Reverb. They were all very interesting speakers. Leilani Munter talked about how it may seem hypocritical of her to be a race car driver but the only way for her to educate and inform race car fans and other drivers is through her example of greening her race car. Daryl Hannah and Elliott May talked about their experiences as activists for the environment.

The Toxic Tour was an amazing experience. I went on Sunday morning. There were about 100 people there for the tour and being one of the first 30 people to sign up I got to enjoy a few cold but worth while extra experiences. We first went on the Metro underneath Washington, DC to Capitol South station, it was pretty funny seeing so many people squoosh into the two cars. From the station we walked down to the Capitol Power Plant. We were expecting to hear from an activist on the history and purpose of the plant but he was a no show, instead we heard from a man who lived directly across from the plant. From what I heard it is about 100 years old and produces a third of the capitol’s greenhouse gas emissions by burning coal. It provides steam for heating and cooling the buildings in the Capitol area but not electricity. More information on the Capitol Complex can be found here. After that we went to the Matthew Henson Earth Conservation Center where we learned more about the plant that sits next to the center and how the plants have polluted the Anacostia River. The man who runs the center used to be a filmmaker but has since dedicated his life to cleaning up the river and helping the wildlife. Myself and 29 other people were able to take a boat tour down the river in a tiny boat and saw a scene where a vacant train fell off of a broken bridge. Along the way we hit a log that which was one of many that were drifting through the river shutting off the engine. We later docked and listened to a speaker on the pollution of the river and what action is necessary for it to obtain life again. After making our way back to the center we got a ride from the Biotour bus to the Washington Convention Center.

On Monday, March 2 our group of Champlain Students went to the halls of Congress to meet with Senators. We first met with a representative for Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.

During that same day we also met with everyone who was involved in Power Shift 2009 on the west lawn of the Capitol Building where we rallied for climate and energy action. We heard from speakers such as Erica Williams of Campus Progress, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, New Mexico Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, and Ethan Nuss Youth Organizer.

After the days events I got to witness a rally of activists first hand at the Capitol Power Plant. It was well organized and heavily controlled with police and organizers to keep things under control. My favorite chant was “Unicorns, Leprachauns, Clean Coal!”

Power Shift 2009 was a life changing experience that was just as inspirational as it was informative and educational. It was an exhilarating feeling to know that you can do something great when people get together for a common cause. The most unbelievable thing for me was the numbers. The number of people there could only be understood when seen. 10,000 is just a number but when you see 10,000+ heads in a crowd you actually understand what 10,000 is.