This is what democracy looks like!

So I’ve mentioned Powershift before, but I wanted to hear more of a first-hand account of the weekend so I contacted my friend Alicia (Fairfield University class of 2012) who travelled down to D.C. last weekend with some other members of Fairfield’s LEAF, or Leaders for Environmental Action.  Alicia is highly involved on campus whether its with female advocacy group Project Peg or with improv or any one of her classes; read on for more details about Powershift.  This is the first of many more fantastic guest bloggers; thanks Alicia!

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Last week, from April 15th to April 18th, 10,000 students from across the nation (and a few from Canada) gathered in DC. The students and older citizens that came to Power Shift raised their voices and awareness about environmental injustices that are happening in arenas all over the nation. Speakers, artists, activits, students, and organizers gathered to hear words of wisdom, participate in workshops, and do some on the ground activism for clean energy and sustainable resources.

Friday and Saturday was dedicated to speakers and workshops. The keynote speaker of the opening ceremonies was  Al Gore, former presidential candidate and avid environmentalist. This is big in and of itself; recognition from a dominant and well-known figure that Power Shift is a stand for clean energy.   Speakers on Saturday included Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency, Bill McKibben of 350.org, and Josh Fox, writer and director of the documentary Gasland. These fine environmentalists among several smaller names spoke with empathy, passion, and urgency. The message ended all the same: things are going wrong with our climate, and it is up to us to get the government to realize this problem in order to stop it. As McKibben noted, “We are not the radicals. The radicals are those who are fundamentally altering the earth’s environment.”

Saturday and Sunday included work shopping and education opportunities. We broke out by region to learn team building and organizing tips, and broke out into State to discuss current issues. We were also presented the option to attend specific workshops and panels. Some sessions included how to lobby Senators, others discussed corporatism and capitalism in relation to the environment, and still more contemplated individual roles in environmentalism, such as women or those in impoverished countries. Sunday night ended with a few options: learning how to apply art to activism by participating in street theater, an elongated workshop to work on lobbying skills, a role play and information session on non-violent civil disobedience, and an opportunity to see “Reel Films” about the environment, including a full-length showing of Gasland. This included a talk back with Josh Fox and he talked to the crowd about the dangers of fracking.

Check out a trailer for Gasland: 

Monday was the day of applied action. At 10am, the student activists gathered in Lafayette Square and began to rally. The rally turned into a march on Washington, starting with a demonstration of street theater at the Chamber of Commerce. The march went on to the BP offices, the offices of Genon, and ended in front of the White House. At that juncture, the activists chose one of two forms of action: lobbying of the Senators and Representatives on the Capitol, or direct action. The direct action this year was a sit-in of the Department of the Interior, calling for an end to fossil fuels. The focus was on Wyoming, where the government is trying to claim public land for industry and exploit it for any oil or natural gas resources. This has the potential to damage the land due to drilling or hydro fracking. Around 200 came to the Dept. of Interior, and 100 sat in. At the end, the 22 that remained sitting through all the warnings were arrested for felony charges and are currently being processed. The action ended in those attending the support rally dancing in the streets and collecting money for those arrested. It was a stand both for clean energy, and the reclamation of America’s people’s voice. One of the chants that was reverberated during the Monday march and later direct action asked: “Tell me what democracy looks like?” Answered: “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.”

Read this article for more information on those activists who were arrested, or watch this video of the congressional meeting in which activists “interrupt” budget negotiations.

One after another, undergraduates in the public galley stood up to sing for climate protection. To the tune of the “Star Spangled Banner,” the protesters began with the familiar-sounding line, “Oh why can’t you see?” But the song, which admonishes politicians of all stripes for selling out to the fossil fuel industry, closes with a warning: “If you refuse to hear us now/Then we have to shut you down”.

“I stood up to sing because I will be silent no more forever,” Sam Rubin, one of the nine students charged with disrupting Congress, said in a post for Peaceful Uprising that features the full lyrics. The students were detained for nearly seven hours after their hastily planned protest and now face up to six months jail and $5,000 in fines. Their arraignment is scheduled for May 5 in D.C.

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