Midwest Power Shift, a generation gets to work building its future

Image: Ben Hejkal, Energy Action Coalition
Image: Ben Hejkal, Energy Action Coalition

In October, I attended Midwest Power Shift, which lived up to the hype of being an epic and unprecedented gathering. Over 400 Midwest youth climate activists converged in Cleveland, Ohio for trainings and actions to move toward a clean and just energy future. The conference was evidence that our generation in these “fly over states” is serious when it comes to stopping dirty energy, getting corporate money out of our democracy and building a green economy where it matters most–the heartland.

Midwest Power Shift hosted several prominent keynotes, including Kandi Mossett from Indegenous Environmental Network, author and activist David Orr, and our own Abby Fenton! Abby shared how her love for youth empowerment and personal growth has brought her to where she is today. With 10 years of experience working in outdoor and experiential education, Abby now works in the youth climate movement as the RE-AMP Youth Climate Coordinator and Youth Programs Director here at the Will Steger Foundation. Opening it up on Friday night, Abby set the tone for the weekend and answered the question “Why the Midwest?”

Image: Ben Hejkal, Energy Action Coalition
Image: Ben Hejkal, Energy Action Coalition

Why the Midwest?

In a region that relies on coal for 70 percent of its electric power, that has “open season” on fracking, and that houses the proposed corridor for the Keystone XL Pipeline, the Midwest is on the front lines of huge environmental injustices. Which is why, whether you’re a seasoned youth climate activist, or just getting acquainted with the movement, it is strategic that we are working on these issues here in the Midwest, where the climate crisis is unfolding.

The heartland holds great potential for solutions to a dirty energy economy. As Abby highlighted, “We have incredible clean energy resources. We have wind, solar and amazing agricultural potential. We have these beautiful and aging industrial cities that have huge potential for reindustrialization.” Midwest Power Shift was about halting environmental injustices in our region by utilizing these resources.

Building a Clean Energy Economy

Image: Josh Lopez, Energy Action Coalition
Image: Josh Lopez, Energy Action Coalition

Building a clean energy economy is two-fold. It requires both stopping dirty energy companies from exploiting our natural resources and democracy, and creating opportunities for the clean energy sector to flourish. The catapult for making these happen comes in the form of movement building.

Midwest Power Shift was about working together across the Midwest to build a movement that will achieve both these missions. It was about skills sharing, coalition building, and strategic campaign planning. It was about identifying what we don’t want in our communities and collaborating to stop it. It was about creating a shared vision for the future of our region, and collaborating to build it. It was about meeting our Midwest neighbors and catapulting our way towards the future we’d like to see.

One example of movement building was during the Minnesota state breakout session. On the last morning of the conference, Minnesota youth activists gathered to establish the foundation for a statewide network that will allow Minnesota youth to work together to stop dirty energy and build the green economy we hope to replace it with. Using chalk, some solid facilitation skills, and motivation for a better world, we created a vision for a statewide network in Minnesota and action steps for realizing that vision. One of the outcomes of this session is that youth are working across the state to amplify our voices and urge Senator Klobuchar to protect the Clean Air Act.

Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

Image: Josh Lopez, Energy Action Coalition
Image: Josh Lopez, Energy Action Coalition

While attending trainings and making plans for building a clean energy economy, it was hard to ignore the urgency of stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has become the most important environmental decision facing President Obama before the 2012 election. It would transport energy intensive oil from Alberta’s tar sands down to Gulf Coast refineries, for export to overseas markets. A rupture in the Keystone XL pipeline could cause an oil spill in America’s heartland, over the source of fresh drinking water for 2 million people. NASA scientist, James Hanson called the Keystone XL Pipeline “game over for the planet.” And since the proposed pipeline crosses an international border, President Obama makes the final decision on the permit.

On the final day of the conference, youth activists took to the streets. We marched to the Cuyahoga County Democrats Office, an office for the Obama campaign. Chants and singing filled the air, “Hey Obama, we don’t want no planet drama.” Outside the campaign office, we heard testimonials from over a dozen young people who rallied behind Obama in 2008, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and being the organizing force behind Students for Barack Obama. We shared that youth are ready to stand with him again in 2012—only if he fulfills the promises he made.

Image: Josh Lopez, Energy Action Coalition
Image: Josh Lopez, Energy Action Coalition

In Cleveland, it was apparent that youth hold a tremendous amount of power to transition our economy to one run on clean energy. From retiring university owned coal plants to creating community powered energy opportunities, youth are at the forefront of stopping dirty energy and creating the solutions we need to replace it. Our generation is rising to the challenge and building the future we’d like to see.

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