The Power in Power Shift

powershift-currents-0312Right around the corner, almost tangible at this point, is an opportunity to amplify the work of young pioneers wrestling with climate issues and to empower thousands more leaders to incubate a stronger, healthier, more equitable future.  For our country and the planet, it really can’t come soon enough.

Power Shift is a convergence of young people from across the nation, ready to build leadership and organizing skills to address the climate issues facing society. Wielding their new knowledge at home, these individuals will  engage their communities in the process of creating alternatives to the status quo. However, the opportunity this event holds is not just characterized by personal growth, but by self discovery of strengths already possessed, individually and collectively.

At Power Shift 2013, the Energy Action Coalition, along with many collaborating groups, will supply a tantalizing menu of workshops and panels, that expose attendees to a wide range of approaches to transcend destructive systems.  Furthering that goal, another element of the conference is an offering anti-oppression sessions, where participants will reflect on implications of social barriers and how intentional actions can build healthier community ties.  In addition to developing skills and knowledge, individuals can feel equally powerful growth in the experience of witnessing the accomplishments of their peers and feeling the energy and readiness resonate among the masses  Empowerment, in realizing you had it all along, but also that you have thousands on your side! Hundreds within that crowd may be coming already with a budding confidence and a sense of their place in a broader movement.  These folks may be looking for growth with a networking lense, looking for opportunities to strengthen the fabric of collaboration.

This is, I feel, where I am at.  Finally! Though I’ve worked among countless accomplished young organizers since high school, the realization of my own capabilities and place within a generation of leaders didn’t  really sink in until this year, when I came to the Twin Cities for the Grand Aspirations Summer of Solutions program.  So many things came together to affirm this sense that I could affect change and create the future I want to see. But really, it comes down to, first, the empowering, respectful approach to facilitation used by program leaders; second, witnessing the strength this youth-led organization; and third, the capacity of young people to pioneer solutions to address deeply felt needs in their communities.  I am deeply humbled by my peers’ daily efforts to address real systemic issues.  Now, as I am stepping up as a leader in new ways, I am using opportunities to practice the values, principles, and strategies of the Grand Aspirations youth collective: “Make Progress, Collaborate, Be Entrepreneurial, Empower Cyclically…” No better way to feel your potential as a leader than to empower others!

Now, as Youth Climate Coordinator for the Will Steger Foundation, my role is to connect young environmental leaders with resources and knowledge, to expand on their work and to strengthen a broader Midwest movement.  It is a beautiful job, and I feel privileged to support the growth of so many incredible people.  Networking is my daily mantra, but especially in these days leading up to Power Shift.  Independent groups, within and across issue areas, will cross paths in Pittsburgh.  If youth leaders of statewide networks are connected in a way that weaves a supportive structure for further connections across the region, now we are talking about a movement! My hairs actually stand on end when explaining to people the potential I see in connecting thousands of driven, hopeful people.

Youth hold unique potential in advancing social and systemic change, however the collaboration should not stop with the youth collective.

Though there there seems to be some recognition of the value of youth leadership, rumbling in the collective consciousness of societies around the world, the potential for movement building through intergenerational collaboration remains largely unrealized. A common trend among many issue advocacy organizations, is to call on youth power, in their energy and numbers, to spread the word and demand change, by door-knocking the public and politicians. Unfortunately, this superficial kind of engagement misses out on cultivating the full potential of the youth and of the movement, especially when these organizations are running campaigns parallel to youth efforts, fighting fossil fuels and extractive resource use, defending biodiversity, or advocating for environmental justice.  Those long-standing environmental organizations that recognize common fights and support youth ready to carry the torch, stand to gain momentum behind the changes they were founded to foster and to build bonds with the next generation of Earth’s stewards.

Youth are proving, locally and nationally, that they bring distinct value to the environmental movement as Energizers, Innovators, and Connectors.

As Energizers, youth bring passion and positive energy, acting as catalysts where there has been stagnancy.  As Innovators, they are envisioning and supporting new systems and approaches, without jaded resignation of the status quo.  As Connectors, they are building bridges across lines of race, culture, faith, and geographic area, and other artificial barriers, to highlight common humanity in our needs and in the global consequences of our actions.  These strengths may be characteristics of youth generally, but in terms of what kind of leaders we need in this changing world, they are an incredible asset!

Though the Midwest has developed strong regional collaboration, thanks in large part to the RE-AMP Network, there is no shortage of work to be done, particularly across generations. Through my conversations with youth leaders, at the Will Steger Foundation, I have confirmed that many hundreds of youth from around the Midwest will be at Power Shift 2013. Both at the event, and after, there will be opportunities to connect and support both state-wide and regional collaboration. When these young leaders return home, they will be ready to engage with new energy and focus. Youth are a critical part of how the Midwest, and the nation, will move forward and they are ready to be partners in facilitating that change.

Power Shift allows young leaders to build upon their experiences and to connect with a multitude of other passionate change-makers, but the real power and potential lies in sustaining those connections and keeping the flow of mutual support and knowledge going, long after Pittsburgh. I cannot wait to strengthen the connections that will build the movement we need at this critical time.

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