Youth Launch Summer of Solutions Across the Nation

At a youth climate meeting in Minnesota in January 2008, a neat idea emerged from discussion: “We need to start training young people, not just FOR green jobs, but TO CREATE green jobs. We should start in the Twin Cities this summer.”

Twin Cities Summer of Solutions dig into community agricultu

Twin Cities Summer of Solutions dig into community agriculture

Fast-forward three years, and over 250 young people have been trained over three years in Summer of Solutions programs around the country to create innovative and self-sustaining solutions around energy efficiency, green industry, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and smart transportation and design that advance job creation, social justice, and community empowerment. A network of over 70 youth leaders has coalesced to launch a national organization from nothing and develop 2011 Summer of Solutions programs that will support hundreds of youth in creating the clean energy economy in 15 cities nationwide. Of these 15 programs, five are in RE-AMP territory, in the Twin Cities, MN; Iowa City, IA; Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; and Cleveland, OH. These programs have expended rapidly in number, quality, and sustainability over the years without grant support, and with a major influx of funding and leadership in late 2010, we’re just hitting our stride.

As you read on, I’d encourage you to think of any young people (individuals or groups) who might be interested in a summer program based on community-based innovation in the clean energy economy. If so, please invite them to apply to any of our 15 programs nationwide by April 24th at www.grandaspirations.org.

In the Twin Cities, where I have been working, the Summer of Solutions has helped launch several initiatives that have been sustained throughout the year:

  • Twin Cities Summer of Solutions collaborates with Sibley Bike Depot

    Twin Cities Summer of Solutions collaborates with Sibley Bike Depot

    Launching Cooperative Energy Futures, a community-based energy cooperative focused on helping neighborhoods create economies of scale in hard-to-reach markets (residential and small business) through community organizing, bulk buying, and cooperative ownership of energy. After a series of pilots around group contracting, bulk buying, neighborhood training, and community mapping starting in 2008, we started focusing on broad-based adoption in the Phillips community of Minneapolis during the summer 2010 while helping provide technical assistance to help the neighborhood understand efficiency and clean energy alternatives to a proposed high-voltage transmission line. With Cooperative Energy Futures now an independent though collaborative entity, this process led us to convene local business, neighborhood, and efficiency groups to form Our Power, a community-based campaign (funded for 2011 by the Global Warming Strategic Action Fund). This campaign focuses first on mobilizing a broad base of young people in the low-income and multi-cultural communities in Midtown Minneapolis to take charge of saving money by saving energy and engaging residents and businesses in doing the same. Starting in January 2011, Our Power has secured a marketing partnership with the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, Minnesota’s oldest minority-owner business and a local weekly paper, and hired youth interns from the local school systems. We have also helped facilitate a series of biweekly meetings pulling together multiple constituencies to create a community energy plan for the neighborhood.

  • Building the Alliance to Re-Industrialize for a Sustainable Economy with local labor leaders from the UAW 879, affordable housing and transit advocates, and St. Paul City developers to create a mixed-use development plan for the St. Paul Ford Manufacturing site that will close later this year. Since 2007, we have worked to create and research a net-energy positive, transit-oriented, affordable living and working community that would create more jobs from green industry than the site currently hosts including fiscal impact modeling, analysis of job multipliers, on-site clean energy assessment, housing and transit assessment, and carbon inventories. During a hiatus where the future of the plant was uncertain, we turned this plan into the first draft of a template for how it could be replicated at other old industrial sites in the Twin Cities and in other Rust Belt cities. Now that the fate of the plant is more certain, we’re moving forward on a community engagement campaign to build “Yes In My Back-Yard” (YIMBY) support for the vision while working with the city and recruiting developers, designers, and investors.
  • Growing our networks within the entrepreneurial urban farming movement in an effort to create jobs and turn hobby-style community gardens into viable urban farms. We started exploring the field in 2009, but expanded substantially in 2010 by working with the Harrison Neighborhood Association to bring residents in North Minneapolis, a major food desert, together around urban farming. We also started learning urban farm business development basics from Collie Graddick, a leader of the Co-op Project, and experimented in permaculture with other local groups in the Phillips Neighborhood and North Minneapolis. In 2011, we’ll be supporting the launch of Concrete Beet Farmers, a new Phillips urban farm while helping expand urban farming ventures with several other organizations (and maybe exploring urban anaerobic digester options).
  • Working to expand access to bike transit in partnership with Sibley Bike Depot. We helped Sibley, a community Bike Shop based on University Avenue in Frogtown. This new program in 2010 helped Sibley develop a listening project among local residents, improve their volunteer training program, increase adoption of their low-income bike loan program, and start a bikeshop session for women and trans-gender people.

To give you just a taste of the efforts underway in other RE-AMP states (note that this network includes several partner organizations):

  • In Cleveland, the Ohio Student Environmental Coalition is launching urban revitalization efforts focused on cooperative job creation, improving transit access, and community mobilization through art and collective visioning. This program started in 2010. Check it out: www.grandaspirations.org/cleveland
  • In Detroit, the Green Economy leadership Training is teaching young people job skills while helping create a distributed energy system and revitalize a neighborhood (Highland Park) hit hard by the decline of the auto industry. This program started in 2010. Check it out: www.grandaspirations.org/detroit
  • In Chicago, a team of young people working with the United Church of Roger’s Park is working to engage youth and communities in local food production and saving energy while generating the demand necessary to create local jobs. This is a new program this year. Check it out: www.grandaspirations.org/chicago
  • In Iowa City, students are advancing Solar Schools and engaging K-12 students in experiential sustainability education. This work follows up from community asset and interest assessment last year. This program started in 2010. Check it out: www.grandaspirations.org/iowacity

And that’s really just the beginning. From organizers helping communities create new economies in the coalfields of West Virginia to the emergence of local food economies in Arkansas to neighbor-to-neighbor asset-based carbon reduction campaigns in Oregon, we’re getting to work.

So what is the Summer of Solutions trying to achieve?

Summer of Solutions project, Fayetteville Arkansas

Summer of Solutions project, Fayetteville Arkansas

First, Summer of Solutions is about winning the hearts and minds of our communities for whom climate and energy concerns are frequently lost amidst an overwhelming tide of economic uncertainty, job losses, political conflict regionally (like the labor/ State government conflicts in Wisconsin and elsewhere), and global unrest (in the Middle East and Japan) that further threatens to destabilize our economy. Through tangible, on-the-ground solutions that help people see how the green economy allows them to redirect the energy, food, and transportation dollars that they already spend away from the problems and towards the solutions. It allows people to see how being smarter, more efficient, and more collective in our approaches to meeting these basic needs can create more jobs, improve the quality of life, and reduce the cost of living, even as it helps confront big picture problems like climate change, energy depleting, economic dependency, and military conflict. It allows people to see, feel, and trust that a clean energy economy is more than just talk – it’s productive, realistic, and fun.

Second, Summer of Solutions is about building a new generation of leaders who bring people together across differences and both organize and innovate real, deep, and lasting solutions. At a moment when the climate movement needs to be bigger, more networked, and more inclusive than ever, focus has largely remained on a reluctant political system and the backlash that has ensued rather than on building a movement that is big enough, broad enough, deep enough, and solutions-oriented enough to win. We need leaders who can do the dirty work on the streets and face to face, but who can also think strategically on the big picture of how this work transforms development, progress, politics and culture to work towards a change as systemic as the Industrial Revolution. We need organizers with business models who are in it for the long haul and are innovative and resilient enough to sustain themselves and each other regardless of grant funding. And we need tens of thousands of them working in coordinated, distributed action. Green jobs visionary Van Jones says it beautifully:

[blockquote]“Because to win over a wounded and frightened nation, our cause itself must become irresistibly beautiful, vital, healing, and sustainable. Success will come when our networks are practical enough to “organize” hundreds of thousands — and soulful enough to “magnetize” tens of millions. So let us dare to imagine … a movement that celebrates more than it condemns … inspires more than it critiques … and solution-izes more than it problem-atizes. Imagine a movement for justice with its arms wide open.”[/blockquote]

The Summer of Solutions is about building a massive swarm of leadership that will create the tipping point that we must see. It’s not about creating more foot soldiers or organizing mass rallies, it’s about creating a self-sustaining and exponentially expanding network that sends the seeds of the clean energy economy into every community where it creates visible benefits for all.

One of our central theories is what we can the Dandelion Strategy; that by the end of a Summer of Solutions program, every participant will be ready, willing, and able to:

  • Support themselves (materially, emotionally, etc.) through a sustainable livelihood that they create.
  • Create cascades of sustainable livelihood benefits (income, jobs, lower cost of living, better quality of life, ownership, social capital, skills, etc.) for the broader community through the work that they do.
  • Inspire, teach and prepare others to do the same.

What This Says About Youth Organizing

National Summer of Solutions gathering, August 2010

National Summer of Solutions gathering, August 2010

The power of the Millennial generation is not that we have Facebook or that we know how to use it. It’s that growing up in a networked world is allowing us to imagine and equipping us to implement people-oriented coordination of real-world action at a massive scale. At the center of this story is that all of us – regardless of age – are creators, that we have the tools, the ability, and the skill to create beautiful outcomes that had seemed impossible through our coordination. We’re seeing the results start to emerge in the Arab Spring protests led by young people, which built off of the lessons from Serbia’s Otpur movement several years ago. Let’s not kid ourselves, overthrowing an oppressive regime that the vast majority already dislikes is far less complicated than reinventing the foundations of a fossil energy economy, but it’s certainly an impressive start.

Vast, decentralized networks of creative agents are effectively coordinating to achieve simple common goals in the form of either/or choices about how their societies will work. Vast decentralized networks of creative agents have also demonstrated their effectiveness at compiling and synthesizing and vast and complex volumes of knowledge and opinion at record speeds. What we have yet to create are vast and decentralized networks of creative agents effectively coordinating to achieve complex, multi-faceted, and interdependent society-changing goals that require both intense creativity and intense selective pressures for feasibility, scalability, replicability, and sustainability. These systems are emerging, and I believe that they will be necessary to solve problems at the magnitude of the climate and energy crisis.

The Summer of Solutions seeks to create the conditions for that system – thousands of super-empowered grassroots innovator-organizers who know how to create solutions and are able to communicate, coordinate, and synergize their work. In the spirit of the network, we trust that there are many others seeking to achieve the same end. We’re looking for partners.

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