Williams students lobbying congress in front James Garfield.

13 Williams students traveled to DC this weekend for the first ever national youth climate conference, Power Shift 2007, put on by the Energy Action Coalition. Organized by TNG, this trip was planned simultaneously with the Step it Up events right here in Williamstown. Driving two college Prius (priui?), we learned valuable organizing skills, heard diverse perspectives on how to build a clean and just future, and gained a sense of the movement.

The conference attracted 6000 youth from all 50 states, as well as tv cameras, newspapers, influential leaders and the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi. In her speech to the assembled students she linked global warming to the war in Iraq, saying we need to fix both simultaneously. Some of her comments were met with boos from the a crowd clearly disappointed with how she has failed to get our troops out. Her prescriptions for climate change solutions were met with fiery chants and calls for ‘more, more, more’. She seemed very surprised at the intensity, and it was clear she did not fully capture the audience the way more passionate speakers like Ed Markey, chair of The Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming.

The highlight for me was lobbying Congress. We took the capitol by storm, meeting in groups of 90 or more to speak with one informed and unified voice to legislative aides and congresspeople about what we, their constituents, need to see for global warming solutions. There were a lot of us, and several aides commented that nothing like this had happened before. They’re right, it hasn’t happened for a long time.

Lastly, we came away with a clearer sense of a movement. We are a force for change, and we can see how this movement can grow larger and larger until we get what we need. In fact, we see this as the very essence of our power, that we are in this for the long haul, that we will not stop until we win.

We are not waiting for our leaders, but putting our own sweat and blood into our work. College students spending 40 hours a week on organizing and only 20 on class. High school students taking time off before college. Graduates opting for the exciting, difficult and low-paying work of grassroots organizations. All because we know that it works, we know that despite how many people try and tell us otherwise, people have a voice in how their government runs and how their society is structured.

There are two kinds of power in this world: people and money. Our world is very good at organizing large amounts of money for a particular purpose, but we’re just figuring out (at least for this generation) how to organize large numbers of people. But we’re going to learn fast.

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