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Williams students attend Power Shift 2007

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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#1 Comment By driver On November 7, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

I followed your link to “Step it Up” and noticed your apparent support of wind energy at Jiminy Peak. Which made me wonder why you would block the hallways and chant fiery chants around Chuck Schumer’s office instead of those of your own home state US Senators, Kerry and Kennedy, who are standing in the way of Cape Wind. Your former governor and current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has also been prominent in the anti-wind farm cause. Why pick on poor Schumer when there are so many more obvious global warming villains?
I hate to say it, but your jaunt sounded much more Wesleyan than Williams, to me. “Taking the capitol by storm,” chanting, and taking pictures of yourselves seems very self-aggrandizing in the absence of any specific proposals as to what actions should be taken by our fearless leaders (or maybe I missed those).

#2 Comment By morgan On November 7, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

Driver, thanks for bring these up.

I met with Senator Kennedy’s aid with 30 other students and gave him hell for his hypocritical stance on cape wind, at the same time as another group was meeting with Kerry’s aid.

In addition, and forgive me for leaving this out earlier, there were very specific proposals.
1. Include provisions in the upcoming energy bill for 35 mpg minimum by 2020, a green jobs training program, 15% renewable portfolio standard and no subsidies for liquid coal.
2. support the one sky platform: which calls for 80% reduction by 2050 with a hard cap and a full auction, no new coal plants and creation of 5 million new, non-outsourcable jobs to actually build a more efficient America.

Given strategic planning, specific asks and an ongoing campaign to win victories during and after the next elections justifies a few chants and pictures, i think.

#3 Comment By Anonymous On November 7, 2007 @ 3:17 pm

Driver has a point: pictures and chants should be in aid of policy, as I’m sure they were. Put the proposals first so we can learn about them, then show us the pictures and tell us about the chants. It’s a matter of presentation so you won’t lose your audience.

By the way, I know it isn’t a contest, but congratulations on getting a group of your size to DC and using your time to lobby on several fronts. Dartmouth, with twice as many undergraduates, had 20. I didn’t look up Midd. I know you would have liked to have a bigger group, and for the other schools to have bigger groups, but you are making a good start.

#4 Comment By David Kane On November 7, 2007 @ 4:53 pm

1) Excellent post! For those who don’t know, Morgan also posts here. I wish that he would crosspost more. EphBlog readers love this stuff.

2) Could you please tell us who the Ephs in the photo are?

3) Getting back to more local activism, are you and the other members of TNG aware that the next meeting of the Executive Committee of the Society of Alumni is going to be in Boca Rotan, Florida. Not very carbon friendly! Is it any wonder that Ephs like me don’t think that the College is doing anything more than paying lip service to global warming if it insists on having meetings like this anyplace other than Williamstown?

To be clear, I have no problem with a face-to-face meeting and no problem with using (commercial!) planes to get together. But why does this meeting have to be in Florida? No reason, except a fun-filled junket for all concerned. Now, being a skeptic, I have no problem with such a junket. All these Ephs, both the alumni volunteers and the College employees, do good stuff for the College. They deserve a treat. But don’t put them all on planes to sunny Florida and claim to be committeed to lowering carbon emissions. Hypocracy, thy name is Boca!

#5 Comment By Anonymous On November 7, 2007 @ 7:01 pm

Tell us about the headgear.

#6 Comment By Anonymous On November 8, 2007 @ 12:07 am

As a Congressional staffer and recent Williams alumnus, I can tell you that the students’ approach was not an effective way of influencing policy. While they may have made some sort of spectacle on Friday, they contributed nothing to the ongoing policy debate and were surely forgotten by Monday when the next group showed up on the Capitol steps. I can also assure you that any constituent who “gave me hell” about my boss’ position on any issue would be summarily dismissed. You simply do not insult a boss while lobbying his staff under any circumstances. To strike that sort of tone is the surest way to lose the staffer’s attention and ensure that the pamphlets and info sheets you so carefully photocopied on recycled paper end up right back in the bin. The right way to lobby is not to descend on the Hill with crowds of passionate supporters but to prove knowledgable, friendly and prepared in the meeting. You have 5 minutes to convince the staffer that the information you wish to communicate is worth paying attention to and that your request is reasonable. It is good to ask for support on a specific piece of legislation and be able to explain how that legislation supports the policy goals of the member. Reminding Sen. Kerry’s staff about the Senator’s great committment to environmental reform in the 2004 presidential race, and how his current position on Cape Wind seems inconsistent with that previous record, is a good way to encourage his staff to push him in a different direction. If the staff meets constituents who have well articulated and rational reasons for pushing certain legislation the staffers are very likely to remember them the next time they discuss policy with the boss. Just a few thoughts for future student lobbying efforts.

#7 Comment By frank uible On November 8, 2007 @ 12:25 am

Can any pol say anything in 25 words or fewer?

#8 Comment By Wendy On November 11, 2007 @ 8:50 am

When 6,000 young people come to Washington to protest, learn, organize, and lobby, it does matter even if they are hot-headed. However, rest assured that the students who attended Powershift had very well articulated, rational reasons when they advocated with staffers (and in this instance “giving them hell” does not preclude the above-Kennedy has been a hypocrite with respect to Cape Wind and needs to hear it from this group of constituents). Students working on climate change at Williams are articulate, intelligent, personable, passionate, and capable of being effective advocates and organizers.

The presence of 6,000 young people lobbying in Washington does much more than create a spectale. It is a critical, forceful and inspirational part of the political process and a meaningful step toward holding our political leadership accountable for walking the talk.