A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join more than seven thousand youth activists from around the country in Pittsburgh for an inspiring and empowering three days, filled with peer-led workshops, panels, breakouts, and keynotes, culminating in a protest march through the streets and an occupation of a local official’s office that had approved fracking in county parks.
[Activists marching across the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh. Photo Credit: Julian Ehrlich]
We came together to learn more about the different problems caused by the fossil fuel economy in communities all around our country, hearing stories from those being directly impacted first hand. We came together to share the work that we, the people in those communities and their allies, are doing to fight back. We came together to envision what an equitable, just, and thriving future could look like and plan how we are going to make it happen. We came together to organize, strategize, commiserate, and celebrate. We came together for Power Shift 2013.
You may be asking why someone doing work supporting student food cooperatives would be attending a conference about organizing for climate justice. Good question!
First, I’m big on intersectionality. If you’re new to the word, here’s a quick synopsis: intersectionality is the way in which multiple forms of oppression interact to contribute to systemic injustice and inequality. No oppressive system or ideology is isolated in its impacts or influences from other systems of oppression and oppressive ideologies. This means that when we fight oppression and injustice, we need to ally with and understand the work of others that are fighting different but connected fights. The same systems of oppression and injustice that underlie the extractive fossil fuel economy and the root causes of climate injustice underlie the roots of food injustice and the inequities and inequalities of our economic system.
Second, industrial agriculture is one of the largest anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases. Approximately one-fourth to one-third of all greenhouse gases released by humans comes from agricultural related sources. Because the fracking boom has led to a drop in natural gas prices, our domestic production of anhydrous ammonia, an industrial agriculture fertilizer that comes from natural gas, has increased, furthering industrial ag's dominance on our landscape. It is all connected! Thus the title of my workshop that I facilitated during Power Shift: Using Student Food Cooperatives to Fight Fracking, Climate Change, and Food Injustice.
[Myself facilitating a workshop on student food cooperatives. Photo Credit: Emily Teague]
Energy Action Coalition (EAC), the host organization for Power Shift (PS13), is made up of dozens of grassroots and large environmental and environmental justice organizations. EAC has different working groups that each of these organizations come together to collaborate through and help decide the direction of the Coalition. EAC also has several members that, like CoFED, are working to realize a more just, sustainable, and equitable economy for all. These groups are organized into the Green Economy Working Group, which includes some of our friends like Green For All, Grand Aspirations, the New Economics Institute, and Groundswell. I joined with members of these organizations at Power Shift and helped facilitate a 400+ person breakout session on food justice. I also helped out at the Green Economy Hub, a spot where PS13 attendees could learn more about green economy work and share the work they are doing. Because “green” is such a vague and often appropriated word, I prefer the term solidarity economy, and will use that term from now on.
[A nationwide map of green economy projects at the Green Economy hub. If you could zoom in, you’d see two papers on the left, one for the Humboldt Student Food Collective, and the other for CoFED! Photo Credit: Eli Sheperd]
Cooperatives played a small but diverse role throughout Power Shift. In addition to my own workshop, there was a workshop on worker cooperatives organized by Grand Aspirations, as well as more than a dozen workshops related to the solidarity economy. Cooperatives were discussed as a breakout group within the larger food justice breakout I helped facilitate, and also as part of the social entrepreneurship breakout. Within the California statewide breakout, we had a food justice sub-breakout, where we also discussed food cooperatives. I’m sure there were many other spaces that I am unaware of where cooperatives were introduced as a solution to many of the challenges being confronted at Power Shift, such as consumer owned utility cooperatives supplying affordable, community controlled, renewable energy.
[Myself, Peter Hoy, and Jennifer Roach (both with Grand Aspirations) facilitating the Food Justice breakout. Photo Credit: Eli Sheperd]
One really neat workshop I was able to attend was put on by a group of Rebel Economists that are working to reform economics programs in universities. They want universities to move away from teaching only neoclassical models, and towards a greater diversity of economic thought. I studied economics as an undergraduate and was very frustrated by the lack of diversity of thought that I found in most of my classes, so this holds a special interest for me. Economic thought underpins much of how our society functions, and we must reform economic thought as part of the work of reforming our society.
Besides the great Thai restaurant we found down the street from the convention center, the highlight of the weekend was definitely the day of action. My friends and I woke early to head to a park on the waterfront of the Allegheny river, just across the waterway from downtown Pittsburgh, where the march would head later. We were meeting in between a trio of bridges named after famous Pittsburgh natives: Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol, and famed writer and environmentalist Rachel Carson. There were signs and creative protest art everywhere. A large coal barge escorted by police boats was in the river, just behind the main stage. A huge, 200+ foot banner spanned the length of the barge; on one side it read “Welcome to Coal Country,” on the other “Support American energy, support American jobs.”
[Activists gather for a rally at the waterfront before Monday’s big action. Photo Credit: Robert van Waarden]
While the barge spun lazy circles in the distance, speakers took the stage who had travelled from the heart of coal country - Appalachians were there to tell of their struggles protecting their family homes and communities. By supporting clean energy, we were there to support America, American energy, and American jobs. After getting powered up by a series of awesome, real, and motivating speakers and youth rappers, and with a rousing urge from our MC, Julian Mocine-Mcqueen from Green For All, the march got started and we headed for the bridge.
[Activists gather in the courtyard of the Allegheny County courthouse to protest fracking in County Parks. Photo Credit: Robert van Waarden]
Altogether, Power Shift 2013 was an amazing and inspiring experience. More than 220 people made the weekend journey all the way from California (some of us spending more than 24 hours in airports, on planes, and on buses to do so). A group of us during the statewide breakout committed to continuing the work moving forward by starting a statewide Food System Working Group to network and support students working on various aspects of changing the industrial food system, from community gardens to food cooperatives. If you’d like to get involved with this effort, please email [email protected] for more information. If you’re not a student in California, but you’re interested in finding out how you can work to change the food system on your campus and in your community, please email for more info, and I’ll connect you to an organizer in your area. If you’re interested in working to Shift the Power in some way other than through the food system, that’s great too! Feel free to also email me for more information about connecting with organizations, including the California Student Sustainability Coalition and others across the country, that are working to end the fossil fuel economy and implement the clean energy and solidarity economy solutions that will bring about the thriving, just, and sustainable future we all know is possible.
[California Power Shift attendees gather for a photo after the statewide breakout. Photo Credit: Jesse Lyon]