June 2, 2011

It's All About the Connections

As I was saying my final goodbyes to my new and old friends on the Sunday evening of Power Shift 2011, a very familiar feeling stirred inside me.  It wasn’t the first time I’d had this feeling.  I felt it as I walked through the frozen slush on the sidewalks of DC in 2009, with thousands of young people screaming chants in the cold.   I even felt it as I was leaving College Park in the fall of 2007, after attending my very first workshop on climate change.

It’s the inevitable, inescapable, and undeniable feeling that the time I just spent in the midst of this amazing movement wasn’t enough.  A single weekend isn’t enough for Power Shift.  If we want this movement to be based on connections, on how our stories intertwine with the stories of our neighbors near and far, we have to acknowledge that Power Shift is only the beginning.

Since that all too brief weekend, I’ve only had one thing on my mind.  This summer I’m co-directing one of the Sierra Student Coalition’s six Summer Programs, or Sprogs.  These week-long programs, which have trained hundreds of young people to organize like professionals, have a strength that Power Shift lacks.  At Power Shift, you may hear some peoples’ stories, scribble a few email addresses on the back of your agenda, or hastily punch a phone number into your cell.  At Sprog, you spend a week learning how to organize as part of an intentional and open community.  Each participant has something to learn and something to teach, a story to tell and many stories to listen to.  This model of communal learning is something that can’t be recreated amongst 10,000 people in a single weekend.

Come sunny July, I’ll pack my bags and drive through my new home state of Indiana to the site of the SSC’s Midwest Sprog.  The time couldn’t be better for one of these programs in the Midwest, when young people from all backgrounds are coming out of Power Shift and itching for a campaign.  At Sprog, they’ll learn the skills to win those campaigns, the same skills that led SSC chapters across the country to kick coal plants off their campuses as part of Campuses Beyond Coal.  But for me, it wasn’t the organizing skills that really made my first Sprog worth it.  Those I could have learned in a room of 400 people.  What I walked away from Sprog with was a definite sense of how connected I was to the forty young people I spent that week with, and that those connections will be crucial in the important years to come.  A few of the people I met at that first Sprog are still some of my best friends. 

So if you were at Power Shift and felt a little lost in the crowd, consider coming to Sprog.  It may not have the sheer volume of a 10,000 person rally, but there is nothing more powerful than connecting with a community while learning alongside them.  And even after the program is over and the participants go back home, that community is still there.

The SSC's Midwest Sprog will take place from July 11-18 at Bradford Woods in Indiana.  For more information visit www.ssc.org/sprog.