August 20, 2011

Tar Sands Action: Fingers of One Hand, Uniting as a Mighty Fist

If someone told me three years ago that I was going to intentionally risk arrest at a White House protest, I would have thought they were nuts.

Sure, I considered myself a progressive, and followed politics like some people read the sports section — but I pictured myself more in the jaded partisan hack mold than an activist (the fact that I was 22 with one cycle as a field organizer under my belt didn't really register at the time). Knocking on doors? Sure. Marching in the streets? Not really my style.

Power Shift 2009 (Photo Credit: Shadia Wood)

I can pinpoint the moment that all started to change. It was February 2009, and at my boss' suggestion I volunteered to help with technology at the Power Shift 09 conference. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but even in those days of Hope and Change, the energy of 12,000 young people in one building — united in their vision for a clean energy future — was a sight to behold. It clicked, this is what a movement looks like.

My first brush with the Youth Climate Movement was transformative, but while there were some powerful speeches from the likes of Van Jones and Bill McKibben, those weren't what sold me. The moment that sticks in my mind is hearing a deafening roar from the crowd as I walked up late to the main plenary, and entering the room to see that it wasn't The Roots on stage, it was Ken Salazar. Before that, I wasn't sure there were 12,000 young people in the country that could name the Secretary of the Interior, let alone be that excited to hear what he had to say.

That was a different time. We still believed that the President our generation helped elect would be a champion for the clean energy future our generation demands.

While the frustration we feel now is real, it's also not the point. President Obama has shown a failure in leadership and vision, but it's the far right and their corporate backers that have actually blocked progress.

That is precisely why the decision on the tar sands pipeline is a pivotal moment. Unlike most issues facing our country, Keystone XL has a single decision maker. President Obama, by himself, can block Keystone XL. No grand bargains required.

This is a moment the President can stand up and be the leader we elected, the question is, will he? I'm not going to count on it, we've been down that road before.

Youth Leaders from Power Shift Meet with President Obama

Right before Power Shift 2011 this April, a group of youth climate leaders met with President Obama at the White House, and while there was some tension on both sides of the conversation, the President's departing words were that it is our generation's job to push him.

Fine. We can push, we're organizers, that's what we do. I've personally helped direct thousands of letters and calls to the White House over the last few years, and while we sometimes get their attention, we're not looking for attention, we're looking for results.

For many people at Power Shift 2011, myself included, Tim DeChristopher's impassioned keynote was a wake-up-call for our path forward:

Where is the point where our movement says that stopping this injustice is more important that my career plans, is more than my comfort and convenience? This should be that point. This is not the first Power Shift. This not the first time that we've had 10,000 people in one room reminding us that we are not alone. This is not the first time that we've come together and reminded ourselves that we are strong, we are powerful, that we are not just an isolated finger, but that we are the fingers of one hand that can unite as a mighty fist, and that we do not need to back down. Let this be the last Power Shift where we leave without fighting back. Now is our time to take a stand. We're done making statements. Let this be the last time that we come together just to make statements. From now on, our movement needs to take a stand.

Young people must take bold action for our future, because if we don't fight for our future, how can we expect anyone else to?

I'll be at the White House on August 27th, joining with over two thousand others, young and old, who have decided to take a stand. I hope to see you there.