High School Students Speak Up at Power Shift ’09

from Wildlife Promise

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During lunch on Saturday, I went from table to table to ask groups of students why they had come to Power Shift and what they were hoping to gain.

Two high school students from Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca, NY, were sitting with a friend of theirs who now attends college in Oberlin, OH. Younger than many of the attendees, they were deep in a discussion of the high-speed rail funding in the recently-passed stimulus bill when I interrupted.

At the Lehman school, which brought 16 students to Power Shift, environmental issues are not new. Miroslav Azis, 17, said, "I was at Bioneers By the Bay in October, and I thought it was an amazing experience. My ecology class back at school picked up on this and thought we should go to Power Shift. It’s great to meet people here who are like-minded. We’re still high school students, so we’re drawing a lot from those who are in college, who have already taken economics and other classes, and can talk about it in the workshops."

Lukas Friga, also 17, interjected. "I’m not the most active person in terms of political stuff, but I’m getting a lot out of the workshops that are more about information. I want to go into international relations, so the panels on what’s going to happen at Copenhagen are really interesting to me." He went on to describe other workshops he wanted to attend, most of which were academic in nature, rather than personal. Avis agreed that "there aren't any workshops on how to 'be green.' They're on what issues come up in making green things happen."

When asked what they were planning to take away from the conference, all three said that they hoped they would be better at talking to people who might not be interested in mingling with the environmentalists and social-justice advocates at Power Shift. "This is more of a cultural gathering than anything else," said Friga. "But we need to be able to pull in everyone. Hopefully, we can learn the skills here to go back and talk to the people that don’t want to hug trees. If you say, I know this area is losing jobs, what if you were all to work in x, y, z that’s more sustainable? That’s going to hit a lot more. You don’t want to be a treehugger, you want to be able to say that your ideals have all these logical supports to them, and that’s what we’re here to learn."

Miriam Rothenberg, who attended Lehman last year but now goes to college in Ohio, felt strongly that the impact of Power Shift wouldn't be felt this weekend, but as students dispersed to their separate schools. "There are a lot of people on my campus that are apathetic," she said. "But here I feel like we’re really a force. We have the numbers, and we have the drive, and we have the science to back us up. We all have different backgrounds, but there’s a sense of drawing together to be one unified movement, and then going back out to make all of this happen."