Uprose @ Power Shift 2009
Report Back, March 3, 2009
The 2nd annual Power Shift conference on Global Warming organized by the Energy Action Coalition took place between February 27 and March 2, 2009. I attended the conference to learn about the youth work done by organizations throughout the nation. 12,000 people, mostly youth, attended the conference. Of this number, only 1100 were people of color: this included Indigenous peoples, African Americans, Latin@s and Asian and Pacific Islanders. In a city that is 73.6% people of color, it was strange to encounter a DC where the overwhelming majority of the people, 90%, were White. I spent the first day swimming through a sea of dangerous liberal ideas and organizers in a daylong institute on the use of personal narrative as a method of organizing. I listened to participants tell their stories about changing the world and the dire conditions of their privileged, private college campuses. When I shared with them that when I was a child I was obese because there were no green spaces in my community on Chicago’s Southwest side for me to exercise and that on one end of my neighborhood was a mega-county jail and on the other end was a coal burning power plant, I received blank stares and nods of- confusion? empathy? understanding? solidarity?
I continued navigating the conference and linked up with other organizers of color and learned they were having similar experiences and shared my criticisms about the conference. Some of these people were:
Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus in DC,
SeaSunz/AshEl Eldridge of Art in Action in Oakland,
Jihan Gearon, ED of the Indigenous Environmental Network AZ/MN,
Nia Robinson, ED of the Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative in Oakland,
Among many others.
One of the observations I made was the challenge in making environmental justice work appealing to youth. After participating in a few workshops given by Jihan and Nia, I realized that environmental justice as it is understood by these organizers in particular, the handful of EJ of color organizers at the conference and by UPROSE, is a fierce, complex, and holistic method of organizing that considers economic, social and environmental injustices. I also realized that, unfortunately, EJ often get’s written off as “some white shit” or a white person’s struggle. After attending the workshops given by the “Rev.” of the Hip Hop Caucus and SeaSunz from Art in Actions, I was reminded that arts, music, and creative expression draw in the youth. After multiple conversations throughout the weekend with Julien Terrell, the youth organizer at Youth Ministries, I learned that YMPJ, too, is struggling to recruit and retain youth and struggling to get the youth to fully understand the issues and the value of becoming educated about the issues and agreed the absence of youth voice in the EJ movement is a priority.
While taking all of this in, I couldn’t help but think about how urgent it is to have a conference on climate and environmental justice for youth of color in NYC. This calling was especially inspired by one of the youth I met from Youth Ministries. In a workshop on Climate Justice we both were in, he was asked “Is change possible?” by the workshop facilitator and he responded, “Of course it is possible! If there was no hope or if it wasn’t possible, then we wouldn’t be here. We have to have hope! Otherwise we all should just go home.”
And so it will come to be. On the evening of the Sunday of my departure from DC, multiple EJ youth groups convened to debrief and discuss the potential for a national action by youth of color. I had spoken to most of the organizers that attended that meeting about the environmental justice encuentro we are planning for the spring of 2010. I return to Sunset Park, inspired, connected, and hella busy with work!!
Joaquín Sánchez, Jr.
Youth Organizing Coordinator,