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Sunday, March 08, 2009

What the Press Didn’t Tell You About the Largest Youth Movement in Decades (Part One)

Part One: A Growing Movement Comes of Age

This is the part one of a three-part series taking an in-depth look at the youth climate movement and the stories the mainstream media missed at Power Shift 2009. For the introduction and links to the rest of the series, head here or see links at end of this post.

There were a lot of records claimed by Power Shift 2009. The largest gathering of youth climate activists in U.S. history; the largest citizen lobby day on climate change (for any age group); and at the separately organized but allied Capitol Climate Action, the largest-ever non-violent civil disobedience against the injustices of today’s energy system.

But Power Shift didn’t emerge out of the blue. The weekend’s successful events are a sign that the youth climate movement, the largest and most sophisticated grassroots movement to emerge in decades, has finally come of age. It is now maturing quickly and gathering size, diversity and power, according to Billy Parish, founder of the Energy Action Coalition, the organization behind Power Shift 2009.

The movement on display at Power Shift 2009 consists of literally thousands of student groups on hundreds of high school, community college and university campuses, a growing number of coordinated statewide networks, and dozens of official NGOs. The Energy Action Coalition (EAC) has become the movement’s torchbearer, playing a central role in coordinating and uniting these diverse organizations.

Launched in 2004, EAC began by organizing several nationwide days of action against fossil energy dependence, each larger than the last. In 2005, EAC launched the Campus Climate Challenge to help students press for commitments to clean energy and climate neutrality at college campuses, an effort that has so far secured victories at over 550 campuses.

These days, Energy Action Coalition has taken the jump off of campuses to assert the movement’s political voice in national climate and energy debates.

EAC brought 6,000 young leaders together for the first Power Shift summit in November 2007. In the year that followed, EAC launched the nationwide Power Vote campaign and rallied nearly half a million young voters to turn out and cast ballots for climate champions in the 2008 election.

"The youth of America turned out in record numbers to elect a new president and Congress in the last election,” said EAC executive directory, Jessy Tolkan. “We're here now to take our rightful seat at the political table.”

The movement has indeed taken a literal seat at the political table. Tolkan joined four other young leaders to testifying at a congressional briefing held Monday by Congressman Ed Markey’s Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence.

“There will not be a more important hearing in Congress this year,” Chairman Markey declared after listening to powerful testimony on the young leader’s visions of a clean, just energy future and accounts of the work these activists are doing to make that vision a reality. “You are all the leaders of this clean energy revolution,” Markey said.

The young members of the youth climate movement are part of the most civically engaged generation in three decades.

That fact did not go unnoticed by the elected officials and Obama Administration officials speaking at Power Shift 2009. From Congresswoman Donna Edwards to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, every one of the government officials speaking at the conference credited the record turnout of young people in November 2008 with their electoral success [you can watch these keynote addresses here].

Those young voters are now organizing across the country to ensure they see the kind of change so frequently promised during the 2008 elections.

“We celebrated on November Fourth,” Tolkan said, “but we know the real work began on November Fifth.”

The rest of the three-part series:

Image Credit: Matt Stern

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