Report from PowerShift 2011

Going down to the PowerShift Conference this year was a learning experience on several fronts. PowerShift is a place where student activists from all over the country gather to discuss energy and sustainability issues and build stronger coalitions to achieve their goals. However, one thing in particular struck me – the divisions that still exist in our community.

While everyone at the conference was vocally pro-clean energy, what seemed to divide us and create tension was what we were against. I spent most of my time with the group raising awareness of hydrofracture gas drilling, and we saw great results. That being said, we were surprised at how many attendees of this conference – involved, like-minded students – had no idea what hydrofracking was. They were involved in anti-coal action. Or they were involved in anti-nuclear action. Or they were only in DC and at PowerShift for a march to protest the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Or they were anti-capitalist. Or they were anti-government. Or they were anti-biomass. We were all a little too wrapped up in our own crusades to talk about what we agreed on.

The most poignant phrasing of this issue – of why it’s important – came from Josh Fox, director of Gasland. During Saturday’s plenary, he took the stage to remind the audience to beware of resource-extraction companies who would try to paint a picture in which anti-coal activists and anti-gas activists are enemies, not allies. That they would try to use our divisions to break us down, to make us believe that we were weaker and more beleaguered than we actually are. And that we can’t let them do that.

While we all have our particular focuses, PowerShift inspired me as an individual to look more closely into that issue – the idea that small differences in our community can be drawn as yawning chasms of disagreement by our opponents to make us appear petty, or ill-organized, or unprepared. As in every other situation we face today, sowers of discord will create false disagreements and conflicts to deflect attention away from their own wrongdoing, and we cannot let that happen. I met a lot of very good people at the conference, and I think we did good work, and that we have  more good work to do. I hope that we can remember just how much we’re on the same team.

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