Shifting Power

By Adrienne Maree Brown Feb 28, 2009

The environmental movement is changing, slowly but surely. I weave in and out of the throng at Powershift 2009. Last year the conference was in Maryland, and the throng was spread out all over a campus. I spoke then on organizing, on racism in the environmental movement, and on direct action. The faces were majority white, with a little bit of representation from other races. This year there are 11,000 people, mostly young, flooding through the Convention Center in downtown DC, wearing green t-shirts and badges and hungry faces. There are more indigenous folks, non-students and people of color here as speakers and trainers, and as participants. I’m cognizant of the larger numbers of black and latino youth here, many rocking shirts and buttons calling for Green Jobs, which is the brilliant issue bridge from labor to environment that grew out of the Apollo Alliance and the thinking and work of Raquel Pinderhughes, and has been picked up and focused on as a "pathway out of poverty" by Green For All. It gives folks who have been community organizing for years a clear vision for why "green" is a necessary piece of any viable future for their communities. This builds a simple media-friendly frame on the long-held analysis of environmental justice, which understands that environmental sanity is an economic strategy. At Powershift this year there’s also deep participation and leadership from indigenous communities who have traveled here from the Arctic, Alaska, Canada, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado and more. This morning I was on a panel, and then sat in on another panel, and on both there were indigenous leaders speaking about nonviolent direct action strategies their communities are engaged in now around the Tar Sands, sovereignty and water issues in Arizona, and the successful action campaign by Klamath Justice last year against Pacificorps. This is not to say there’s not still moments in the hallways when it feels like floating in a sea of white student faces…it is the environmental movement, still. And these are exuberant, welcoming, eager-to-learn faces. These are students in all their wonderful completely unique fashions, with their hope and insecurities on their sleeves, ready to put their hearts and bodies on the line, and coming of age in a world we co-created. In their world, there’s a black president which they helped mobilize to get in office, a deeply competitive job market in a crashing economy, an environmental movement with leaders of color which is starting to actually have a racial justice analysis, a tech savvy community that stay in up-to-the-second communication with each other. Each day we come closer to a world that understands there is no environmental movement without environmental justice, and there is no sustainability for some unless there is sustainability for all. If you are in the greater DC area, come over and join us for the Capitol Climate Action on Monday. We are celebrating the victory we’ve already achieved (Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid promising to switch the capitol coal plant off at the mere idea of our massive civil disobedience) and demanding that our government wean itself off of the myth of clean coal and shut down coal plants nationwide. We all breath, we all use energy, we are all needed. Shifting power feels really really good.