Last weekend, I asked you to help me tell your Power Shift Story. I’ve recieved some amazing responses from inspired, engaged, and active young people across the country who are ready to rock Washington D.C., February 27th-March 2nd for Power Shift 2009. What follows is one such story, written by Nick Engelfried, a student at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon (my hometown!) and a kick-ass organizer with the Cascade Climate Network who is leading the charge to transform Intel, Oregon’s largest employer, from a climate action delayer into a clean energy champion (check out Uncover Intel’s Secrets to join in). Please head here to help me tell YOUR Power Shift story. Here’s Nick’s:
For a college campus in the greater Portland area, Pacific University is not always the most happenin’ place. The campus is located in a small town about a half-hour drive from Portland (forty-five minutes by public transportation). I like Pacific partly because of its small student body—1,500 undergrads, the quiet atmosphere on-campus, and the fact that you can go to sleep at night without being woken up by some partying fraternity or sorority. My only problem with Pacific culture is that it’s also a little hard to stir up enthusiasm for student activism.
By the time I heard about Power Vote, I had already helped run a few significant environmental projects on my campus the previous year—the year I first transferred to Pacific. The student environmental group there had showed a green-themed film or two, had some speakers come to campus, and gathered student support for the university’s demonstration organic farm. Still, I was unsure how much enthusiasm we could drum up over Power Vote. Could a sleepy little university like Pacific actually make a significant contribution to this national campaign? I wasn’t completely convinced.
Still, I signed up with the Sierra Student Coalition to be Pacific’s Power Vote Coordinator—and with the Coalition’s help, we set a goal of collecting 300-400 pledges from Pacific. I brought up Power Vote with the campus environmental group, and they seemed enthusiastic enough. Maybe it wouldn’t be too hard to meet our goal after all, I thought. But convincing students interested in environmental issues that the campaign was a cool idea was one thing; getting over 300 pledges was going to be quite another.
The first couple months of our Power Vote campaign moved in fits and starts—but our progress was pretty slow. We tabled, but a huge number of students barreled past us with tunnel vision focused the space directly in front of them. I talked up the idea of class raps—but students grew nervous about the idea of addressing their whole class, or else just forgot. The filled-out Power Vote pledges trickled in. But a week or so into October, I knew we needed more than a trickle to meet our goal. We needed a storm. No doubt about it: it was time for more desperate measures.
I sent out emails, called up a few of the most dedicated members of our environmental group, and set a couple of dates to go dorm-storming. Not in my own residence hall—in a dorm building that’s even more quiet and introverted than the rest of the campus, I could just picture the annoyed, fuzzy looks we would get for knocking on doors and asking for Power Vote signatures. No, we would go where the payoff was likely to be biggest: the freshman dorms.
We started out looking for rooms with their doors open, and poking our heads inside to see if the residents would like to take the pledge. That worked—so for our next night of dorm-storming, we grew bolder. Two other students and I proceeded to hammer on every door in our building-of-the-night; when we got an answer, we’d spout out our spiel about Power Vote. We collected over 50 pledges in a single evening.
Not all the freshmen at Pacific were conveniently in their rooms for the evening, though—I knew there were still lots out there who needed to know about Power Vote. So one night I emailed my old Environmental Ethics professor from last spring, who I knew was teaching one of the First-Year Seminar classes this year. I asked if we could do a class-rap for her students—and her response was even better than I’d expected. She offered to pass along an email to other First-Year Seminar professors, and try to give us the opportunity to talk to their classes as well. It was by now about a week until the elections; I knew this could be our last big chance to bolster our Power Vote pledge count.
On almost the last day left to collect pledges, I raced from one First-Year class to another on my bicycle, giving the Power Vote spiel in five or six classrooms in one morning. My task was complicated by the fact that more than professor gave me the wrong room number; sometimes it was an office number confused with a classroom, and sometimes the reason for the mistake was harder to discern. I pedaled madly from one building to the next, hurriedly stowing my bike in the bushes at each stop, counting on the hope that it wouldn’t get stolen in the ten minutes it would take me to find the classroom and make my speech.
By Election Day, we had 348 Power Vote pledges—right in the range of our original pledge goal. Not only that, but a significant number of students had checked the “I’d like to volunteer” box in the bottom corner of the card, and we had an expanded group with which to work on our next major project. Now it’s a new semester, and Pacific is hosting a community-wide Sustainability Summit focused on environmental issues in the suburbs just west of Portland. You can bet the new Power Vote recruits are getting plenty of emails inviting them to help out with the Summit.
Running Power Vote at a small, quiet campus like Pacific was a bit of a challenge. But even there, we collected over 300 pledges. Had we been slightly more organized and experienced, I have no doubt we could have gotten many more. For anyone out there wondering about the vitality of the youth climate movement, I have this to say to you: the night three of us took on a whole freshman dorm building at Pacific, I felt the air thick with the vitality and excitement of our movement. Travelling from one door to another, we let more than fifty people in on the struggle to re-power this country in a single night. Pacific may be quiet, but there are students there as passionate about solving the climate crisis as I am; and though I will be graduating this spring, several younger student organizers will remain on the campus.
At the end of February, we hope to send a delegation of Pacific students to Power Shift 2009—the largest gathering of students concerned about global warming that this country has ever seen. In the meantime, Pacific’s Sustainability Summit is poised to bring together several of the most important environmental issues in our community, and focus the attention of our elected officials on sustainability and the transition to a greener future. Even in a quiet, small-town campus like Pacific, we have a student movement that’s changing the future for the better.
Written by Nick Engelfried, Pacific University (Forest Grove, OR)