Thoughts following Midwest Powershift

Cross-posted from http://www.solutionaries.net by Ruby Levine

I spent the weekend at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Among the rallies, trainings, and speeches, I was able to catch some downtime with fellow Summer of Solutions program leaders and participants from around the Midwest. Especially valuable was a conversation I had with members of other Midwestern programs on Saturday night.

500 young people applaud Joshua Kahn Russell's keynote poem at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Photo credit Ben Hejkal.

This conversation helped me articulate two things: one, the “good environmentalists vs. the evil polluters” framing I saw a lot of other places during the conference makes me deeply uncomfortable, and two, if the green economy is going to work it needs to be the whole economy, not a side industry.

First: I heard a lot of people, excellent organizers and activists who I strongly respect, talking about how we need to stop them, the polluters and the fossil fuel barons. I fully believe that we urgently need to stop, for example, the Keystone XL pipeline. To me, the fundamental issue is that we don’t need to make them stop the pipeline, but we that need to stop us from building it. Our society is dependent on these fuels, and a “we” that includes every attendee of Midwest Powershift and President Obama and the CEO of TransCanada and every person that uses fossil fuels needs to do something different. Stopping them is, to me, deeply disempowering because I am not involved in the final decision. Finding something different for all of us to do is something I can be a part of.

Second: At that conversation, we talked about the realities of our own lives and financial situations. Many of us need to make money to cover needs we can’t meet in other ways. We talked about student debt traps and worries about health insurance. We talked about needing to work other jobs to meet our needs. I left the conversation with a strong need to find ways to support not only myself but my friends and people I have never met to live lives that sustain them and the planet and its people. To me, this means building businesses that generate their own revenue by providing needed services like energy, food, and transit. This may not sound new to my fellow solutionaries, but it felt realer to me leaving that conversation than it has in a while.

Third: (Surprise, there’s a third!) I could not have had this conversation without the three years and four programs I have spent with the Summer of Solutions. I have learned a sense of urgency and a deep-rooted narrative of my own power through my involvement in Summer of Solutions and from my fellow solutionaries in Grand Aspirations. I believe that I can move past the disempowering get-someone-else-to-do-it attitude I described in my first point. I believe that I have agency in moving us towards an economy where we don’t need to wait tables to support our farms or solar businesses — we work on our businesses to support our businesses.

If you want to join me and hundreds of other young people in this endeavor, consider starting a Summer of Solutions program in your community. You can also use that link to let us know if you want to be contacted when the application for participating goes up in the spring (just click the link to apply for a new program and it’s one of the options).

3 Responses to “Thoughts following Midwest Powershift”


  1. 1 Sonia Marcus Oct 26th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Yes, when we start talking about “us” we have a real chance of moving forward. I appreciate this post. P.S. The “summer of solutions” link isn’t working.

  2. 2 Joel Oct 26th, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    i understand the necessity for us all to be moving toward much smaller co2 footprints, but right now, in every possible way. we need to stop pres. obama from okaying the pipeline. we know how to do more than one thing at a time. if unable to go to dc on nov. 6, or don’t want to burn fossil fuels to get there, how about paying for someone living nearer to dc to go…on busses that are already organizing? i think i will be able to provide some contact info on those. or organize your own.

    we are running out of time, we need to put all our energy into the next uprising against the corporations which do not want us to do anything to thwart them in their “business as usual.” so focus on this one–11/6–and then look for the next one, and support or start your nearby “occupied city”–or town–or village. each step will make you a more energy-efficient and capable fighter for the environment, and reducer of global warming.

  3. 3 rubylevine Oct 27th, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks Sonia! The link works for me… try http://www.grandaspirations.org/buildaprogram

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About Timothy


Timothy is a youth climate leader based in St. Paul. He's all about people power, and being the changes we actually want to see. I've been heavily involved in community development and using climate solutions as incredible opportunities for local economic activity, collective empowerment, and self-determination. Timothy is a recent graduate of Macalester College, where he did exciting work on revolving funds, carbon neutrality, and cross-campus sustainability leadership development. He now helps run a community energy efficiency and community-based energy cooperative and is core driver of Grand Aspirations and the Summer of Solutions. He does lots of network building with buddies in the youth movement as well as labor, faith, agricultural, small business, and neighborhood groups.

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