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The Mustang Daily (Cal Poly)

The 60's are Back: Students March for Environmental Change

Nancy Cole

Radicalism, student power and nonviolent direct action spark images of the 1960s protests against the war, the free speech movement and the civil rights movement. Student activists lobbied the U.S. Congress, marched the White House, staged boycotts, strikes and sit-ins and participated in civil disobedience. This was a time marked by such overt societal decay that people, especially young people, became sick of the powers that led the country. Young people raised their voices and refused to be an accomplice to what they believed to be wrong.

The 1960s movement was limited by its ability to create widespread engagement and change. Rallying and protesting prevented people's ability to interact and get involved. Now we have entered a time in history fraught with such moral, environmental and economic uncertainty that people from all disciplines are coming together to find solutions to eminent challenges: ending the use of coal power, creating green jobs and building a clean energy infrastructure.

It seems like today's movement is shaped by constantly evolving sustainability conferences, energy town hall meetings, interactive environmental justice workshops, ecological literacy outings and local food parties. These gatherings emphasized the cultural, entertainment and lifestyle aspects that create a positive energy and vision.

This weekend, thousands of students from across the United States gathered in Washington, D.C., to attend Power Shift 2009, a historic youth summit and lobby day aimed at pressuring congress to take aggressive action on the climate crisis. The summit, organized by the Energy Action Coalition, featured workshops, a green job fair, music and fun. "The workshops, lectures and panels covered just about the whole spectrum...from environmental justice, to the nation's energy policy, to transportation," explains Donald Nielsen a Cal Poly student and Power Shift attendee. Events frame the way we perceive the world, connect us to quality people and create a community around our efforts.

Some of the speakers included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Environmental Protection Agency's Carol Browner and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights Director Van Jones. "The result of Power Shift isn't in the conference itself, but rather the energy that will translate back into the college communities across the country," said Tyler Hartrich, ASI Environmental Affairs Officer and attendee of the conference. Events become a cultural experience with great leaders, and a site for renewed strength.

The Power Shift events were followed by yesterday's rally to the Capitol's very own coal-fired power plant. Members of Congress promise to close the Capitol Power Plant from coal power. "We strongly encourage you to move forward aggressively with us on a comprehensive set of policies for the entire Capitol complex and the entire Legislative Branch to quickly reduce emissions and petroleum consumption through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean alternative fuels," says Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It takes demonstrations to show Congress that the citizens want change.

As the youth of America, we must network and connect with all sorts of people in order to do the work that most needs doing. It is our generation that must uphold a moral compass and create a vision for our shared future. Sometimes, we must stand up and speak out against the engine that drives our challenges.

We know sustainability rejects the notion of over-consumption and promotes equity and resource conservation. So what's the next step? It is time to identify a new vision for our community, our state and our nation. I encourage you to find an issue that interests you and make Cal Poly and your community a test-bed for your ideas. If we all take a little piece and work together to share our efforts, we can reshape our future.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do.

Nancy Cole is a city and regional planning senior, the former vice-president of the Empower Poly Coalition and is graduating this quarter. This is her last column for the Mustang Daily.

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