Powershift, Petitioning, and Beyond

As those of us who attended Powershift get back into our regular routines, catching up on ignored homework and recovering from a lack of sleep, the thoughts of the weekend in Pittsburgh are ever-present in our minds. Those who were lucky enough to attend were exposed to the seemingly endless knowledge of a vast array of environmental and social activists. From indigenous peoples impeding the Keystone XL to those fighting fracking in Pennsylvania, Powershift attendees were able to hear of stories from the frontlines of environmental and social movements across the country. Leaders of the movement, including Bill McKibben and Michael Brune, empowered the youth through their passionate addresses at the end of each night. Our ears were even graced with the rustic sounds of Josh Fox’s well-known banjo! Here are some of UIUC’s attendee favorite parts about the weekend:

“I really enjoyed hearing from frontline communities like Appalachians fighting against coal companies. Trying to understand their struggles is something that I am excited to work more on and incorporate into our movement.”– Erika Weir

“The march on Monday was one of many favorite parts of Power Shift. Being in the presence of thousands of young environmental and social justice activists is a very powerful experience.”– Kelly Johnson

“One of my favorite parts of Powershift was engaging in debates with people that hold different ideas than me. Just being around thousands of young, passionate people all trying to make a difference was a very memorable experience in itself.”-Kelley Schulkins




However, the greatest aspect of Powershift is not easily boiled down to a single event or 
speaker. No mix of words can effectively convey the experience of being surrounded by thousands of like-minded activists fighting the same fight as you. Feelings of solidarity and optimism for the movement’s future were prevalent. After seeing the assortment of faces and hearing of successes (and failures) from across the nation, we are ecstatic and immensely confident for what the future of the movement holds. These feelings were strongest in the culminating event of the weekend: the March for a Green Economy.

Thousands flooded the streets of Pittsburgh following a rally on the shores of the Allegheny River. Enthusiastic activists, protesting a range of climate-change issues, crossed the Roberto Clemente Bridgeinto Downtown Pittsburgh. Along the way, waves of activists stopped at branches of PNC Bank throughout the city to protest the institution’s funding of mountaintop removal mining. Seven protesters from the Earth Quaker Action Team were arrested and charged with trespassing after refusing to leave the UPMC’s PNC Bank lobby. The protesters were staging a peaceful, albeit vocal, sit-in.
Midway through the march half of the activists split from the preapproved route, instead heading towards the Allegheny County Courthouse.  Throughout the next three blocks, traffic was stopped as protesters stormed through the busy downtown streets. Onlookers from sidewalks and in cars cheered on the chanting crowd. Once the first waves arrived at the courthouse, there was a rally in the courtyard. During this time, the group was energized by an 11 year-old protester wielding a megaphone as well as other voiced opponents of the fossil fuel industry. Protesters were there to demand a meeting with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who had been holding close door meetings with shale drilling companies regarding proposed drilling in county parks. The vast majority of the crowd slowly filed into the courthouse, where they held a sit-in near Mr. Fitzgerald’s office. He told them to schedule an appointment.

The conference has ended, but the most important aspect of Powershift is what follows. Freshly energized from Powershift, UIUC Beyond Coal will be petitioning the student body until Friday, November 1st. If we attain over 3,000 signatures, we will gain status on an upcoming ballot referendum which will ask students whether or not they support divesting university funds from the coal industry. Currently, through the endowment fund, our university invests up to $34 million in the 15 most destructive coal mining and utility companies. As a result, we are perpetuating an industry which literally blows up mountains, destroys communities, and pollutes our air and waterways. We are determined to end unnecessary aid to a dying industry. 

Large divestment banners were hung on the north end of the Quad as fervent petitioners scoured campus during our kickoff event last Thursday. Beyond Coal-ers have also adorned their Facebook profile pictures with the Orange Square, the national symbol of solidarity for the divestment movement, to garner attention to our petition drive. If you happen to spot one of our awesome campaigners on your way to class, please take a minute to sign our petition and remember to vote yes for divestment on November 6th-8th!
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