CG Guest Column: Power Shift 2011 educates, builds camraderie


Ohio University students pose for a photograph at Power Shift 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photograph courtesy of Samantha Bailo.

Editor’s Note: The following article is a guest column and does not represent the opinions or research of College Green or its staff.

By Samantha Bailo, Ohio University Sierra Student Coalition

On April 15-18, 1,200 young activists gathered at Washington, D.C.’s enormous convention center to rally about environmental issues heating up the hearts and minds of people across the country.

Power Shift 2011 was the largest grassroots training in history, where a hefty amount of important speakers, including Al Gore, Van Jones, Bill McKibben and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson stirred up young activists over key environmental issues. The most important issues over the weekend were local food security, clean energy for college campuses and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Fracking, the current expansion of natural gas production, is a key issue right now in the minds of environmentalists and multiple informational workshops were available on Saturday and Sunday. The process is very dangerous to the local water supply where drilling occurs.

“Fracking uses millions of gallons of water combined with nearly 600 chemicals to blast into shale rock formations and extract gas and oil,” the info panel at Power Shift told its listeners.

Fracking can completely destroy clean local water sources. The most important thing the info sessions taught us we can do is tell property owners where the drilling is occurring. Property owners may or may not know the consequences of fracking. We were also urged to send letters to our local senators to show our leaders that young people know what’s occurring and that we care.

Another large topic of discussion with many panels was local food security and sustainability. My group consisted of students from Ohio Wesleyan University, University of Cincinnati and Oberlin College. We brainstormed ideas for starting student gardens where students could grow their own food instead of purchasing a dining hall meal plan.

After talking to students from different schools, it made me more aware that the Athens community is more in touch with the local food movement than other areas are.

Going into Power Shift, I had the wrong idea of what it would be like – I was under the impression that we would do some serious protesting. I thought Ohio University President Roderick McDavis or maybe even U.S. President Barack Obama would call to say that clean energy is finally at the top of their priority list.

President Obama did agree to meet Friday afternoon with 11 Power Shift students to hear their point of view on clean energy. However, the weekend was more of a bonding experience than a protest. It consisted of forming new relationships with other activists from around the country and figuring out what was important to all of us.

Over 500 students from Ohio attended, including 100 from Oberlin College and 40 from OU. The camaraderie and excitement felt among everyone was the part that really stood out from the weekend.

“All of these people are our friends. We’re in a room with 500 of our good friends!” OU freshman Bobbie Jaquish told me with excitement, not once but many times Saturday afternoon.