by Julia D'Costa
PowerShift Day Two kicked off with the facilitation of twenty simultaneous WeArePowershift workshops. These workshops introduced participants to the idea of climate justice, anti-oppression, inclusive movements, and real climate impacts. Organizers, facilitators and participants all found these workshops incredibly inspiring and energizing! The conversations and depth of analysis on climate change and climate issues were incredible, and the energy on campus was indescribable.
As Naomi Klein noted in her Saturday evening keynote address, “there has never been a conference like this.”
Saturday morning’s WeArePowerShift sessions train over 1000 participants challenged to think about the systems at the root of climate change and motivated to revolutionize those systems. Experienced organizers and activists later shared their stories in workshops across a broad range of topics, including The Keystone XL Resistance, Building a Multi-Issue Movement, The History of Non-Violent Direct Action, and Stories for Social Change.
The energy that day was incredible. People cheered in hallways; discussions continued long after workshops concluded; organizers literally cried with joy and optimism; the energy and momentum that developed during sessions grew and became contagious. The change was palpable in the new relationships that were forged. The movement was growing and everyone could feel it.
After the jam-packed day of workshops, the evening was capped off with momentous keynote speeches from Bill McKibben, Crystal Lameman, Mikael Rioux, Naomi Klein and Winona LaDuke.
Bill McKibben, co-founder and chairman of the board at 350.org, opened the keynotes addresses and took no time getting to the point: “We are either going to break the fossil fuel industry or they're going to break the earth.” Governments and neo-liberal thinkers may label activists as radicals and extremists, but what could be more extreme than altering the composition of the atmosphere? “We’re not the radicals, we’re just trying to keep the world the way it’s been for ten thousands years.”
Crystal Lameman, Beaver Lake Cree First Nation activist and the Peace River Tar Sands Campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network, reflected on the massive water shortage that has resulted from tar sands expansion. “There is one thing that connects every single one of us, and that is water. We all have the basic human right to drink clean water. Future generations have that right.”
The endless-growth model of our economy has made profits a priority over people. The reality is that many indigenous communities living on reservations are unable to access potable water. “It is not okay that on one side of an invisible line, a farm house has clean water to drink and on this side of the line, we don’t.”
But do we take these injustices lying down? Absolutely not.
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is taking on the Governments of Alberta and Canada to fight the proposed tar sands expansion of the Jackpine Mine. Their claim is based on treaty rights violations. As Crystel Lameman said, “They’re running scared. Since the ACFN claim has been filed, they’ve been trying to throw this claim out. For the first time in history we’ve been granted a trial over traditional territory.” Lameman was hopeful about this opportunity. “We’re in a revolution. The new generation is the one that will make the change.”
Mikael Rioux, ecologist and co-creator of the environmental festival Échofête followed Lameman. He encouraged PowerShift participants to welcome activism and action. “Anybody can become an activist, you just have to be passionate or run into something that affects your heart.”
Rioux had not only critiques environmental injustices, but recognizes that solutions must be forward as well. “We can’t just point fingers and say it’s the fault of the Mayor or of Stephen Harper. We need to create the situations that we wish those in power would create for us.”
Award-winning journalist and best-selling author Naomi Klein delivered a well-timed reality check when she took the stage. “The green movement has to stop kidding itself. Climate change is not the one issue that doesn’t have an enemy. We have enemies, and we need to start acting like it… It’s a war for the future.”
As this sobering thought set in, Klein delved deeper. “We have to be about winning. Not just about showing up, making a point or speaking up.”
The night was wrapped up by Winona LaDuke, Anishinaabe activist, founder and co-director of Honor the Earth and White Earth Land Recovery Project.
LaDuke recognized that we have shared knowledge that “if you do not fight, you have no shot at winning. You have to fight.”
She has unearthed three widespread fallacies: that the economy will fail if we save the environment, that we cannot feed the world, and that technology will save us.
“We want dignity, we want control over our futures. We want clear air, clean water, food that we know where it came from, energy that wasn’t extracted at the cost of someone else’s ecosystem.”
Restructuring oppressive economic systems is a long-term task, but if Saturday has been any indication of our dedication and passion for economic and environmental justice, this movement can take on that task with resounding success.
Creating lasting positive change may take time, but with persistence and a strong will, it is possible.
“Tonight, I feel like we’re going to win.”