Powershift 2012

Submitted by Derek Alton on April 3, 2013 - 8:57pm


Our world is full of challenges that must find a way to surmount.  We have issues of poverty, violence, hunger and starvation; we have a way of life that is eroding the world that we depend on for life.  Facing all these alone is overwhelming and impossible.  The key to our success is through building communities of people who can come together to make a difference, to take a stand, to challenge the systems that lead us to these problems and to lay out and live out an alternative.

The most powerful example of this so far in my life has been here in Ottawa at Powershift 2012.  Powershift 2012 is a national youth environmental leadership conference.  Here there are groups of people from all across Canada who are excited and energized to tackle our world’s challenges and build a community for change.  It is interesting; I feel I have quickly built a bond with these people I barely know.  We are all brought close together like brothers and sisters through our joint desire to make a difference and the recognition that we must come together to do it.  There are over a thousand people who have come together here in Ottawa, most of them youth though not all.  These people are a giant family of climate change activist.  There are a couple insights that have jumped out at me from this experience so far:

-All the activist leaders seem to know and have a huge respect for each other.  They seem to be celebrating the chance for them all to get together in one place

-There is a realization that for us to be successful in creating the change we need, we must unify the movements.  This means that, the environmental movement, the labour movement, the poverty movement and any other big movement need to come together, to support each other in their efforts, like you would support a friend.  That we must work towards these changes together.

-That there is a sharing of knowledge between all these groups and that this knowledge is power and is the key to success.  That if we horde our knowledge we all fail so it is paramount that we teach each other.

-That everyone has some expertise to share.  I have heard this said at other conferences but this is the first one I have been to that is truly living it out.  Each workshop I go to people share their stories and insights and we are all inspired. 

-The power of aboriginal wisdom.  I think deep down I have always known this one, but it is at this conference where I have truly experienced it.  Aboriginal groups are some of the key players in the fight against climate change and they are playing a big role at this conference.  To get to experience their traditions and ideas has been an amazing treat for me.  In particular I heard one of their elders speak, Winona LaDuke and it was amazing.  I have always had a great admiration for the notion of elders in many traditions and the role they play as the cradle of wisdom.  She embodied this for me.  She spoke slowly and with great power.  You knew that everything she was saying was pure gold.  She talked about our deep connection to our earth, how we are part of a profound community with the nature around us and that we must get back to recognizing this.  She talked about the power of us to be able to make a difference both by challenging “stupid decisions” and by trying to live out the world we want in our own lives.

One question the remains in my head from this conference is the role of an enemy.  One of the best ways to unite, strengthen and impassion a community is to give it an enemy.  Here at Powershift that enemy is the oil industry.  They are seen to be intentionally taking us down a path to our own destruction for their own greed.  Naomi Klein talked about how the weakness of the movement to date has been the lack of an enemy and that we must stop halfassing this and take it seriously, that not everyone is going to be swayed by our logic and reasoning.  Bill McKibben using language of war, that we are at war with these industries and we must fight as hard as we can or we will lose.

 I wonder is an enemy really necessary?  It seems so simplistic to say that these people or these industries are our enemy.  It creates an us vs. them mentality that I am fundamentally opposed to.  I come from the love your enemy strain of thought and this seems to be in opposition to this.  Do we need an enemy for us to be strong enough to create the changes that are needed?