Dispatches from Power Shift 2011


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As we approached the crowd of environmentalists on April 18, I grabbed a sign that read, "We the People" and jumped into the mix with thousands of other people my age. Trumpets, drums, and voices amplified by megaphones drowned the noise of the usually busy street. Others around me held banners with slogans such as "Make Polluters Pay, Not the EPA" and "We Deserve a Clean Energy Future."

I'd come from a long way, traveling with 36 other University of Iowa students to attend the third-annual Power Shift conference in Washington, D.C. We endured 16 hours in packed maxi-vans to join 10,000 other students for the largest grass-roots training event in our nation's history. Our hard work and effort paid off when we marched from the White House to the steps of the BP lobbying headquarters and then to Capitol Hill.

The BP employees looked down on us from their glass building as we chanted, "Make BP Pay" and protested for greater corporate responsibility. This month last year, BP began spilling 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, causing billions of dollars in damage. Despite the huge environmental and health costs to our nation, BP was able to earn a nearly $10 billion credit from its 2010 federal tax return by writing off the losses incurred from the spill. Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of Gulf Coast residents that the Louisiana Bucket Brigade polled this year reported health concerns that they believe are related to the spill. We were there to show Washington that we are concerned and that policy changes need to be enacted to prevent tragedies similar to this again.

From BP's lobbying headquarters, we traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with representatives from Sen. Tom Harkin's and Sen. Charles Grassley's offices. Harkin's representative greeted us with open arms and committed to supporting the Clean Air Act and sustainable energy practices in the future.

However, Grassley's office was not as agreeable.

His representative believed that any effort would be doomed from the beginning without the support of China — the biggest energy consumer in the world. We suggested the U.S. initiate more extensive research and implementation of clean energies, but he continued to equivocate.

The leaders of our nation need to realize that there will not be a single day when the U.S., China, India, and the other nations of the world suddenly convert to clean energy with the snap of a finger. The best place to start the change is here. I believe Mahatma Gandhi made the point best when he said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

In the days prior to the march, we listened to speakers such as former Vice President Al Gore, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and 360.org founder Bill McKibben at the Power Shift conference.
McKibben's message instantly stuck out to me. He stressed that in this often polarized world, we should not settle for just putting officials in office that align with our views. We need to continually push them to fight for our issues. McKibben said, "As long as you are more afraid of Sarah Palin than of getting Obama to take action, then this will always remain the status quo." In 2012, we need to let our concerns known and give our vote only to a candidate who can and will help us.

We are unhappy with the progress the current administration has made, and we will continue to push forward. For all of you reading, the time to get involved is now. The UI Environmental Coalition has brought back energized minds and a slew of ideas to push our campus to a greener future, and I am proud to have accompanied the group.

Abbey Moffitt is a UI senior majoring in journalism and political science.

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