March 4, 2009
Juan Martinez says he can remember the first time he ever saw stars.
Growing up in south-central Los Angeles, Martinez recalls his neighborhood as “gangs and concrete, not a lot of trees.” It took a school-sponsored trip to the Grand Tetons as a teenager to show him what a clear night sky and the natural world looked like, and Martinez still recalls the memory with a kind of reverence.
“I was rejuvenated,” says Martinez, who emigrated from Mexico at age six. “I’d found something that I loved.”
Inspired, he began working with groups like the Sierra Student Coalition. But it’s only today that Martinez, 24, has started to feel truly comfortable in the environmental movement.
“People used to talk about global warming and show pictures of polar bears drowning. I’d think, ‘I can’t take this back to my community,’ ” says Martinez. Today though, he says, as the push for green jobs has accelerated, “I have the confidence to tell people it’s not just about ice caps, but about how to bring people out of poverty, too.”
Last week, Martinez joined over 12,000 youth who descended on DC to train and lobby for climate action as part of Powershift ’09–and celebrate how their movement has expanded. All 50 states were represented, as well as youth from tribal lands, Canada, Tanzania, China, Lebanon, and the United Kingdom.
Since 2007, when the Energy Action Coalition hosted the inaugural Powershift, much has changed. A growing base: the number of participants (mostly college students) has near-tripled. A new administration, one that owes no small part of its victory to youth voters and organizers (many Powershifters are fresh off the Obama campaign). An economic crisis, one that’s given calls for green jobs greater vigor.
And as recent research points to even bleaker findings on climate change, EAC’s demands have likewise expanded. Organizers are pushing for a ban on coal, immediate action on climate legislation this year, investment in green jobs and a 40 percent carbon emissions reduction by 2020. “We really have very little time,” Nobel Prize-winning member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chris Field warned last month.
Yet despite such a grim prognosis, the mood remained upbeat, at times verging on jubilant.
“I’m so excited,” said Sara Greenberg, a senior from Clark University, Massachusetts. “It’s just really empowering to be here.” In between panels and speakers, spontaneous cries of “Powershift” broke out, fists were pumped, and a steady stream of chants (This is what democracy looks like!) ricocheted around the halls.