We are in this together: reflections on the youth activist gathering at Powershift

by Adrian Fernandez Jauregui

This past weekend, a delegation of earth in brackets went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to participate in Powershift, a large gathering of about ten thousand youth activists, coming from all over the US, working on environmental related issues.

We went to Powershift to connect with other youth activists, to share our perspective of climate justice, particularly in regards to the UN process and negotiations dealing with climate change. But we also went there to learn skills and strategies from champion grassroots groups who are not only wrestling against unjust corporate deals and government repression, but who are actually winning fight after fight.  We wanted to learn more about what some of these groups were up to, and also get a sense of where the environmental movement in the US is at.

People are doing all kinds of things, from successful resistance against coal mining in Black Mesa, to the ongoing struggle against the reversal of the  Portland-Montreal pipeline reversal in Portland, to people building resilient and sustainable communities in Detroit and LA, or people fighting against discrimination, in all its forms; people resisting against reckless pursues of corporations and the captive government.

The dedication and energy that all these groups brought to powershift was tangible and I was impressed by all the things people were doing. But I was also a little worried of how thinly spread these campaigns were. At some point I wondered – there are so many things to fix or fight for, but are there enough people to do that?

Right after that thought I had a realization, a very important one: All these different campaigns, initiatives, and demands are not disconnected. I realized that even though people were committed to separate campaigns addressing different issues, at the end of the day we share common concerns, have very similar values and demands, and our fights and campaigns are related to each other. In fact,  all these campaigns are part of a greater struggle. And we are together in this struggle.

We are together on our demands

I saw different words printed on shirts, handouts and banners, but the message was always around a few main themes: Everyone wants justice. Whether it is social justice, environmental justice, climate justice, intergenerational justice, etc, all of them have a common goal: end injustice! Almost always, demands for equity and justice came hand in hand with the demand to decentralize and distribute power, as well as a shift away from those activities responsible for environmental annihilation, social oppression, and climate change.

We are together facing the impacts

Environmental problems are growing in number and intensity. Whether they are local problems (e.g. water polluted from mineral extraction or fracking, deforestation) or a global ones (changing rain patterns, ocean acidification, sea level rising, tornadoes). Even though people affected by these environmental problems might have different degrees of responsibility, vulnerability, and capacity to respond to the impacts, it is affecting us all, in one way or another. Likewise, reckless activities from the corporate sector and irresponsible corrupt government are also endemic problems of a system that fails to address nefarious power dynamics and anemic wealth distribution. These are global problems and nobody can just save themselves, we are on this as together and we have to address it together.

This might sound obvious, but then, why this is not reflected on the actions and campaigns of different activist groups? Why are there groups that deal with either environment or social issues? Why is there not a greater collaboration between groups fighting problems that are caused by the same root causes?  How come there is such a strong divide between engagement at the grassroots level and international environmental negotiations? I think we have not yet fully acknowledged all the connections and the potential for coordination and collaboration… at least not yet. Our next move should aim to unite our efforts and realize that our causes are all part of the same fight, but manifested in different fronts.

Together in action!

We have to dismiss false dichotomies, such as social-environmental, local-global, grassroots- international, among others. The reality is that the problems we are trying to fix are the product of a system that is broken and ill designed, and to fully address the issue we need a system change. That is a courageous campaign, with enormous obstacles and assured fears opposition from (our common enemies) those with vested interests.

We have to fight at all fronts. A win in one level should also be a victory for the rest. Just as poor decisions at the international level -for instance a trade agreement like NAFTA – affect grassroots movements and their ability to achieve reform, the lack of public pressure at the local level during international negotiation undermines the ability of those fighting for a good agreement inside the negotiation rooms.

There are examples of groups and people trying to transcend these dichotomies and unify campaigns and movements fighting for the same thing because they know we can accomplish far more together than we ever will if we remain separated. But this is not yet the dominant trend.

I look forward to the day when the connection between our fights will become as clear as the need to act on them. The day that happens, we will still be fighting on all fronts, but we will be fighting together because we can accomplish far more together than we ever will be able to a part

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