by Reanna Edwards
This past weekend students from all over Florida converged at the University of Florida for a three day summit hosted by the FL YES Coalition. Six universities had representation at the summit which will surely benefit our respective campuses as we move forward, fighting the good fight. We learned the importance of networking, base building, leadership, campaign planning and so much more.
Students from USF, UWF, Eckerd College, FGCU, FSU, and UF were able to network, learn from one another, and grow in this movement. Gainesville treated us well. Every day began with yoga on the lawn and ended with fun social activities and lots of bonding time.
Saturday started with an introduction to the FL Youth Environmental Sustainability Coalition which gave us an enormous sense of place in the youth environmental movement. Saturday’s agenda was focused on general skill building, like leadership development, building effective teams and working with the media. Our attendees had previous skill and experience levels that varied from group to group so this day allowed us all to get on the same page, while giving us the opportunity to remember certain strategies we might have forgotten.
I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that our Skype chat with Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, was a definite high point. He got us pumped for the upcoming rally in DC on President’s Day, saying, “Getting arrested isn’t the end of the world. The end of the world is the end of the world”. I had asked him what he could say to give us hope as we move forward in the uphill battle of addressing climate change. I was very moved by what he said. He replied by reminding us that we are not alone:
If you’re ever feeling a little daunted you just remember the brothers and sisters you have all over the place who are absolutely in the same place as you. They may speak a different language, they may belong to a different religion, they may have entirely different prospects for their lives… but their hearts are in the same place. They’re not thinking about themselves. They’re thinking about the future. They’re thinking about other people. They’re thinking about the rest of creation. And that’s an awful good way to spend your life.
We ended the day on a very high note as we slowly got past our star struck reactions to hearing from such an influential leader.
Sunday was focused more on campus-specific issues, such as campaign building, action planning and building effective networks. The Student Green Energy Fund was discussed in depth which allowed several university groups to begin the planning stages of implementing this policy on their campuses. I can’t wait for my group to host a kickoff party for this campaign and get the ball rolling to make real change on my campus.
That night we heard from Jason Fults and Mandy Hancock from Gainesville Loves Mountains, an organization working in solidarity with Mountain Justice to promote local awareness of the connection between mountaintop removal and the very flat state of Florida, since we still get much of our energy from coal. It’s important for us to remember that all these environmental injustices are linked to one another and geography doesn’t separate us.
Monday was quite memorable for me. Being that it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and President Obama’s inauguration, I couldn’t think of a better place in the world to be than with this group of committed organizers, working for environmental and social justice. In fact, we listened to the inauguration speech through NPR on the radio while we were taking a “toxic tour” of Gainesville. The president was speaking directly to us when he mentioned the need for action on climate change. Right at that moment we were caravanning around Gainesville learning about the controversial biomass plant. I’ll never forget that moment. We also took a short tour of a local co-op farm, complete with an impressive composting system. What an incredible day!
The FL YES summit was memorable for me in so many ways: it was my first time as a trainer, I gained dozens of inspiring friends and I have so much knowledge and passion to bring back to my campus. I am so glad I went and I encourage everyone reading this to consider attending a similar life changing weekend when they have the opportunity. It was epic!
-Reanna J. Edwards
Florida Gulf Coast University