I spent the weekend at Midwest Power Shift in Cleveland. Among the rallies, trainings, and speeches, I was able to catch some downtime with fellow Summer of Solutions program leaders and participants from around the Midwest. Especially valuable was a conversation I had with members of other Midwestern programs on Saturday night.
This conversation helped me articulate two things: one, the "good environmentalists vs. the evil polluters" framing I saw a lot of other places during the conference makes me deeply uncomfortable, and two, if the green economy is going to work it needs to be the whole economy, not a side industry.
First: I heard a lot of people, excellent organizers and activists who I strongly respect, talking about how we need to stop them, the polluters and the fossil fuel barons. I fully believe that we urgently need to stop, for example, the Keystone XL pipeline. To me, the fundamental issue is that we don't need to make them stop the pipeline, but we that need to stop us from building it. Our society is dependent on these fuels, and a "we" that includes every attendee of Midwest Power Shift and President Obama and the CEO of TransCanada and every person that uses fossil fuels needs to do something different. Stopping them is, to me, deeply disempowering because I am not involved in the final decision. Finding something different for all of us to do is something I can be a part of.
Second: At that conversation, we talked about the realities of our own lives and financial situations. Many of us need to make money to cover needs we can't meet in other ways. We talked about student debt traps and worries about health insurance. We talked about needing to work other jobs to meet our needs. I left the conversation with a strong need to find ways to support not only myself but my friends and people I have never met to live lives that sustain them and the planet and its people. To me, this means building businesses that generate their own revenue by providing needed services like energy, food, and transit. This may not sound new to my fellow solutionaries, but it felt realer to me leaving that conversation than it has in a while.
Third: (Surprise, there's a third!) I could not have had this conversation without the three years and four programs I have spent with the Summer of Solutions. I have learned a sense of urgency and a deep-rooted narrative of my own power through my involvement in Summer of Solutions and from my fellow solutionaries in Grand Aspirations. I believe that I can move past the disempowering get-someone-else-to-do-it attitude I described in my first point. I believe that I have agency in moving us towards an economy where we don't need to wait tables to support our farms or solar businesses -- we work on our businesses to support our businesses.
If you want to join me and hundreds of other young people in this endeavor, consider starting a Summer of Solutions program in your community. You can also use that link to let us know if you want to be contacted when the application for participating goes up in the spring (just click the link to apply for a new program and it's one of the options).