WASHINGTON — A friar from Maryland and students from Western New York’s St. Bonaventure University were among thousands who gathered last month for Power Shift 2011, a national youth conference on climate change.
It was an opportunity to learn and to share ideas, said Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, of Silver Spring, who heard about the April 15 to 18 event from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the organization that sponsored a Polar Bear Plunge in which Jacek participated. St. Camillus Church collaborates with CCAN in its advocacy for offshore wind energy in the state.
“With close to 10,000 college students coming to Washington from all over the country to learn about critical environmental issues and to build their skills and capacity for local actions in support of climate justice, I thought I needed to be there,” said Jacek, guardian of St. Camillus Friary. “The HNP Strategic Plan calls the friars to reach out to young adults and challenges us to get more involved in the issue of creation care.”
Commitment of Young People
Jacek said that what he saw at the rally made him think of a presentation he heard at the Province’s Chapter earlier this year.
“In January, a lay man in his 20s addressed the friars gathered at the Chapter to emphasize the importance of environmental justice issues for young adults. What he was saying became obvious to me as I witnessed the passion and commitment of the young people involved in this broad social movement for climate justice.”
Jacek, chair of the Province’s Directorate for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, said he attended last month’s gathering to learn from the young people. “They taught me how to better read the signs of the times and also how to reach out more effectively to young adults and to tap into their passion for justice and wholeness. Though I wore my Franciscan habit and had great conversations with some of the students, I was the one who was evangelized by them.”
Jacek said he hopes future Power Shift events will be attended by “not just a few, but a few hundred young adults from our Franciscan universities and parishes.” He added, “It’s a unique opportunity for us. If we pay attention, we can feel the winds of change blowing around us with the Holy Spirit nudging us to act.”
On the last day of the event, just a few days before Earth Day, Jacek met four SBU students — members of Tread Lightly, a student environmental club — who had traveled from Allegany for the clean energy and climate rally organized by the Energy Action Coalition. Jacek talked with them in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Sinead Coleman, a junior biology major from Windsor, Conn., noted that Power Shift focuses on empowering youth leaders who will lead future clean energy initiatives and also stressed the rally’s seriousness.
“We demanded real change on energy and climate, and we are ready to lead our country to a clean energy future,” she said.
Plethora of Workshops
Activists at Power Shift had the opportunity to hear speeches by former Vice President Al Gore, former green jobs czar Van Jones and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson, as well as attend a plethora of workshops, according to a news release from St. Bonaventure.
Lauryn Klingler, a political science major from Webster, N.Y., said the workshops, which included a one-on-one session with a student leader from Ithaca, helped the young attendees create specific plans of action for the Bonaventure community.
“We spent a large majority of our time (at Power Shift) going to workshops and what they called Movement Building Sessions, where we worked with a leader and other schools to develop a strategic and detailed plan of action for creating a more sustainable and energy-conscious community on our campuses,” Klingler said.
Greg Hoyos, an accounting major from Hornell, N.Y., attended panel discussions on U.S. transportation policies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and rejuvenating local economies. He also met with a top aide of Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) to discuss his concerns and Reed’s views on sustainability issues pertinent to Western New York.
Coleman said reflective periods during the workshops gave the SBU attendees time to evaluate their progress as well as their motivation.
“At our planned Movement Building Sessions, we were given time to reflect on our weaknesses and strengths to build a story of ourselves — to understand why we are part of this movement,” she said.
Power Shift concentrated on equipping the young activists with leadership tactics necessary to take control of a growing clean energy movement from the bottom up. Klinger said she hopes the skills she learned at the event will make a meaningful impact throughout the Bonaventure community.
The Power Shift website contains comments from many participants. It provides a “space to stay connected to the Power Shift movement — to continue telling your story, to collaborate, and to share the work you are doing with organizers and activists across the country.”
A movement such as Power Shift offers “a great opportunity for young people to be proactive and engaging,” Jacek said. “It is critically important that the Franciscans and our institutions be in the forefront of the struggle for environmental justice.”
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communication for Holy Name Province.