Climate activists fill the Museum of Civilization for the opening plenary. Photo: PowerShiftCan on flickr

Power Shift aims to build an environmental and climate justice movement that can transform our society, so that our future can be enjoyed by everyone, not only those who can afford it. Power Shift is organized by youth for youth and aims to mobilize passionate youth from affected communities and various sectors of civil society to explore multiple ways of taking action and work to develop each other’s capacity and abilities.

Day One: Friday, October 26

I spent most of today in a car on the way to Ottawa with three University of Waterloo students and organizers with WPIRG action group Stop the Tar Sands KW. Between pitstops along the highway, I chatted with my carpool mates about why they chose to make the trip and what they're hoping to get out of this weekend.

Paisley Cozzarin is attending as a presenter. She'll be speaking on a panel titled Tar Sands Mega-Project – Understanding Pipelines on Sunday at 10:30 am in room MNT202. She's excited about meeting other climate and environmental justice activists and learning what other people are doing in their own cities/towns.

Tar sands and pipelines are of particular interest in our area at the moment because of the proposed Enbridge Line 9 Reversal, which would have tar sands oil threatening the Grand River Watershed, including Six Nations and Aamjiwnaang First Nation as well as Waterloo Region's eco-systems and water supply.

Vanessa Minke-Martin, a 5th-year Knowledge Integration and Biology student at uWaterloo, wants to extend her knowledge of the many facets of the environmental movement, and our 4th carpool member, Computer Science student William Saunders, hopes to get a sense of where things are heading within the movement – where people's energy is focused.

Opening Plenary

There was a certainly lot of energy in the air at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, QC for the opening plenary. MCs and movement favourites Brigette DePape and Clayton Thomas-Muller got the near-1000 attendees from across the country pumped up with a few "when I say Power, you say Shift" chants, and welcoming remarks acknowledging our status as guests on unceded Algonquin land and the wide diversity of people in attendance.

This set the tone for the rest of the night, and established what promises to be a strong focus throughout the weekend, expressed best by Power Shift spokesperson and Land Defender Ben Powless: that this is about more than just the environment. We need to build a multi-issue movement that encompasses human rights, indigenous rights, feminism, anti-poverty, anti-racism, migration and more; only then can we hope to truly transform the institutions that are causing the crises happening around the world right now.

Other highlights from the night:

  • A beautiful opening statement and prayer from Algonquin Elder Annie St. George who reminded us why we're here: because if we don't respect all of Mother Earth, down to the smallest of insects, "we will cease to exist."

  • Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a Quebec student activist and the former spokesperson for the Coalition large de l'Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE), reminding us that capitalism is the root of our environmental crises – and that "the people who want to increase our tuition fees, privatize our institutions, and kill our planet are all the same."

  • Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation and a Climate and Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, telling the story of her community, near the site of Alberta's largest oil spill – and how the government was so busy trying to deny was a problem that it didn't inform the community of the spill for days and never came to its aid. Melina also invoked the familiar Cree saying "Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten," pointing out that this is very much what we're heading towards with the tar sands.

  • Ruckus Society civil disobedience trainer Joshua Kahn Russell upping the energy level even more by getting everyone on their feet, chanting "we are unstoppable; another world is possible," and talking about building a movement "big enough for all our grandmothers...a movement that's more nuturing than the rest of society." I'll second that.

Read the Day Two update!

Laura is a past A\J managing editor. She has an MA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University, is an organizing aficionado, lackadaisical gardener, and former musical theatre producer. @inhabitings

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