The Power Shift Experience

January 7, 2014

By Maren Hunsberger

The weekend of October 18th, a group of William and Mary students made the trek up to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a little something called Power Shift. This biennial conference is geared toward environmentally-minded young people all across the country—it serves as an opportunity to attend trainings and workshops while offering the chance to hear distinguished speakers on subjects ranging from clean energy to policy making. The purpose on this particularly chilly October weekend? To empower young leaders, to promote a sustainable future, and to bring young people together and forward their progress in the environmental movement. There were an estimated 8,000 plus people in attendance, including students from Virginia Tech, JMU, Mary Washington, and W&M—Virginia was well represented by its student population. Speakers at the conference included founder Bill McKibben, Dream Defender founder Phillip Agnew, and the director of the acclaimed documentary Gas Land, Josh Fox, all inspiring students in fields as diverse as nonprofit entrepreneurism and the arts. There were also a plethora of panels to choose from, focusing on topics such as homeowners in fracking territory, and an even wider variety of workshops on everything from divestment, sustainable gardening, and environmental leadership.

The conference has previously been held in DC but took place this year in Pittsburgh, PA. Once the steel capital of the world, Pittsburgh has made great leaps to clean up the city and is the first municipality to ban fracking. The city is an exemplary prototype of an urban center in the post-industrial age cleaning up its act and becoming an environmental leader, mostly for the sake of the health of its citizens. 102_0070 Another big change in this year’s conference was the new focus on environmental justice.

Environmental justice, commonly referred to as EJ, centers around the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies”, according to the EPA. EJ focuses on grassroots solutions to environmental issues, mostly by ensuring equal protection from environmental health hazards. However EJ is a broad field of study and practice that can also include access to healthy food and the availability of environmental advocacy. There were several workshop and seminar opportunities at Power Shift 2013 that offered anti-oppression training to help participants recognize where one is in a position of privilege and power and to identify and understand different perspectives when addressing environmental degradation.


Sophomore Anne Davis reflected on this aspect  of the conference, saying that “it was at Power Shift that…[I realized] how fortunate I am to come from a stable, middle-class upbringing and to be getting a college education and that I don’t have to worry on a daily basis whether I’m going to get sick from the air I breathe or the water I drink”.

Most of William and Mary’s attendees are also members of SEAC, the Student Environmental Action Coalition. Student environmental organizations from across the country can stay in contact with one another and share their work after the conference on Power Shift’s website. Check it out and join the conversation at    (above, William and Mary’s Power Shift attendees)

If you have any questions or comments about Power Shift, environmental justice, or sustainable initiatives at William and Mary, please connect with us in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

–Maren Hunsberger



Photos courtesy of Anne Davis


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