Youth Leaders Shift Attention To Environment At Power Shift Summit In D.C.

Thousands of students from schools across the U.S. discussed climate change and more at the Monday event.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — "Forever around the world, people will remember this day ... because the revolution starts right now!"

Those were the words environmentalist and human-rights activist Van Jones proclaimed to a crowd of 2,000-plus youth leaders in Washington, D.C., on Monday. And the crowd's rallying cry was enough to make any non-believer a supporter in the global environmentalist movement.

The rally came on the heels of the weekend's Power Shift 2007 youth summit, a gathering of more than 5,000 students from schools across the U.S. who came together to discuss issues of environmentalism and climate change, and to mobilize people to act on the growing climate crisis.

Holly Jones, a 19-year-old from Iowa who also goes to school in the state, drove to the nation's capital to participate in the rally, as well as to talk to representatives in Congress. "There were about 2,000 of us out today," she said. "We lobbied with Congress, we came out with signs, yelling, letting our voices get heard, letting them know we want change now ... I know that I will never forget this in my life."

"Basically, when you hear that 5,000-plus students are rallying in Washington, you want to get involved," said Rob Friedman, a college freshman. "It doesn't matter who you are or where you live. Everyone has a stake in the environment."

And that was the overwhelming feeling at the rally: Everyone has a stake in the environment, and the youth of America are ready to send that message to the government. One after another, speakers came out to address the energetic crowd — from Carol Browner, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (she read a letter from Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore, apologizing for not being able to attend the summit); to Jessy Tolkan, executive director of the Energy Action Coalition; to the aforementioned Van Jones, a visionary environmentalist who played an instrumental role in convincing the House of Representatives to incorporate the Green Jobs Act into its energy bill this year. And while all the speakers touched on slightly different issues surrounding climate change, the message was clear: America is ready for decisive change in environmental policy, and Monday would be the starting point.

"The 2008 election is coming up, our representatives need to know that this is the issue of the election," said Lauren Kim, a junior at the University of Maryland, and the president of MaryPIRG. "We don't just want a commitment to climate change, we want a plan for climate change."

Summer Rayne Oakes, one of Power Shift's youth representatives, spoke passionately about the weekend after the rally ended. "There is nothing that can even compare to this," she said. "We've just come together to say, 'We want change.' "

Summer, clearly invigorated by the energy demonstrated at the event, went on to say that although the rally was just the beginning, she knows that America's youth are ready for the change. "It's a long road ahead, and we are up for the challenge. ... We need to start coming together and telling our candidates, telling our representatives that this is important to us."

For more on Power Shift 2007 and the rally, check out Power