Driving through the night across Ohio and up through Michigan from Cleveland to Detroit on Friday with four of the most amazing women I have ever met, I was stunned and awed by the industry and power production surrounding us on all sides. Bright lights, flares and billowing smoke flooded the otherwise peaceful, moonlit night as we rocked out to Lady Gaga and Blondie barreling down interstates 90 and 75. Now, back home in Oberlin, Ohio, as I reflect on the weekend, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of magic and terror I experienced over the past few days. This country and region we call home are really quite extraordinary. We are consumed by so much beauty, grime and inertia on a daily basis. These are the things that lead me to join the environmental movement, and as a result I often find myself contemplating the same rehearsed question: how can I harness all of this power, innovation and social context for healthy and just change? Perhaps more importantly, how can I work toward this change and past this broken system while remembering to take care of myself and stay positive?
In so many ways, this weekend was a beautiful affirmation that all of these things are possible. As the Ohio Student Environmental Coalition (OSEC) and the Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition (MSSC) embark on a journey to plan a collaborative conference for the fall of 2011, we are experiencing something truly picturesque. On Saturday I spent eight hours sitting in a room with nine other inspiring and visionary leaders, all under the age of 25 and most (myself included) still in undergrad. We reached a consensus to host our collaborative conference in either Detroit or Cleveland, to form an OH/MI steering committee supported by four working groups, and we set in motion specific visions and plans for conference programming, development work and tangible actions and accomplishments that will come out of the conference. And at the end of the day, when we sat down at Cass Café to break bread, I had a huge smile spread across my face at all we had accomplished, all of the passion we had brought together, and all that I had learned about these amazing people.
In the coming months, with the support of the RE-AMP network and Strategic Global Warming Action Fund, our two organizations will go about crafting the foundation for and executing our first ever collaborative OH/MI conference addressing environmental injustice, dirty energy, clean economy solutions and green jobs development. As we continue to define, refine and further develop our shared objectives in the coming six months, we will continue to build an inter-organization relationship that we hope can become a model for other student-led state environmental coalitions across the Midwest and the nation.
We’ve only got one world to live in and our time is now. So look to your left and look to your right; the people around us are who we have to work with.
It is when we acknowledge, embrace and rejoice in this reality that we have the capacity to rebuild the world we live in and craft the just and healthy community we envision for all people. I’m feeling pretty inspired by what I saw when I looked around the room of Ohioans and Michiganders on Saturday at Wayne State. I gained some new friends that will last a lifetime, and I am more excited than ever to be a part of a movement as healthy and empowering as what we have here in Ohio and what we share with Michigan. Having strong relationships and a strong movement maintains my optimism. Every day I see depressing physical manifestations of the uphill social and economic battle we face — coal plants, nuclear reactors, shattered car windows that represent an economic system that fails to provide opportunities for upward mobility. These are the reasons I continue to define my life goals in the paradigm of environmental justice and by the opportunities and optimism of green jobs and clean economy workforce development, and these are the reasons why it is so important to be there for one another when cruising down I-90 with a plastic bag taped over the gaping hole that used to be a car window, still listening to “Maria” on the way back to Cleveland.