They spoke their message. They rallied their message. They chanted, volunteered, wore, drew and sang their message.
From Oct. 9-11, 400 high school and college students gathered together for Power Shift Michigan 2009 at the Lansing Center, 333 E. Michigan Ave., in Lansing. The conference included workshops, keynote speakers, volunteer service projects around Lansing, musical performances and a fashion show, and finished Sunday with a march to the Capitol Building.
“I’d say there’s a dual purpose in this conference,” said Brandon Knight, the Michigan Director of Global Exchange. “We need young people to stand up to our leaders, to lead this county into legislation that will put people back into work, clean energy, creating green jobs across the country.”
This year Power Shift, which began in 2007, will hold 11 different conferences across the country in addition to the national conference held in Washington, D.C., this past March to bring local attention to the issue. Michigan and Indiana hosted the first ones this weekend.
“Michigan has been very active in the Power Shift movement and people in Michigan have been some of the most active,” Knight said. “We’ve really started to promote this issue as a way to get out of the recession. All of the (conference) sites are in areas where there’s a need for a change in the economy.”
Kyle Gracey, a graduate student form the University of Chicago, organized a group of seven students from his university to come to Michigan for the conference.
“Some people are environment activists, some people are poverty reduction activists, some are social activists — we’re all (coming) together finding ways we can work together,” he said.
But the conference went beyond words and speeches, including several recycled vintage outfits, many of which were from designers who had exhibits at the event. The Beehive Design Collective, a group of artists whose detailed pictures tell the stories of social issues, even displayed several 16-foot wide banners about free trade and the effects of using coal as energy.
Several musical groups performed songs that conveyed a message of change. A local hip-hop artist, p.h.i.l.t.h.y., performed Saturday night and led the workshop “The Social Justice Soundtrack,” which focused on the power of music with various movements.
“The influence music has is … getting people who may not know about the movement. They hear it in a song, it might bring them closer rather than watching the news, they may look it up,” he said.
Flobots, an alternative rock and hip-hop group, whose album “Fight With Tools” reached No. 15 on the Billboard charts in 2008, also performed Saturday.
“We hope to inspire motivation. We hope to inspire people to get up and do something, whatever the cause they have in their heart, whatever they feel compelled to do, that they’ll actually get up and do it,” Flobots’ violist Mackenzie Roberts said.
Many of Flobots’ songs center around an activist message. The song “Handlebars” refers to what Jonny 5, Flobots’ singer and founder, says is a human’s ability to be incredibly destructive or incredibly creative.
“What that song really is about is imagination,” he said. “You have to be able to imagine yourself living in a vastly different way.”
Saturday morning attendees worked on one of eight community service projects including going door-to-door asking for recyclable electronics, developing an urban garden, creating a bicycle cooperative house and fixing up homes in the Lansing area.
On Sunday about 100 students turned out with homemade signs and marched from the Lansing Center to the Capitol Building to promote green jobs and encourage legislators to take action now.
“We had a marvelous turnout,” said Steve Ross, the Michigan Field organizer of the Energy Action Coalition. “It was a loud and exciting rally.”
Although the conference has ended, the skills learned and connections made will continue outside the weekend.
“I wanted to network and see how I can get more involved not just on the campus, I want to get involved within my own community from New Jersey,” international relations sophomore Tabitha Skervin said.
Skervin also is planning to take what she has learned to MSU’s campus. She attended a conference on reducing the carbon footprint of a campus and plans to use that information to help with the Greenpeace demonstration to get MSU to shut down its coal power plants.
“I don’t think there is question about whether young people have the power to change things,” said Jessy Tolkan, one of the weekend’s keynote speakers.
Tolkan spoke both on Saturday night and at the rally. “I think the question right now is ‘will we seize the power to make the changes necessary to address these hugely significant problems our nation is in?’”