Exclusive OpEdNews Interview with Zo Tobi, Northeast Organizer for the Sierra Student Coalition
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking with Zo Tobi, of the Sierra Student Coalition. He and the rest of the organizers of PowerShift 2009 are, at this moment, gearing up for the 11,000 young people who will be descending upon the nation’s capital this weekend.
PowerShift 2009 is a project of the Energy Action Coalition (EAC), founded in 2004, and comprised of dozens of environmental and social justice organizations and hundreds of local groups. The coalition “is led by and for young people.” Despite being so pressed for time, Zo graciously found time to answer my questions about the conference.
What would you like to tell OpEdNews readers about this huge get-together?
We have the power. Now we need to use it. Young people voted in record numbers in the last election and we have earned political power. Oscar Wilde said "If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu”. We need to take our seat at the table.
What is the EAC aiming for with PowerShift 2009?
We can rebuild our economy and reclaim our future. We must work together to pass bold, federal energy and climate legislation this year (that dramatically reduces emissions, creates millions of green jobs, and repowers America with 100% clean energy).
That sounds pretty ambitious. You’re just a bunch of kids. What do you hope to accomplish?
We are an extraordinary generation. We were raised to believe all life deserves respect, all people have a responsibility to one another, and every generation deserves a chance. We’re the largest, most diverse, tolerant, and engaged generation in history…and we’re waking up to crisis.
Now, our future is in jeopardy. 9/11 shattered our illusions of security. Katrina exposed a government that left our fellow Americans to sink or swim. Now, the economic crisis threatens our ability to earn a living, raise a family, or retire with dignity. And our future is a nightmare of rising seas, hurricanes, and wars caused by climate disruption & fossil fuel addiction.
I expect Power Shift ‘09 will help our lawmakers understand just how committed our generation is to ensuring our birthrights are not squandered. I also think this will be a moment in which our generation arrives, and realizes our power to protect these birthrights in a profound new way.
What’s your vision for the future?
We can rebuild our economy and reclaim our future. Imagine a world where windmills fill the countryside and solar panels cover every rooftop. A world where you can turn on the lights, travel where you’d like, and make a decent living, without fear of harming the planet. A world where all people –regardless of race, class, or national origin – can count on a stable climate, healthy food, clean air, fresh water, and dignified work. A world you’d be proud to pass on.
What have you been doing on a personal level to prepare for this conference?
My role on the ground is to coordinate recruitment among schools in the Northeast, and "behind the scenes" to help craft the agenda. In day-to-day terms, coordinating recruitment means hitting the phone, blasting off emails, and pounding the pavement at campuses every day to coach and mentor students throughout the Northeast who are organizing on their own campuses to get folks down to PowerShift...helping to keep people motivated and working through all the inevitable logistical setbacks, while helping them strategize and turn this whole experience into a learning moment for them as organizers.
As far as the behind the scenes role, I'm helping to figure out how to structure this conference in a way that leaves all 10,000 participants feeling seen & heard. I'm also helping to convene a training by some key players behind the Obama Campaign's grassroots organizing strategy, on the topic of public narrative -- the leadership skill of telling stories that move people to act.
What happens after this weekend?