This weekend college students from across Michigan converged on the campus of Grand Valley State University to participate in a three-day summit organized by the Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition (MSSC). The gathering was called the Regeneration Summit which featured student activists, information tables, a “Green Jobs Fair,” and keynote speakers from national organizations.
On the opening night of the summit, several students involved in the coalition welcomed those in attendance and talked about what the MSSC has accomplished over the past two years. Some of the highlights mentioned were lobbying work, education and petition campaigns, with an emphasis on challenging the auto industry to be more “green,” and to get Michigan legislators to adopt a more sustainable energy policy.
The State of the Movement
The first speaker at the summit was Jessy Tolkan who works for the Energy Action Coalition. She began by stating that she believes that it is the first time in her lifetime that “we have a President that really cares about what we think.”
One of the major challenges that those involved in this new environmental movement faced, according to the speaker, was the current economic crisis facing the US, particularly how that crisis impacts Michigan. She shared with the audience that her father works in the auto industry and how they would argue over climate change and energy issues. However, she wanted to make it clear to everyone that she was not against cars, rather she was advocating for the auto industry to create green, sustainable automobiles. However, the speaker never articulated what a green/sustainable car would look like or whether or not that is even possible to have cars that fit into a model of sustainability.
The Role of Voting
Next, she spoke to the importance of the numbers of young people who participated in electoral process. She equated this participation as a form of political power that not only raised issues like climate change during the election, it “helped to get Barack Obama and a new Congress elected.”
Tolkan then spoke to the mission of the coalition, which is to fight for a clean and just energy future. One way that the coalition works towards this mission is by having a movement that is different than previous environmental movements. One of the main differences is that this movement is racially more diverse, with students from Black, Latino and Indigenous communities. She also spoke about the need for this movement to be more radical than previous environmental movements and then said that helping to elect Barack Obama was evidence of this radical change.
The speaker then encouraged young people to come to the national youth summit in Washington, DC in February. The speaker wants to fill the halls of Congress to let them know that, “We will vote their asses in or out of office if they don’t do what we want them to do.” The speaker continued by saying, “We need to demand that Congress move to create green jobs.”
Unfortunately, there was never any description of what green jobs would look like nor what tactics would be used beyond just expressing their desires to members of Congress.
The Time for Debate is Over, It’s Time for Change
She ended her comments by talking about a meeting she had with “CEOs of national environmental groups.” At the meeting, there was a discussion about the need for a serious effort towards a reduction in carbon emissions. She said that the environmental groups were arguing amongst themselves about how little to push carbon reduction and renewable energy or whether or not now is the time to push this issue because of the economic crisis.
Tolkan felt that her generation cannot expect the mainstream environmental groups to make the change that was necessary and that those in attendance need to be the catalyst for real change.