On Friday, Sept. 30 through Sunday Oct. 2, University of Mary Washington students joined over 200 students from Virginia universities at Virginia Tech for Virginia Power Shift 2011.
Virginia Powershift is a clean energy conference created by Virginia students, with a mission to, “unite students from across the Commonwealth to form the Virginia Alliance for a Cleaner Environment [and] equip students with the know-how to make a clean energy future now,” according to the Virginia Powershift website.
Ryan Bowen, steering committee member and recruitment coordinator for Virginia Powershift, said it was an “empowering event” that allowed Virginia students to “mobilize together to fight injustice.”
After check-in on Friday evening, Power Shift attendees arrived early to the Virginia Tech campus on Saturday morning in icy Blacksburg weather.
In front of Squires Hall, students met for a community breakfast before the day’s activities began inside.
Saturday included a set of four sessions, each an hour and twenty minutes long.
Students could choose between three tracks of sessions including Dirty to Clean Energy, Social Sustainability or Leadership and Movement Building.
Each session included options of speakers within the three tracks.
Junior Sam Corron, member of the steering committee for Power Shift and campus coordinator for the University of Mary Washington spoke positively about the event.
“I think the most beneficial aspect for students was not only learning, but being able to meet and connect with fellow Virginia students who are as passionate as they are,” Corron said.
During the weekend, students organized Virginia Alliance for a Cleaner Environment (VACE), solidifying the statewide environmental coalition that was created last spring at National Power Shift, which occurs every other spring.
Bowen spoke about the organizing process of VACE.
“We knew that we wanted it to be 100 percent student organized in spite of our lack of experience. Students are notoriously unreliable though so we had so many ups and downs with the planning process,” Bowen said.
According to Bowen, there were days when their task was daunting and people were not responding, but their steering committee persevered through them.
The final event of the weekend was a rally held in Squires Plaza against the coal plant on the Virginia Tech campus.
Corron and Power Shift members are concerned about this coal plant because of its location on campus.
“I want to see Tech’s coal plant shut down,” Corron stated. “The plant is 50 feet from a dorm and the coal is left uncovered, causing problems with asthma and other respiratory problems.”
The rally included 21 students who walked through a makeshift coal plant wearing facemasks with stickers reading, “We need 100% clean,” while three students spoke about the dangers of coal.
The 21 students then lined up wearing shirts that spelled out “We Stand for Clean Energy.”
After the rally, Power Shift members collected and walked through campus to the coal plant carrying signs with the message “Beyond Coal,” and chanting.
UMW freshmen Kalynn Blakely said that while the walk to the coal plant got the communities attention, the rally itself was only made up of people who already had the same opinion about coal.
Blakely thought there could have been more administration involved or more attention brought to the rally.
Photo by Josh Lopez.