For four days, 6,000 young people gathered in Pittsburgh to unite as members of a grassroots movement to combat climate change, fight fracking and rally for social justice.
Members of UT student groups like Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville and the Environment and Sustainability Student Services Committee packed their bags to meet and learn from their peers, returning with renewed commitment to furthering sustainability and environmental education on campus.
"Powershift showed me that just knowing the facts and the science and having rational arguments is not going to be enough to win a divestment campaign or bring an end to fracking," said Jake Rainey, a senior in journalism and electronic media. "What we need to do is speak out and have well-planned, well-executed actions that use our power as students."
UT students attending the conference were particularly concerned with ways to enhance their divestment campaign, through which students work to pressure the university to become a leader in sustainability among college campuses.
"The divestment workshop was one of the most heavily attended workshops of the weekend," said Lindsey Huff, a fifth-year student in mechanical engineering. "Powershift helped give students access to success stories, giving them ideas on how to work on the action in their own communities. Most importantly, it gave them a lot of energy and fire to really keep working on this initiative here at UTK."
Powershift encouraged attendees to use their influence as a social group to affect change.
"We know from our experiences with the civil rights movement that young people are necessary drivers of political change," said Ana Reboredo, a senior in ecology and evolutionary biology. "They don't have kids, they don't have jobs, so they really have the flexibility to get out there and put themselves at risk for these causes. When older people see younger people getting really passionate about issues where they're exercising civil disobedience, then they will get involved. They will wake up and see what's happening."
Among other topics, Powershift addressed issues of social justice. Students discussed the plight of communities being displaced by the work of fossil fuel companies. Reboredo was particularly moved by this problem.
"It's really heartbreaking to see that," she said. "For us, it's making it about protecting people, not profit. There are other ways to generate power that is not through fossil fuels and that are not through hurting communities."
"Because we live in cities, we don't see where our water goes, where our trash goes. It's really important to remember that there are people being sacrificed for our comfort."
As students return to their regular schedules, Reboredo hopes that the concerns students were exposed to during Powershift will continue to spark progress.
"I hope students will bring back the energy and that passion and the drive to make changes here on campus, and that with the knowledge they gained at the workshops on how to be better leaders that they will apply that," Reboredo said. "Not only to our campus campaign of fossil fuel divestment, but also to their personal lives in that this will help them become better people in the future as well."