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I want to share with you a quote I heard at a panel during Powershift.

"The system is broken" The woman who was facilitating spoke.
"Broken for us, or broken for them? It's not so broken for them"
This was the response of a meek young coal miner from appalachia.

Sometimes it is impossible to pinpoint what it is we mean by them. Them the Koch Brothers, them the fossil fuel companies, them the wasteful american consumers. While these definitions of them can be hard to pinpoint at times, I want to focus on a different form of 'them'. Them the coal miners forced into poverty wages, them the Chicago father trying to make a living at McDonalds, them the humans on this planet struggling to live in shifting ecologies and economies. 

I had the privilege of sitting in on a panel to hear the voices of some of 'them' at Powershift this year. It was a panel on capitalism and climate injustice. The panel was composed of five guests: Nick Mullens, a 4th generation coal miner, TR McKenzie a deep advocate for native american rights, Dina Dewalt a college advocate, Aaron Foster, and father from chicago working two minimum wage jobs to support his family, and Ron Collins, from Los Angeles, who worked tirelessly to increase bus service in his city.

The panel was asked how capitalism plays a role in climate. Nick Mullens, A pleasantly meek young man from Appalachia chimed in. He spoke of his options graduating high school. He knew what he would have to do long before that point of graduation though. He would be a coal miner. He would be a coal miner like his dad-- his grandfather, and his father before him. Nick never had much of a choice of what job he would get in his town, because there was only one job: coal mining. It was here that he worked for low wages, it was here he endured the risk of 'black lung' associated with mining, and it was here he had to fight for the coal company to exist--because it was the only job he had. Then he said something that stuck with me throughout Powershift. "We have a system that perpetuates a necessity to live".

This quote stayed in my head as we marched across one of Pittsburgh's famous bridges in protest of dirty energy. As we started our way across the bridge I lowered my head as we passed another group of protesters. Coal workers protesting for 'clean coal'. The coal company had the audacity to barge in a monstrous ship of unburned coal. The pile of coal on that ship had to have been 50 feet wide, by 6 feet high. It was as if they were taunting us; a cared for hostage on board. "We could burn this" it felt like they were saying. Atop this coal mound was the audacious banner "Welcome to Coal Country".

But as I looked across at that coal, and to the coal workers protesting across the river from us, I did not feel anger. Instead I thought of this dichotomy between us and them. An older woman spoke on stage and apologized for what her generation had done to us, but she added a caveat "It wasn't me. I didn't do this, but I apologize for what my generation has done". But this was only a half-truth. A convenient but false attempt to be completely dichotomous. But the truth is that she wasn't completely innocent. In some ways, the coal miners across the street were more honest with themselves than she was. We all were guilty of using the coal these miners were working to protect. And we all will until we can secure a transition from fossil fuels to renewable. But we also all want and need a safe earth to live on. The coal miners across the street weren't being completely honest with themselves either that their future was safe in the hands of the coal industry. If anything, the river between us was the most truthful voice in the two protests. The coal miners were advocating for the reality that we are dependent on coal, and we were advocating for a future of renewables. But the present situation exists somewhere in the space between us both. By acknowledging truths that are uncomfortable, we can meet somewhere in the middle.

At Powershift, there was a deep sense of community. Of working together. Of building a better world. It was a refreshing breath of fresh air to see so many people working towards a new future. It is this sense of community I left with from Powershift. This sense of encapsulating community power. At that place, in that moment, it did not matter your religion, age, race, sex, gender, or lack thereof. All that mattered was that you wanted to be there, fighting. At Powershift, there was no us and them, and I hope I can take that encapsulating power into the Madison community. So that we can all be one, fighting--not against each other, but for a livable planet.


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