Thursday, July 9, 2009

Campus Progress 2009: Your Smile's So Bright You Should Get a Solar Panel


Yesterday, I attended Campus Progress's National Conference, where 1,000 young people joined together to learn about the pressing issues facing our country and how to champion the progressive solutions to bring about a better future. I will highlight the big name speakers that were there: Van Jones, Kathleen Sebelius, John Oliver, Nancy Pelosi, and Bill Clinton.

Mind you, the whole conference was free--which just makes it so much better. (A free t-shirt also came with it--as did free food.)

Go to the Campus Progress site for more info: http://www.campusprogress.org/common/3725/2009-conference-home.


Even though I ran off to a quick lunchtime Adams Morgan trip, I was (thankfully) able to make it back in time for Van Jones’s speech during the lunch plenary. Van Jones, the author of the Green Collar Economy and founder of Green for All, now works in the White House Council on the Environment as the Special Advisor for Green Jobs. If you saw him at Power Shift, you already know that he is a very inspirational speaker and connects with his audience very well. I have included some memorable points in his speech below:

“As powerful as he is as president, he is more powerful as precedent.”
What a great line! All of the reforms that come as well as all of the barriers broken just open the door for more future opportunities.

“Barack Obama inspires all of you, but who do you think inspires Barack Obama?”
This is a great thought for the politically disenfranchised. The idea that some politicians actually have people’s concerns in mind and in heart is a welcome reminder that politics is not just about money and power—it can be about working for the common good.

When talking about green jobs, Jones noted Hilda Solis—to much applause from the audience. Reacting to such loud approbation, he said that with “so many smiles, we should get some solar panels here.” That has led me to come up with my new favorite eco pick-up line: “Your smile’s so bright I should buy you a solar panel.” (or something along those lines)

After Van Jones spoke, Kathleen Sebelius, former Governor of Kansas and the current Secretary of Health and Human Services, gave her keynote. I am not going to go into full detail here in order to keep this focused, but health care and the environment are inextricably linked because that which damages our air, our land, and our water will also damage our bodies (and, through that, our minds and our souls/spirits).
The evening plenary had the top-name speakers. It was about 2 ½ hours long—full of applause, laughs, smiles, and nods of approbation. First up was John Oliver from The Daily Show. This guy is in all ways hilarious. The audience was laughing nonstop; if you would like to hear some more about this in detail, just ask me.
After Oliver appeared Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. She could not be “off campus” for long, but she said that “Well, being here at “Campus” Progress should count, right?” Nancy Pelosi spoke about the three pillars of our budget: 1) education, 2) health care, and 3) energy. These pillars are vital in making the budget “a statement of our national values.”

When discussing energy, she lauded the landmark of ACES, noting its role as a national security bill, a health issue, an economic issue, and a moral issue. As a national security issue, it helps to provide the US with energy independence—vital when the top oil producing countries often do not like the US. It is health issue for the reasons I noted above. As an economic issue, it helps us to stay competitive in the global market. Pelosi as well as Clinton and Jones mentioned how rapidly China has been developing renewable energy technology; clean and green technology is something that we can innovate right here in the US, and we should not give up such an opportunity. As a moral issue, combating climate change can be religious (“If you believe as I do that this planet is God’s creation, we have a moral responsibility..”) or indicative of the basic generational duty that we have.
When talking about the ultimate passage of ACES, Speaker Pelosi said that we WILL reduce emissions 80% by 2050 and then clarified to say “AT LEAST 80%” to much applause.

Education and climate change are also inextricably tied together (and not just with regard to rampant misinformation). Pelosi quoted a prior statement of hers on the four key parts to a solution to education: “Science, science, science, science.” If we are to innovate our way into a clean energy future, we need our students to have the skills and the intellect to do so—and we need such skills to be available to everyone. (For those of us in the liberal arts, we can write about the tech in newspapers, journals, magazines, etc., and we can write the books that unveil the amazing history of their discovery---my plan, of course.)
Pelosi also cited the importance of “justice for all” in energy, health care, and education—a vital part of any reform.

One of my favorite Nancy moments was her reaction to the five year-old who was sitting in the front row. (Why was a kid there? I still don’t know) When she saw the kid, she said (in a sweet, almost grandmotherly voice), “You are the future.” She then looked at the whole audience to say, “All of you are the future.”
In her closing, she spoke about the Greek word “ananke.” In some interpretations, this word means “scarcity,” but in others it means “opportunity.” At such an intersection (where scarcity meets opportunity) lies the hope, the ability, and the desire for true reform.

Last but certainly not least to appear was former President Bill Clinton. I saw him speak last year at a rally, and he always has an instantaneous connection with his crowd. What is often touted as the essence of his style is to be able to make people feel as though he is talking directly to them; part of this is his very deliberate style of his speech. He seems to put a lot of thought in all that he says.

Clinton spoke for a while about the need for a “communitarian” approach to the issues facing us and the world, in other words, the idea that “We’re all in this together.” Such an approach has been eschewed for the past few decades because of the “politics of division” (often cited as culture wars) around issues that distract us from the pressing ones. He stressed the importance of reflecting on what the implications of the issues (and solutions) on our lives—best way to see what is of genuine importance.

In the modern day, as Clinton said, good citizenship requires more than it did in the 20th century. Issues like the economy and the environment cannot be isolated and cannot be ignored; it become our duty to “advance public good as private citizens”—for each person to see his or her role as a stakeholder in the future.
When we work toward such a future, the question is not “what” or “how much.” The true question, as Clinton drove home, was “how.” How do we get there? How do we innovate to obtain the future that we need, for which we hope and aspire, that can be within our reach with just a little effort? It is this brainpower, creativity, intellect, and drive that makes the world turn. Many say that money makes the world go round, but to do so ignores the power of ideas. It is this creativity and this intellect that not only makes the world go round but also changes it.

Some Key Points to Take Away From the Conference:

• There are people who care about your opinions and do want to work (actively and profoundly) for the common good. Find out which politicians they are and be their champions. Find out who they are not, and force them to change if they want to stay. (AKA LOBBY—Someone will listen.)
• Know where your money goes. I think that endowment transparency is a major issue for Georgetown and needs more attention.
• As I feel that I have written before, human power is the greatest renewable resource. Use it (your brains, your motivation, your energy) to power our future.

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