Saturday, November 03, 2007

Power Shift, Part Two

Power Shift, the four-day national youth summit for climate change in Washington, D.C., began yesterday. (Read more about the event itself in the earlier post, "Power Shift, Part One.") Shadia Wood, whom New Moon recently interviewed, is one of the event planners and spokespeople. Her list of accomplishments at age twenty is hefty, but perhaps most admirable has been the combination of passion, time for reflection, and commitment to joy in her life that got her there. That combination has surely made a difference in the world, too, and she has gotten noticed for it.

Beginning at seven, she was involved in an eight-year lobby campaign to halt the increase of toxic waste sites in her community that would further the resulting illness and deaths that were already present from nearby sites. For this campaign, the Hitachi Foundation awarded her the Yoshiyama Award, and the Earth Island Institute gave her the Brower Youth Award. At fifteen, she attended the Youth Summit on Sustainable Development, helping with the Official Global Youth Energy Policy Statement, and the Second National People of Color summit, where she was involved in the Environmental Justice Youth Platform's creation. She became the youngest of the Campus Climate Challenge Coordinator during her time off between high school and college (always a worthy pursuit), and has just shifted her focus to the implementation of Power Shift itself. Of her experience being biracial, she has said that she is familiar with halves and feeling in-between. Activism, she has described, has been "the whole in my life." Next spring will bring her to the American University of Beirut to study Arabic and photography. In the interim between Power Shift's end and college's beginning, she will take time with her family to rest after two years of work to make Power Shift a reality, and to determine what she wants out of her education and her "big move to the Middle East." Of activism, she says, she knows it will always be a part of her life, "but we'll see what form that takes."

Read on for the completion of our interview.

New Moon: You began very early on your path of activism--I read that your first press conference was at age two. What was it that motivated you to become involved in activism so early?

Shadia Wood: The story behind the first press conference is kind of where it all began. Obviously I really wasn’t cognizant for that press conference. My community, which is a very small, rural community in upstate New York, was sited for a landfill and an incinerator. We already have Superfund sites surrounding my community. There’s one that’s a mile away from my house. So we already had cancer clusters, so a lot of children and old people were dying because of the pollution. Clearly I don’t remember this at the time, but the community rallied and was able to not allow [the proposed landfill and incinerator] to happen.

My mom was a big proponent of that. She was a community leader at the time; she rose to that position even though she had six kids. Since I was the youngest and wasn’t in school, as all of my other siblings [were,] she took me with her to wherever [she was going.] So that’s where that came from. She put a paper bag, cut some armholes and headholes, and [it] said, “Don’t dump on me.” That kind of creativity that I grew up around--we were really poor, but we made things work. I grew up around that framework of thinking; you use the resources you have.

When I was seven, the Superfund program in my state, the money for the toxic waste sites, was going bankrupt. It hadn’t gone bankrupt yet, but there was this huge push in the activist community, to educate each other and especially the young people. I attended this kids’ conference that explained in very simple terms what PCBs were and why Onondaga Lake was the first place to ever be declared a Superfund site, which is where my grandparents live. So I was digesting a lot of this information as a seven-year-old and making the connections to why people in the community I lived in were dying or why so-and-so had to miss school all the time for check-ups, and it just really made me angry. That’s where I got involved. We did an action, and it was a lot of people from seven to about fifteen. It was right around Halloween, so we dressed up as mutant toxic monsters, and we picked a chemical to associate with that we had learned about, and went down to Onondaga Lake and did a photo op. I remember being at the table at the reception dinner afterwards, and I was standing on the chair, and so angry Those were the emotions I was going through that sparked me into funneling that energy into that organization Kids Against Pollution that was big in my community at the time. That’s the story of initial involvement of why I started so young.

Did you have any female role models? It sounds like your mom was one. Did you have any outside influences that encouraged you in your activism?

My mom is a powerful woman, and she raised six kids on no budget whatsoever. I have an older sister, Ilina, who is eight years older than I am, and was also a large influence on my life and is why I am the way I am. When she was in high school, she started getting into Ani DiFranco. At the time I was [about] six, when Ani DiFranco first came out. So Ilina got the album, and we would listen to it on the car rides, and it would [mainly] be my sister and my mom and I when we were going places. That’s what I remember, is, as a little girl, listening to this powerful woman speaking through the [car] speaker and really empowering [the listener]. She was definitely a huge influence on my life. I knew a lot of her lyrics and didn’t really know what they meant, but I kind of felt it.

Another big influence on my life has been—I really like history—the activist Alice Paul, who was a suffragist. She’s kind of written out of history. When I started getting more involved in researching activism and organizing different movements and figuring out what worked and what didn’t, I came across Alice Paul and was like, “Wow! Here’s a powerful young woman who created this movement and did direct action, and nonviolent direct action at that in a time that it was not the climate for women to be doing that.” I was very inspired by her and looked to her for leadership.

What has been like for you to be the youngest involved in many things, or one of the younger ones? What advice do you have for girls who [encounter] age bias or bias [against girls]?

I was fortunate to have a really good support system of women in my life, and I realize that not all young women have that. Especially around the ages of eleven to thirteen and fourteen, you’re figuring all of these really important things out, and it’s just this really intense process. It’s really hard to understand what your emotions are and who you are. I guess a lot of that for me was taking time to reflect on the situations I was put in. What has helped me the most was figuring out why things happened and processing them, whether it was a situation that I was in that wasn’t positive or someone was treating me like I was thirteen when I actually had a stake at the table. I [had] a voice and [had] just as good and just as valid opinions as anybody else when I was being treated like I was five or like I was thirteen. It was very important for me to reflect on that and then figure out what the best way to move from that was. It’s staying strong and what you believe in and having a really clear concept of what that is. It’s figuring out where you best fit in in a movement.

What message do you most want to communicate to girls about Power Shift? …about activism in general, too?

Young women and girls need to really be at the forefront of this. We see all the time, women are the grassroots activists, but they’re rarely in these bigger positions of power. Women are on the ground making it work, but they’re discredited or it’s just seen differently. I think it’s so important for our young women and young girls to really be taking part in whatever they can on issues like this and find what speaks to them. Some people, the 1Sky and some people it’s the polar bears are dying and some people it’s the power plant in their backyard. What is it that speaks to you? Find that, and run with it, and push people’s way of thinking. Really be OK to be out there.

I think that’s what Power Shift is for me, it’s this convergence where young people, and especially young women, young women of color, young people of color, can come together in larger numbers and stand in solidarity with one another and really figure out what does speak to them, and push for those things.

Thanks again, Shadia, and good luck with Power Shift!

Here's a link to a story featuring Shadia:

By the way, you can read dispatches from the summit on their website and on It's Getting Hot in Here: Dispatches from the Youth Climate Movement.

Wishing you a weekend of joy, Bissy (Elizabeth!)

1 comment:

Katherine said...

Shadia commented on her mother being a powerful woman, but I do not think she has fully realized that she has become a powerful womam too. Shadia's ambition is inspiring and I hope that she continues with future projects like Powershift.

I was unable to attend Powershift or Step It Up2 this year but wanted to get out the message about improving fuel and energy standards in 2007. Check out to learn about how the CAFE and RES bills being discussed in Congress will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create cheap, renewable energy, save taxpayers money, and create jobs all at the same time. If you like our message, sign the petition. Thanks!!