67°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Left Edge

Erik Foley
Erik Foley

Amid a fluster of bio-terrorism scares, the Capitol shut down last weekend as Senators and House Representatives evacuated the building trying to avoid flu-like symptoms from envelopes sent by terrorist fourth graders from New Jersey. But was it really funky white powder they were afraid of? Or was it that they knew thousands of greenheads were swarming through the anthrax-laden air to descend on D.C. for the ECOnference Friday? I don’t know…anthrax is pretty scary, but the prospect of an ECOnference-three days of lectures, workshops, and panel discussions for thousands of student activists dedicated to saving the earth through reclaiming democracy in America is scary enough to force all those in office underground for a while.

The ECOnference kicked off Friday at George Washington University, gathering students from 40 states and over 200 campuses for a three-day weekend of environmental activism, info gathering, and optimism. This reporter took off from Boston with the MassPIRG kids at 6am, (6am! Aah, the sacrifices we make for a story) to see what all this treehuggin’ fuss was about.

Though arriving late and slightly agitated, (lost for three hours somewhere outside the beltway) just the spectacle of the eco-friendly crowd at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall for the opening keynote speakers was enough to make me forget a twelve hour ride down 95 and get me pumped for a little agitatin’ of my own. Though I missed three out of the four speakers, I did catch Damu Smith, an environmental justice and human rights activist who’s been fighting for the cause for years speak about how each one of us has to take individual responsibility for how we treat the environment and each other. Revved up by the speech and my fourth wind I hooked up with the Boston College contingent for a night across the Key Bridge at a Georgetown apartment, eco-philosophizing around a complimentary keg.

Saturday morning found me hustling back across the bridge to catch the Metro for the day’s first workshop. As if a carpeted subway train wasn’t enough to get me going, the list of possible workshops had me wondering what I’d gotten myself into. The list was staggering! Everything from “campaigning to get BP Amoco out of Tibet” to “how to be an anti-sexist man.” sixty-four possible workshops, all before 10am! I was beginning to regret I’d spent so much time philosophizing the night before.

After my first workshop concerning the potential that the next war in the Middle-East may well be over water, my attention was shifted back to the home front for the weekend’s first panel discussion. These panels were really well organized, three to five speakers that provided multiple viewpoints and voices of experience on assorted topics. The one I checked out was about the civil rights implications of campaign finance reform. But it wasn’t your average three know-it-alls preaching to the choir-type panel discussion. Though there was a kind of southern church atmosphere in the room: passionate speakers, singing, clapping, dancing, general praising of the cause and the efforts of all involved. Bet you didn’t know we got campaign finance reform in Massachusetts. Well…we sort of did, but John Bonifaz, the first panel speaker, a lawyer from the National Voting Rights Institute is working hard here in Boston right now to make sure it’s here to stay. He gave way to Stephanie Wilson, a representative from the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, an organization dedicated to getting private money out of politics, who wasted no time in leading the room in a revival-type rendition of the old civil rights tune “This Little Light of Mine” to a packed audience of ecstatic, clappin’ democracy lovers. Randy Hayes of the Rainforest Action Network followed with stories of his last couple visits to…and subsequent arrests in D.C. for marching inside the Capitol rotunda and hanging signs in the hallowed halls to let all Congress know his feelings about private contributions to their election campaigns.

The afternoon was a mix of more workshops: World Bank trouble and population control, another panel, this time on air, land, and water pollution, a brief moment of meditation in the 75 degree sun hanging comfortably over the campus park, and some of the tastiest Thai food I’ve ever chopsticked. But alas, the day eventually gave way to a Saturday night of infinite possibility in our nation’s capital. Not straying from the theme of the weekend, however, it was our job, indeed our civic duty to respond to a call for action to “Save the Ales!” at Mackey’s Pub on L Street. Power Shift, an organization committed to promoting the use of renewable energy, sponsored a party to draw attention to one of the unnoted victims of further global warming: hops! So me and a couple PIRGs did our very best to save as many as we could before deciding to take in a little illuminated capitol culture on the Mall. We got off the Metro at the Smithsonian and strolled down the reflecting pool through a crystalline Washington midnight to where old Abe sits eternally vigil on his monument. Whether you’re for or against, left or right, patriot or agitator, that walk at night stands among the most beautiful in the world.

Sunday, the conference concluded with closing keynote addresses at the Washington Monument. It was an inspiring scene: the monument, standing tall in the afternoon light over a stage, Lois Gibbs upon it, the woman who nearly single-handedly exposed the travesty of the Love Canal, preaching the power of youth, commitment, and numbers: “STUDENTS-UNITED-WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED!” And a thousand students, maybe more, united for the briefest of hours, concerned, committed, enthusiastic, optimistic, and perhaps most importantly, unwavering, unalterable. It gave me hope, that that hour could really represent a lifetime, our lifetime, a thousand lives pursuing peace and prosperity, consciousness and commitment, a commitment to do nothing less than save the world. It seems a daunting task. But there we were…here we are…a thousand people…maybe more…