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I have a complicated relationship with the Points of Intervention framework. On the one hand, it is a theory of change that makes a ton of sense to me. I’ve always valued the unique knowledge that each individual’s lived experience brings to a movement space. On the other hand, I don’t truly feel that I’ve realized what my own intervention point is! That can be a little disconcerting to to realize when college-aged folks are confiding in you for job recommendations and leadership advice.

 

Recently this experience was heightened when I signed up to participate in a Training for Trainers facilitated by the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), the youth led chapter of the Sierra Club. The purpose of the training was to prepare SSC volunteers to facilitate their Summer Environmental Leadership Training Program, known as “SPROG”; this program equips high school and college-aged students with organizing techniques, from anti-oppression principles to coalition building. Since my position in PLAN involves regular advising and support of students who are often in leadership positions on their campuses, the training seemed like a good opportunity to glean some tools for PLAN’s resources. I went into the weekend excited to assume the role of a student again.

 

The space quickly proved to be the wealth of knowledge that I’d been hoping it to be. Unexpectedly though, the gems weren’t as much from the facilitators of the space as from other attendees – students as young as 19 who were ripe with passion for creating equitable movement spaces. From the creation of Community Agreements for the space to understanding the relationship between the SSC and the greater Sierra Club, it was clear that the student organizers were ready and willing to exercise their critical thinking in order to get the most out of this training.

 

In particular, attendees were determined to better understand the relationship between the SSC and its parent organization. Student volunteers within the SSC have expressed concerns in the past around the amount of unpaid work that goes into preparing and facilitating a SPROG program. While volunteerism has historically been a core principle of the Sierra Club, tuition spikes and higher costs of living have made it increasingly unrealistic for college-aged students to commit their time to unpaid work and still make ends meet. Throughout the weekend, attendees became increasingly skeptical of the Sierra Club’s support of it’s student chapter and how they perceived the value of their work. As the first day of trainings came to a close, students coordinated to gather after hours and discuss how they might make their concerns heard.

 

After a long night of brainstorming, sharing, and planning, the students arrived in the training space the next day with a plan for action. Quite seamlessly, two members of the group set the stage for this plan to be executed, asking the facilitators if they might open up the space with a movement song to energize folks for the day. They proceeded to sing “Rich Man’s House”, written by political activist Anne Feeney:

 

“Well I went down to the rich man’s house and I took back
what he stole from me
took it back
took back my dignity
took it back
took back my humanity
well I went down to the rich man’s house and I took back
what he stole from me
took it back
took back my dignity
took it back
took back my humanity
Now he’s under my feet, under my feet, under my feet
Ain’t gonna let the system walk all over me!”

 

On the last iteration of the verse, they sang, “I went down to the Sierra Club, and I took back what they stole from me!” and four student attendees proceeded to the front of the room to present a Manifesto and a list of demands by SSC youth volunteers. The main asks were as follows:

 

  1. SSC workers receive adequate pay and institutional support  from the Sierra Club.
  2. Monetary barriers to youth participation in annual summer SPROG programs be eliminated (i.e. SPROG tuition is waived).
  3. Sierra Club denounce the Jones Act, outdated legislation that inhibits the economic and social prosperity of Puerto Rico.

 

After reading the Manifesto and list of demands, group members began another song, inviting anyone in the space to walk out with the group and participate in a strike until the list of their demands were met by the Sierra Club. Being neither a student or a SPROG organizer, this was not necessarily my fight; however, having witnessed these students genuine passion for the work, hearing the amount that they were juggling to stay involved in it, and relating them to students that I advise regularly through PLAN, I felt strongly in support of the demands.

 

I walked out of the building alongside the others and entered an alternative classroom for the remainder of the day. Stationed outside of the Sierra Club office building, attendees established Community Agreements for the new training space through consensus and crafted a collaborative agenda. All the while, folks were live-streaming the action and sharing their demands through social media platforms.

 

Why, when I was witnessing so much brilliant youth-led organizing going on around me, was I experiencing that disconcerted feeling that I mentioned earlier? As one of the older, non-students in the group, I feel an innate pressure of needing to offer guidance or advice on what to do next. However, I didn’t need to – and really shouldn’t – fulfill that role in this space. These students had already taught me so much from their critical questions the day prior, to the collaboration happening right in front of me. I decided to seek out smaller, behind the scenes ways that I might be able to contribute to the space. I took pictures and made water and supply runs. I bounced around asking folks how they were doing. But most of all I listened, so that I might share this act of resistance with other folks moving work.

 

As a listener, my point of intervention is subtle, but fluid. It allows me to better understand the work around me, to empathize with its movers, and to share their acts of resistance with potential allies and accomplices. So from all that I gleaned through my point of intervention at the SSC strike, I ask that you share their fight. Read the Manifesto and list of demands, and stand in solidarity with youth fighting for equitable labor so that they can continue to intervene in and restructure the linear consumption economy for a more just world!