By Steff Farley
For those who don’t know what Power Shift is all about, one workshop at the People & Planet 5 day summer gathering this year started with a board that read ‘FUCK SWEATSHOPS, SMASH CAPITALISM’. It could equally be summed up by the fact that I cry-laughed about 5000 times. Power Shift 2019 was the perfect combination of radical skills sharing and pure fun.
If we aim to make our network look like the future we want to create, then we are on our way to creating a gorgeous future. Between July 3rd-5th, a mini utopia away from the real world was organised in a field in Kent. Even the weather played its part with the sun shining for almost the whole time. It was 5 days of sunshine away from 360 days of rainy capitalism.
Building a network of passionate political organisers
At Power Shift, students from across the UK, passionate about workers’ and migrants’ rights and the effects of climate change, come together to learn skills and knowledge to take action against their universities’ racist, capitalist and environmentally damaging policies. This year there were workshops on collective liberation, burnout, building coalitions, comms, direct action, campaign strategy and a hell of a lot more. For many students, all of these concepts are new to them and they can now return to their campuses and use what they’ve learned to hold their university managements accountable. For more experienced organisers, it’s an opportunity to learn about areas that they’re not so hot on, to share their own knowledge and experiences with others, to link up with organisers across the student movement and to develop their ideas both in workshops and in discussions outside of workshops.
I first went to Power Shift in 2018 and it proved to be an invaluable experience as I returned this year in the capacity of a regional organiser for People & Planet. I had spent the last year successfully putting what I had learned into practice at my campus, supporting other local groups and organising and facilitating workshops at a regional gathering. It also meant that I felt confident enough to run two of my own workshops at this year’s Power Shift.
Taking down systems of injustice
The tools that students learn at Power Shift are transferable to most campaigns but are here situated in the context of People & Planet’s three strands of campaigns; Fossil Free, Sweatshop Free and Undoing Borders. Student organising can sometimes be insular and hyper-focused, oriented only around the experiences of students at university, but these campaigns tackle issues beyond the scope of our campuses. They also aim to challenge the underlying systems that produce these issues, such as capitalism, colonialism and the border-industrial complex. Implicitly, they’re also challenging the commercialisation and marketisation of higher education by forcing university management to act in universal interests over their own financial interests.
Hope is a discipline
Power Shift 2019 had education, laughs, thought-provoking discussions, flirting, lush vegan food, dancing, singing and hope. Many of us are low on hope with the rise of fascism and nationalism and middle-class apathy across Europe and the US. We desperately need more of it and thankfully there is plenty out there. Power Shift is a reminder that we are part of a large student movement, that we are much stronger than a system that needs to use extreme violence to repress us. We’re also reminded several times that there are communities fighting on the frontlines and pessimism is useless to these communities, that what is really needed is solidarity. I left Power Shift with a resolution to continue practicing hope.
Theory to practice
The week finished by putting theory into practice with a creative action outside a Barclays branch in Central London to protest their investments in fossil fuels. A fake game show, The Barclays Wheel of Misfortune, saw an audience booing a Barclays CEO as facts about Barclays’ investments in climate destruction and human rights abuses were read out to the public. Barclays invested $85bn+ into fossil fuel companies and projects between 2016 and 2018 because it was profitable for them to fund climate change. There is no option but to force them to stop and then replace the capitalist mode of production that encourages this kind of destructive and exploitative business with a fair socialist economy that values labour and the interests of communities.
I left Power Shift feeling invigorated. I had the most inspiring 5 days with people who I love and wish I could be around every day but even if we can’t always be together, I’ll definitely see them at Power Shift 2020.