Guest Blog: Why Solutionaries and Social Services Need to Network

Power Shift is an incredible opportunity for environmental activists, a vital moment in capitalizing on the momentum of increased awareness about climate change, fracking, and the green economy (to name a few). But what about those of us who aren’t professionally involved in going green? What does Power Shift have to offer to, say, someone who is involved in social services? What about activists that work with at-risk populations in their communities?

As someone deeply committed to social justice, I saw the potential for accomplishing important work in Power Shift immediately. My connections to the green economy are vague – as a native of southwestern Pennsylvania, I have seen firsthand the problems that come with the proliferation of fracking sites, but my understanding of the movement mostly ends there (something I hope will change after next weekend!). My forte lies more in working with communities to encourage healthy choices, self-agency, and positive change that benefits generations to come.

Still, I sense that there are important things for people involved in social services and community health to take away from the conference. Powershift is all about organizing – organizing around issues, organizing with each other, organizing in communities across the country. This past summer, I worked out of the western governor’s office in Massachusetts with the family homeless shelter of the Department of Housing and Community Development. Many families we served had been homeless for extended periods of time, and sometimes even struggled to find food, let alone shelter. Unfortunately, the requirements of the program prevented some families from utilizing our services. It was very difficult to turn away people I knew probably had no alternative – I could literally have been sending them back to sleeping on the streets. Networking between organizations became key in these situations: even if I couldn’t place them in one of our shelters, I could still give them a list of community resources that might be able to give them better support.

And here’s where Power Shift comes in. What’s transpiring this October is a meeting place for all kinds of activists, working on all types of issues, to come together and build a network of support which reaches far beyond any single community. It’s going to be a place to exchange ideas, inspire others, and lend a shoulder to commiserate about a line of work that is, at times, extremely daunting. No matter what cause we are fighting for, we can draw strength from each other and find new ways to better serve our communities. With coordinated efforts, our reach can only improve.

-Rachel Susko

A Time of Transition

By Casey Wojtalewicz

My introduction to Summer of Solutions was in 2010, when I was a full-time participant in the Twin Cities program. As it has done for hundreds of other young people, the program and its model of cyclical empowerment transformed my self-identity from something akin to “just another student” to an organizer / agent of change / Solutionary.

Me reading goals as a participant in the 2010 Twin Cities Summer of Solutions program.

Fast forward two years: I’m sitting in a classroom at LA CAUSA (Los Angeles Communities Advocating Unity, Social Justice and Action) in East LA. I’m helping lead the LA CAUSA Summer of Solutions program. We’re at week two, having wrapped up our training launch last week. I’m sitting in on a meeting of our clean energy team as they lay out the groundwork to bring community-owned solar panels to this area. Several weeks ago, I knew none of these people. Now we operate together in well-constructed and organized teams. We’ve created shared visions, set goals to help us achieve our vision, and outlined steps to get there–literally.

Pam, Maite, Tony & Miguel during LA CAUSA SOS’s training week.

It’s a sunny day outside in this industrial part of town. A lot of trucks pass by on the roads. It’s busy. Everything’s moving. The crosswalks usually don’t give enough time for one to walk casually across the streets. Concrete is everywhere. But there’s a cool breeze. I can see the San Gabriel mountains in the distance, and large white clouds are slowly moving across the sky to the north. Inside LA CAUSA, we are laying out plans to create a healthy environment that works for everyone. Everything’s moving.

It feels to be a great time of transition for our planet. I recognize the conflicts and challenges we face today as profound opportunities for transformation. I can feel the potential and momentum building up for change across the city, the state, the country, the world; just like I can feel it building in this very room. And as a Summer of Solutions affiliate, I feel connected to people feeling and doing the same things across the United States right now.

Some LA Solutionaries

Surrounded by these other young people who are turning ideas and visions into reality, I feel the completion of a cycle. Two years ago, I was given the inspiration and skills to become an agent of change. Today, I have given them, and the cycle continues.

This is what the world changing looks like. There’s a feeling of transition, of momentous energy. Like clouds moving on a windy day. People are coming together, working to make changes in their lives and their immediate surroundings.

It feels wonderful to be a part of it.

Thoughts following Midwest Powershift

I spent the weekend at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Among the rallies, trainings, and speeches, I was able to catch some downtime with fellow Summer of Solutions program leaders and participants from around the Midwest. Especially valuable was a conversation I had with members of other Midwestern programs on Saturday night.

500 young people applaud Joshua Kahn Russell's keynote poem at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Photo credit Ben Hejkal.

This conversation helped me articulate two things: one, the “good environmentalists vs. the evil polluters” framing I saw a lot of other places during the conference makes me deeply uncomfortable, and two, if the green economy is going to work it needs to be the whole economy, not a side industry.

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Last week, editors at The Nation asked their readers to answer the question, “What Does Patriotism Mean To You?” in 200 words or less.  Some Twin Cities Summer of Solutions folk responded to voice their feelings about our country, promote our vision, and spread the word about SOS.  My entry and those of a few others are posted below.

Patriotism is proactive. It is seeing and believing in a better America, and working to make that vision a reality. Patriots are not sticks floating down the stream of society, shifting and responding to each push and pull of the current that carries it. They are trail blazers pushing forward along the banks and through the valley. It is a difficult yet necessary role, for when the stream encounters a dam, it is the Patriots with the vision and grit to take on the challenge and the allegiance to see it through. They do not balk at, deny, or flee from our nation’s problems.

I am blazing trails in Minneapolis with the Summer of Solutions program.  We see the problems of our hollowed economy, divided communities and degraded environments as inherently connected, and our remedies seek to address them all. We are working hands on to create green jobs, promote energy efficiency, and empower communities across the country. What we are doing is unchartered territory, but we are pushing forward with passion using the assets we have to create a better America. And we won’t stop.

– Casey Wojtalewicz

This is the first Fourth of July when I can safely say that I’m proud to be an American.  I think this realization of my unique brand of patriotism is a result of the past few years I have spent abroad. I chose to attend university in Scotland with the assumption that outside the US, people would be less materialistic, or more earth-conscious and community-oriented. However, I realized that everything I was looking for could be found in my very hometown. Patriotism does not mean loving the political views and lifestyle choices of every citizen. Rather, patriotism is finding the pieces of your country that bring out the best in you, and caring about your country enough to make it a better place. In my hometown of Minneapolis, I am working alongside other youth to create community sustainability and build a green economy as part of a program called Summer of Solutions.  As I work the land in community gardens, talk to community members about energy efficiency, or bike around the Twin Cities, I feel patriotic for this piece of my country, and even more so, for what my country has the potential to become.

Elana Bulman

Patriotism demands that we find an America powered by dirty energy – which funds terrorism and destroys Gulf Coast livelihoods – unacceptable. It means that we lead smarter pathways for our country as car companies and banks and housing markets and energy suppliers that are “too big to fail” start taking our communities and our livelihoods down with them. Patriotism means embodying the entrepreneurial, can-do, team spirit that exemplifies our nation’s best moments as leaders in our workplaces, schools, churches, and neighborhoods. It means walking resolutely towards the dawn of a sustainable, socially-just, and prosperous economy powered by local entrepreneurs, strong communities, and clean and efficient energy.

This summer, I’m helping a new generation of leaders create their own careers in the green economy, empower their communities through collaborative solutions, and help others do the same. They are helping neighborhoods convert hobby gardens into viable urban farming businesses, recapture value from utility bills through energy efficiency, develop green manufacturing centers on abandoned industrial sites to create jobs, and create access to clean transit options. Here in Minneapolis and nationwide, the Summer of Solutions ( is helping nurture this type of patriotism – the nitty-gritty on-the-ground leadership to take America forward.

– Timothy DenHerder-Thomas

Itching for some solutions…

I’m itching for some solutions. My teachers are itching for solutions. My classmates are itching for solutions. Everyone is itching but can’t seem to find the spot.

These past five weeks I’ve been in a class called Energy Systems and Climate Change and have gotten to know an incredible amount of amazing people with unique perspectives on the state of the world. Many of them represent people I know outside of school and I usually spend most of my time day dreaming about how I can express my excitement in local solutions to the class. Ive tried the emotion draw of rebuilding communities, I’ve gone at it from an anti-authoritarian perspective by advocating for the elimination of government, and finally I tried talking about social capital and people as a part of complex interlocking systems, as a way to create self-sufficient communities.

But none of it has had its desired effect. The teachers destroy my poetic visions of local economies with local energy production by saying that it is impossible and will get us no where.

That stand has really highlighted the need for concrete examples and solutions to demonstrate the effectiveness of what we are trying to envision.


We have no time, we have negative time, stuff should have been done yesterday!

Summer of Solutions/Grand Aspirations is us. We are it. Our futures are so entwined that one cannot survive without the other! What is my identity? Am I even human anymore, if my soul is somewhere else shouldn’t my body follow? Live our dreams today so we can live them tomorrow. Who wants to sit on a train when you can steer it.

I send you all my love, and a belief that you can do TRULY AMAZING things everyday that empower people to take their lives into their own hands and help in creating the world that we want to live in!

With love from the rainy (but amazing) Pacific Northwest,

A person that cares about everything!

Creating the Space for Solutions

-from Summer of Solutions Omaha organizer and Midwesterner extraordinaire: Lance Brisbois-

Creating the Space…

This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the Omaha Summer of Solutions program. The Summer of Solutions began in the summer of 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota by an ambitious group of student environmental activists. Being from the greater Omaha area, I decided that I would love to get involved with something like that in Omaha for summer 2009. Planning began many months in advance and became a very inclusive process with anyone who wanted to help out…either from a distance or on the ground. Dozens of people expressed interest in the program. The possibilities seemed endless—we could work on energy efficiency, clean energy, transportation, local food, building community, and myriad other sustainability-based initiatives.

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…the Only Thing That Could Have Happened

Almost 3 months to the day since I arrived back home in Omaha, NE from school out East and started working on the Summer of Solutions Omaha with my great friends Lance, Tyler and Matt. I was a wide eyed visionary, believing I would change the face of my fair city with my bold and organized climate activism. I believed I would engage hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens and neighbors, empower them to create real climate solutions and establish a kick ass organization that would have me leaving the summer wiping my hands on my jeans, brushing my shoulders off and whistling dixie at having solved climate issues in Omaha. I expected to hop on a plane to head back east at the end of the summer and see solar panels on every roof, smile at the wind turbine production factory in low income North Omaha and notice waves of native prairie grass being grown for sustainable bio-fuel production. In short, I expected to make the sort of drastic changes that usually take years if not decades.

Needless to say this didn’t happen. But a lot of things did happen. Continue reading

In Search of Role Models: we find them among one another


John Hope Franklin, Solutioneer

After today we will miss John Hope Franklin, a legendary public servant, historian and a representative of equity and scholarship to the world. In his passing  he remains one of the most admired, relevant and influential historians of our time. Among his broad report Dr. Franklin is a James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History, and was Professor of Legal History in the Law School at Duke University for nearly a decade.

Throughout his endeavors Dr. Franklin, who I never had a chance to meet though have admired throughout my formative years, has successfully married scholarship and public service with ease, character and grace.

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Journey along Salted Earth & Struggle

I don’t think that struggle, or having a struggle, is a sign of weakness. I think that struggling is, like so many other less sturdy things people associate with leadership, the capital achievement of anybody living the robust life of an American citizen.

My name is Seth, and I am trying to build the model for the world’s next great discovery. It’s not an engine that turns water into fuel, but ‘struggle’ into ‘triumph.’

Cover of Farmers and Fisherman

Cover of Farmers and Fisherman

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