Many people hear about so many worthy causes that it can become difficult to choose one to contribute to at all. Tufts junior Sally Sharrow isn’t one of these people, though, as she decided to commit her time and her legpower to help curb the effects of global warming.
This past summer, Sharrow biked around the state of Massachusetts campaigning for clean electricity to prevent climate change. Having already worked with Massachusetts Power Shift on campus, Sharrow wanted to continue spreading the word about the importance of sustainable energy. She also desired a non-traditional summer experience that wouldn’t require her to sit passively at a desk.
The opportunity presented itself through Power Shift, a student-focused organization that is dedicated to fighting climate change with the emerging Massachusetts Climate Summer program. Even though Sharrow was not an experienced bicyclist, she knew that she wanted to make the leap when she heard about the program.
“I had never really biked before, so that was a little intimidating,” Sharrow said. “I went into it not knowing what it was going to be like, but I knew it was going to be an adventure.”
For two months, Sharrow played the role of team leader to 20 students who biked from western Massachusetts to Cambridge and then around the North Shore, through Winthrop, Arlington and Malden. The group moved every four to five days, biking around 10 to 15 miles on those days. Members were accommodated in churches most nights, facilitated by a partnership between Power Shift and the Massachusetts Council of Churches. All in all, Sharrow’s group biked about 600 miles over those two months.
Every day, members would go door to door canvassing for clean electricity. They tried to engage people in the conversation about climate change and asked them to sign a petition to achieve 100 percent clean electricity within the next 10 years in Massachusetts. Members also recruited participants for the International Day of Climate Action, which took place last Saturday on campuses with great success.
“We were really just trying to gauge interest. If they seemed interested, we tried to get them to take another step,” Sharrow said.
She admitted that she faced her share of difficulties over the summer, especially when talking to people with rather “unique” theories, like one person who wanted global warming to occur so Greenland could be colonized. But Sharrow said there were positive experiences as well.
“For all of the bad days though, you would have one really good day where everyone would be happy to talk to you and excited about what you were doing,” Sharrow said. “We did get to meet a lot of cool people.”
Jay O’Hara, Sharrow’s coordinator for this summer, said that the plan was somewhat imprecise because this was the first time they had organized a canvassing program for college students over the entire state. He lauded Sharrow’s abilities as a team leader, despite the difficulties such a role inevitably brought on.
“The most important thing was that the team leader’s role was to facilitate the group and not to have all the answers or to boss people around,” O’Hara said. “She had to deal with some characters, but she handled that with aplomb and brought a team together who did some good work.”
Both Sharrow and O’Hara agreed that the summer was a success, with about 5,000 people signing the petition and dozens of workshops being held in 43 towns across the state.
“We emerged from this summer with an energized, educated and passionate group of community organizers who are [now] able to go out onto campuses and create a good example,” O’Hara said.
Sharrow has since become the Boston community outreach coordinator for Power Shift’s Leadership Campaign, the college campus constituency in which Sharrow and others hope to bring students in on the movement for clean electricity. She spoke about a current campaign for students to sleep outside until December, when the International Climate Treaty negotiations will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark. Students are also invited to lobby with Sharrow and others every Monday until then at the State House.
Power Shift is a cause that Sharrow has devoted herself to not simply because she is an environmental studies major but also because she thinks the dangers are much closer and much more severe than most people realize.
“Predictions are getting so much worse than they have been in the past. This is a huge problem that will hurt so many people and could cause many people to be displaced from their homes,” Sharrow said.
She also seemed to believe that the majority of the responsibility lies on people to pressure the politicians into taking legal action and passing the bill.
“It’s this huge problem that nobody seems to be doing anything about,” Sharrow added. “Politicians need to think we can change the way we live.”
Sharrow is doing everything possible in order to get Tufts students interested and active. She described the sleeping outside campaign as something that anyone can do, even for just one night, if interested.
Her experiences this summer helped her to develop an even stronger commitment to the organization for the school year, Sharrow said.
“Not only did it increase my sense of urgency about the issue, but this summer also increased my sense of community of people who are working to solve the problem,” Sharrow said. “It was really empowering to be with people who felt as strongly as [I did].”