‘Focus the Nation’ event draws all ages

The environmental activism event was held downtown at First Ave. nightclub.

Seventh-grader Ky Christianson enthused a large crowd at First Avenue nightclub on Thursday night with stories of his personal involvement in the fight against global climate change.

Christianson, who organized a recycling program at his middle school, was joined by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, arctic explorer and activist Will Steger, former Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., and University students at the “Focus the Nation” event to spread environmental awareness.

“Can you imagine a world without polar bears?” Christianson asked the crowd. “Minnesota is a wonderful place with lots of wilderness and we need to fight for its future.”

The event, held Thursday night in clubs and college campuses across the country, was organized in Minnesota by the Will Steger Foundation, the Bell Museum of Natural History, the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Focus the U, Focus the Nation, other University partners and Metro Transit.

“Focus the Nation” included not only a vast array of speakers, but musical groups Sha Cage and Truth Maze as well.

Shanai Matteson, Bell Museum coordinator of science and culture programs and organizer of the event, said the music made for a more comfortable setting.

“First Avenue is one of the greatest rock clubs,” she said. “It’d be a shame to not have music.”

Matteson said while many cities held the “Focus the Nation” event on college campuses, the organizers wanted to reach out to the entire community and hold the event at First Avenue, a nonacademic location.

She said though Minneapolis is a very progressive community, it’s still necessary to hold events and speak to one another about issues such as the environment.

Middle school, high school and college students, and professionals were all represented at the event.

“We were looking for people of all ages to prove what you can do at any age or level,” Matteson said.

University students took the stage to talk about recent and upcoming University projects, including the National Campus Energy Challenge and President Bob Bruninks’ recent signature on the University Presidents Climate Commitment.

Rybak joked that although he had been to First Avenue more than a thousand times – he even saw John Lennon perform there – he had never shown up in a suit.

“Those of us who wear suits every day have to (take action),” he said.

Rybak addressed environmental topics from the city of Minneapolis to the war in Iraq.

“We are fighting a war for oil, and we will fight more wars for oil unless we make a change,” he said.

Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, addressed the economy and the need to create thousands of well-paying “green-collared” jobs.

While the environment was the reason for the event, many speeches and discussions veered toward the presidential election.

High school student Jennie Duchschere said she is excited to vote for the first time in November.

“I think people need to recognize how important the environment is,” she said, “especially with the election coming up.”