SSREC – Hippies Unite in Asheville

SSREC (Southeast Student Renewable Energy Conference):  The SSREC will empower youth leaders to make a stand and take action on complex challenges of the 21st century. The conference will highlight problems and solutions to issues surrounding energy, the economy, and the environment. Our purpose is to identify and defray the systemic injustices that inhibit transformational progress on these issues in the Southeast, the United States, and worldwide.

An environmental conference in Asheville, you say?  Count me in.

Heading to Asheville

So, Friday afternoon I packed up my bags for a weekend in NC.  The plan was to leave at 3pm… unfortunately, I had a project due at 4pm that day and it wasn’t exactly finished.  I hammered out what I could and thankfully had a group member that was willingly to finish it before the deadline; I probably owe him ice cream for that.  Anyway, I ended up making it by 3pm and we headed out of town.  The trip up to Asheville was enjoyable thanks to the change of seasons and mountain terrain.  Of course we stopped by Walmart for some snacks, which is where I found this guy

Sugar...

I thought really hard about it, but decided against picking up a couple as meal replacements (college kid + no provided meals = desperate).  We finally made it UNC-Asheville after an almost three hour drive.  While I wouldn’t go there even for free, Asheville does have a slick student union, some cool views, and a couple of state of the art buildings.  We made it just in time for the keynote speech.  Despite its emphasis on renewable energy in North Carolina, I found it very informative and applicable across the Southeast.

After the opening festivities, we headed downtown Asheville to explore.  We ended up chilling in a downtown cafe with a live band that was decent.  Since everyone was getting tired, we headed out just after midnight to find our “hotel” (a dance center for little kids.. hey, we’re college kids).  We were told that it was called the Ashville Arts Center; according to Google, there were two of those in Asheville.  Eventually we found the place after using it as a place to turn around earlier haha.  I set up my sleeping bag and knew that I wasn’t going to get that much sleep on the floor…

Saturday Morning

Full day of SSREC Action.  As I guessed, I had a restless night and woke up exhausted.  However, the conference was in full swing today and I was extremely excited.  For breakfast, we stopped at a bakery and picked up bagels and coffee.  Because of breakfast, we ended up missing the morning pep rally and headed straight to the first workshop.  While the first workshop I attended was specific in its stated subject, I found it very general.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it; but since I can’t really remember what we talked about it, it obviously wasn’t too special.  Or equally plausible, my experience after the workshop was so awesome that it erased my memory of the previous hour.  Probably the latter.

How’s the acceleration in this guy?

You see, after the presentation, the presenter offered a ride in his brand new 2012 Chevy Volt.  The offer was too good to be true.  So, I followed him to the parking lot after the presentation (and surprisingly, I was the only one that did).  On our way to the car, we discussed the other electric cars on the market (Nissan Leaf, Tesla..) and also his occupation, working for a commercial space flight company in the Mojave Desert.  He was a cool guy. We finally found the car and he offered me a free ride.  I hopped in the passenger seat and watched in awe as he gave me a quick tour of the car and its features.  During our drive, I asked him how the acceleration of the car was since I remember the Prius having trouble in this department.  He immediately floored the gas and man did we haul.  Clearly, the acceleration was on par with conventional vehicles.

Beautiful section on UNC-Asheville's campus

We ended up at the farmer’s market on the other side of UNC-Asheville’s campus, so I hiked back to the Union only to find out that I was late to the second workshop, which ironically was on the side of campus that I had just walked from.  Thankfully the campus is nice and compact, so it wasn’t too big of a deal.  Plus, the weather was incredible.  The second workshop I attended was on Big Oil and very informative, but it was nothing new really since I spend a lot of time in this area.  Lunch Time!

For lunch, we headed back downtown.  Lo and behold, we stumbled across the Occupy Asheville movement in full steam.  Speeches, cops, organic food, frustrated people, snack vendors.. they had it all.  Best of all, they had a group of people strolling around downtown chained to a guy dressed up as a banker.  These people were awesome.

Occupy Asheville in Full Steam

After being distracted for some time by the Occupy people, we split off to find lunch.  I got separated somehow and Yelped a place that I knew from a visit to Asheville before, The Laughing Seed.  Because of the layout of the streets, I had to head out of town a little, then whip back on the right street.  On my way, I stumbled into Rachel from our group.  Since she didn’t know where to go, she tagged along for lunch.  The place was incredible, but we were running short on time, so we did a take out order.  I went big and got the Raw Spinach-Pesto Manicotti.  Excellent choice… fresh, flavorful, and fantastical.  Rachel and I found a bench to eat since we were lost and didn’t want to wander anymore.  After we ate, we got our bearings and headed back to the group.

Breakout!

Once we got back, we met up with USC and Winthrop for our state breakout session.  After going around with updates on what each school had accomplished over the past year, we came together to decide on what to focus on as a state.  In the end, we decided that our main focus should be to stay communicated across groups since we had struggled with that the previous year.  Some possible goals were to bring sustainability curriculum to schools and the community and to protest the increasing amount of nuclear waste being imported into the state.

Amazing Mural in the Student Union

The last thing event of the day was the Saturday Night Plenary… lots of inspiring speeches from college and high school students.

After the “Kick out Fossil Fuels” rap/dance to close the night, we headed out.  Somehow, I ended up shotgun of a 15 passenger van and with DJ rights.  I knew exactly what to play.

What is Love? / Baby don’t hurt me… no more.

As expected, almost everyone got excited when this song started.  Our leader got a little too excited and rolled down his window to ask a guy on the street “What is Love?” hah.  Downtown here we come.

Night in Asheville

Since it was getting late and we hadn’t eaten in a while, supper was the first order of business.  Our leader kept saying that we’re going to Saffron (which didn’t exist in Asheville) when in fact we were going to Rosetta’s Kitchen; he’s a crazy guy.  The place ended up being one of those wacky vegan places that you find all over cities like Asheville, which made me excited ha.  Nutrition is one of my side interests; not the bogus nutrition that is ubiquitous across America where you count calories and stuff, but the real nutritional power of plants, herbs, and a whole foods diet.  Browsing the menu, this place had some crazy stuff…  I ended up ordering the Broth of Life (Miso, Garlic, Ginger, and arame seaweed with fresh scallions), a peppermint tea, and a Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cake (just to support the place ;).  The food was excellent, but the dialogue I had with one of our group members was what I really remember about the place.
Hey man, you Christian?
This was the question that changed my night around.  Until this point, religion hadn’t really come up at all among any of our group members.  When this guy brought up Jesus, our conversation immediately took off and continued for almost an hour.  While I can’t get into the details, one thing that was cool was that when we finished, we noticed that the table next to us was talking about God… cool beans.  After supper, we headed into the heart of Asheville with two other guys just to see what we could find.

It didn’t take long for us to get some action.  I would love go into details, but let’s just say we got our money stolen by a con artist (actually, everyone except me did… ah, the perks of having experienced downtown ATL..), helped two crazy women locate the “Barcade”??, and went on a rescue mission for our group leader (he accidentally got in the car with a guy that wasn’t quite 100% who got pulled over and ended up dropping our leader off on the other side of town).  Yeah, it was a crazy night.

Hey, Obama! We don’t want no Climate Drama!

The next day unfortunately marked the end of the weekend.  After two morning workshops on “Transition Towns” and Renewable Technologies (the various types of solar and wind tech) and a quick pump-up outside of the UNC-Ashville library, everyone prepared to march downtown in solidarity with the 12,000 people circling the White House in protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  All of us had stuff to do before the week started, so our group couldn’t participate in the march.  We headed downtown to grab some lunch before driving back to Clemson.  Most of us split up, but I stayed with a group of five and went to an Indian restaurant called Kathmandu Cafe; excellent curry.  Right as we were finishing, the students that stayed for the protest (around 400) marched right in front of our restaurant.  We quickly headed outside and joined in with their chants… “Hey, Obama!  We dont want no Climate Drama!”

Being able to finally participate in a demonstration standing up to Big Oil was a dream come true.  Alas, our weekend was now over and we headed out… an incredible weekend.

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