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Power Down Week organizer Sarah Moore in her community garden. (PHOTO: Royal Bonde-Griggs)

How low can you go: Milwaukeeans plan to "power down"

As millions of gallons of oil continue to spill into the Gulf of Mexico, a group of Milwaukeeans prepare to live, by choice, without electricity and other conveniences in conjunction with a local, underground event called "Power Down Week."

Power Down Week runs June 21-27 and is based in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood. A kick-off party takes place Monday, June 21 at 4:30 p.m. at the Falcon Bowl, 801 E. Clarke St.

Main organizer Sarah Moore says there is no way to know how many people will participate in the event because registration is not required, but she estimates somewhere between 50 and 300 people will live without electricity, running water or technology for a week.

As part of Power Down Week, dozens of workshops and community events will take place, including potlucks, an edible food walk, instruction on how to build a cob over, a movie generated by a projector with solar-powered batteries, rooftop garden tours, beer making, soap making, urban camping, gardening classes, yarn spinning, group bike rides, a "kale-gate" potluck party and more.

Many of the workshops and events are presented by Transition Milwaukee, a local organization committed to "rebuilding community resilience and self reliance."

"I really don't believe renewable energies are going to rescue us," says Moore. "We need to power down, re-skill and live on less. I will do anything to make sure the cycle of life continues."

There are not any hard and fast rules for Power Down Week. People will participate on all different levels, meaning some will simply watch fewer TV shows or use their computer less, while others, like Riverwest's Sura Faraj, will take it much further.

"I'm going hardcore and planning to be off of all electricity. There will be no computer, lights or fan. I also won't be using my car, eating only locally-grown food and I'm shutting off my hot water," says Faraj.

Faraj says her biggest challenge will come from her commitment to only eat locally-produced food.

"I have a small garden, but not much is ready for harvest except strawberries and greens. I'm hoping some of my potatoes are ready. I know I'm going to be hungry," she says.

Moore says she plans to turn off her electricity and hot water and will disconnect the drain on her sink. Instead, a bucket under her sink will catch the water and Moore will use it to hydrate her garden.

"It's going to be kind of like camping," says Moore.

Originally, Moore conceptualized Power Down Week last December after a friend, Xav Leplae, told her a story about having fun with friends at his business, Riverwest Film and Video, when the power spontaneously went out.

This story inspired Moore, and she called a meeting to discuss some of her ideas. She discovered many other people -- including Claire Moore and Tom Brandstetter who are instrumental in the event -- were interested in trying to organize a community event that would challenge people to use fewer resources and make eco-friendly changes in their lives.

Brandstetter, a clinical pharmacist who lives in Bay View, rented a Riverwest apartment for a month so he could be closer to the power down action.

On a regular basis, Branstetter claims to use about 20 percent of the energy consumed by an average American. He is committed to a vegan diet, makes his own biodiesel, rides a bike as much as possible, has a wood burning stove and solar shower, watches very little television and is vigilant about turning off electrical appliances and lights when he's not using them.

"It's all doable stuff," says Branstetter, who recently donated $25,000 to the East Side's First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee to help with a project to update the 1892-built building with greener systems.

Power Down Week will also offer public solar showers and a phone message system. Participants who give up phones can give a main number to friends and family and, in the case of emergency, would be contacted by a bike messenger.

Faraj sees Power Down Week as a fun way to reinforce her personal convictions.

"I'm doing this simply to challenge myself. It's a game, after all. But there's also a reason behind this game. It's called peak oil, climate change and unsustainable living," she says. "So we're couching this bad news inside better news -- that we can change our lifestyles to get off of our oil dependence. Our political leaders sure aren't going to do it for us."


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