Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Largest civil disobedience to curb climate change in US history

Despite the snow and wind, approximately 2,500 concerned citizens from around the nation showed up just outside of The Capitol to begin the largest civil disobedience to curb climate change in United States history, the Capitol Climate Action. A sea of green hardhats marched from Spirit of Justice Park to the coal plant that powers the Capitol, peacefully blockading entrances or observing from the sidelines—ultimately shutting down the facility for more than four hours.

Participants had been offered training in non-violent direct action as well as briefed on their legal rights. Many came willing to risk arrest. Students, parents, scientists, grandparents, activists, indigenous people and coal plant workers alike diversified the face of the environmental movement, lending credence to its message: renewable energy now.

The crowd borrowed heavily from the 12,000 young people who were attending Power Shift, the second annual youth conference to deal with global warming. Doubling its attendees from the previous year, Power Shift boasted the largest lobby day in American history, with 5,000 organized citizens hitting the Hill to lobby their members of Congress.

While two feet of snow delayed congressional offices from opening their doors, harsh weather did not distract the thousands of Americans demanding sustainability and global leadership, particularly before international leaders gather at Copenhagen to discuss post-Kyoto initiatives in December 2009. The new presidential administration and Congress boosted morale—with particular emphasis played on the recent announcement of Speaker Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid to find coal alternatives for the Capitol just four days prior to the action.

Last year, I attended Power Shift as a participant, but this year as a lobbyist trainer, I was in awe of both the program growth and its organization. With help from Wellstone Action and a coalition of environmental organizations, Power Shift provided 12,000 attendees with workshops and panels exploring environmentalism, sustainability, grassroots organizing, and other social justice issues. Two hundred fifty trainers prepared 5,000 lobbyists, reminding them that the millennial generation came out in millions to vote and represents one fourth of the electorate.

But nothing prepared me for March 2nd. Waking up to a snowstorm, I feared that turnout would drop, or that students would skip their lobby meetings. I was wrong. We all showed up—many not even dressed appropriately for the weather. Some in nylons leaving lobby meetings or wet tennis shoes from lack of preparation, Power Shifters and others joined the Capitol Climate Action with energy and conviction of purpose--despite blowing snow, severe physical discomfort, and fear of frostbite. Watching their undaunted enthusiasm was very moving. And that is when I fully internalized the reality of the environmental movement: there are more of us than ever before, we keep coming back, and we don’t give up.

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