Power Shift in the Air

By David Swanson

This weekend in Washington, D.C., there was a lot of preparation for Monday’s massive civil disobedience for clean energy at the Capitol power plant. Nonviolence trainings, sign creation, conferences. On Sunday night, just before it began snowing hard, I attended a gathering of authors, poets, singers, and the lead organizers of the action in a large university auditorium, and blogged as follows:

I’m at the big stop-carbon, pro-environment, Power Shift, Chesapeake Climate Action Network rally at GW University in Washington, D.C. Bill McKibben is MCing. Huge auditorium is sold out and packed. 12,000 students were in town this weekend for this conference. 2,500 have committed to risking arrest in civil resistance tomorrow. The crowd tends toward the white, wealthy, and elderly, but there are a good number of young people even in this event tonight. And there are a lot of the usual peace and justice activists here who work on issues other than this one.

It would be wonderful to see the peace movement have the money and the sense and the mainstream celebrities to organize massive civil disobedience here in Washington on a weekday. If anyone with millions of dollars wants to see a plan for an action like this for peace, just let me know. The worst polluter in this country (although it pollutes around the world) is the U.S. military. Environmental groups willing to take on a tough opponent would tackle war for purely environmental reasons. So maybe some alliances are possible.

But the environmental movement would have to go from its mood of great hope to one of grim determination. Congressman Chris Van Hollen opened tonight’s event speaking right in line with the goals of the activists. It’s hard to imagine the peace movement opening an event that way, except with a very very few elected officials. And there are those who see the environment as infinitely more important than peace (a member of “Grannies Against Coal” just told me that war wasn’t a concern, that the climate was too big a danger).

On the other hand, Rev. Lennox Yearwood spoke next. He has always combined and unified and inspired and he did not disappoint tonight. I haven’t seen Rev in a long time and realize I missed him. He brought the dead from environmental crimes together with dead Iraqis, the launching of wars for oil together with the damage to New Orleans and the deaths of coal miners. Beautiful job.

I’ve been at a No-Bases conference this weekend, and I would love to see the environmentally destructive US military bases around the world closed because they make war more likely. But we’ve been rehearsing the financial argument and it really only works, we only really save $140 B a year, if we throw all the soldiers based overseas out of work. What if, instead of that, the No Bases movement and the environmental movement were to develop a plan to employ all those soldiers and support staff in green energy, mass-transit, and other constructive work in their home communities back in the United States?

Janisse Ray just recited a beautiful and powerful — power shifting — poem that ALSO tied militarism and environmental destruction together, but opposed them with a vision of a better way.

Laelo Hood is rapping now.

McKibben very smartly is making clear that those who do not want to risk arrest should come tomorrow. It is important to make that clear, as we did not do last March 19th in DC. (Of course, the truth is that it will be very difficult to get arrested when we try. The police will want to avoid making arrests.)

Gus Speth, former environmental advisor for President Jimmy Carter, is speaking now, and says there are 400 congressional meetings planned for tomorrow morning. He says the White House had a report when he worked there that said everything we need to know about acting to curb carbon emissions (and that it was widely reported), that scientists have continued saying it for 30 years, that it is too late to prevent significant damage, that now we must act or risk destroying the planet. He wants “science-based cap-and-auction legislation” and “no new coal in the United States” and “no more mountaintop removal in the United States.” (Huge standing ovations for each proposal.) And — in line with my thoughts on soldiers above — he proposes programs for coal workers. Speth spoke well of the need for citizens to get active and pressure Congress, which he painted as a very uphill fight. At the end he said to march for climate, march for healthcare, march for worker free choice, etc., etc. But he ended without saying peace or “end the war” so the people I’m sitting with shouted it out for him (Medea Benjamin, Desiree Fairooz, Ann Wright, Leslie Angeline, Jodie Evans).

McKibben just credited Al Gore for proposing civil disobedience. (I can think of a moment in Florida when that thought might have occured to him. He’s not here, but I’m glad he said it and hope that he and others will keep saying it.)

Kathy Mattea is going to sing now…

Beautiful. I hope she leads some singing tomorrow! But the religion in the lyrics wasn’t needed. We would have acted 30 years ago if people didn’t believe there was “a Plan.”

Mattea denounced anyone saying “clean coal,” including Obama, who says it regularly.

McKibben has a tie that says “350” because scientists have said that anything above 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere is not compatible with the planet civilization exists on. We are already above that level and rising. McKibben and others stress the need for a tough treaty on carbon coming out of Copenhagen in December. He also stresses October 24 of this year as a date for global actions displaying the number 350 — the point being to send a strong message to participants in the conference in Copenhagen. (Click the link to get involved at the very nice website.)

(50 years ago they would tell you to wear only clip-on ties to civil disobedience. In this case, the police are expected to be very much on our side, as they usually are with peace and justice demonstrations in DC. It’s the 535 corrupt nonrepresentatives in Congress we’re always protesting. But we kiss up to them and then go into the streets and play cat-and-mouse with people in uniforms who work for a living, hoping that our size and sacrifice will impress the senators and house members who hear about it.)

Terry Tempest Williams is up next. She’s talking about Wyoming, as she did at the reception earlier downstairs. Wyoming is an open-wound, she says, and would be the 3rd largest coal-producing nation if it were a nation. Water wells are contaminated with benzine. Air can’t be breathed. There’s too much cancer and not enough chemotherapy. Wendell Berry, who hasn’t spoken yet, spoke briefly downstairs too and said that we would be in horrible shape without climate change. There is resistance in Wyoming by Hopi and others who have shut down a coal company. Downstairs earlier someone invited me to an action to close a coal plant in Charlotte, NC, this April 20th: go here! Can direct action spread? Can it be effective? Can it save the climate and social justice and peace and democracy? Not much else makes me even fantasize about such results. Williams described some victories. Very inspiring. Very democratic in the best sense of the word. (STANDING OVATION!)

McKibben is now talking about our old friend Granny D. who is turning 99, and who held a banner with him years ago in the Capitol Rotunda saying “Stop Global Warming!” and who said on that occasion “I’m 93 and this is my first time being arrested. I should have started a long time ago.”

Mike Tidwell is asking everyone to write little notes to senators on slips of paper (and asking for money for the movement along with them). Someone shouted that DC has no senators, and he said to then write to Pelosi to say that DC wants voting representation. Another movement we can all agree on. Every movement that gets organized helps all the others.

McKibben is introducing Wendell Berry and says it’s impossible to read him and not to some extent want to move to Kentucky and become a farmer. Exactly right. Amazing to see an author and a creative thinker who’s helped shape our culture for decades as part of a movement maturing and feeling its own strength. (Isn’t America supposed to get along without intellectuals?)

Berry says that we’ll have to get to economics, beyond politics, to succeed, and that it will be slow and hard. We’ll have to start living by standards imposed by local adaptation.

Berry told a joke and read a lovely poem, with the whole room hanging on every word. And everyone rose and cheered. And yet it was a dark poem of danger and gloom.

“Here’s to the Long Haul” gave us some music to roll on out of here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.