This weekend, 12,000 students converged on Washington demanding the US lead the world with a cleaner, greener, and more innovative energy policy. Power Shift ’09 attracted double the numbers of its ’07 convention. All day long, students filled the halls of Congress lobbying their elected officials to fight global warming. Meanwhile, a parallel protest called the Capitol Climate Action was taking place out in the streets. Thousands marched to the Capitol Power Plant (owned by Congress) demanding that it convert from coal to natural gas. Activists like writer Bill McKibben, poet Wendell Berry, and NASA scientist James Hansen – who all risked arrest to make their point – hailed the day’s activities as the kickoff for a year of worldwide mobilizations leading to the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December.
Anti-Coal Day on Capitol Hill
By David Murdock, Harry Hanbury, Lagan Sebert
VOICEOVER: This weekend, about 12,000 students from across the country converged on Washington, DC, aiming to pressure Congress to support bold clean-energy policies.
INTERVIEWER: What have you been doing since you’ve been in Washington?
PROTESTER: We’ve been going to workshops. And today we’re actually going to lobby in Congress. We’re going to lobby with our representatives from Florida. And what are you going to ask of them?
INTERVIEWER: We are going to protester ask them to cut carbon emissions dramatically and immediately, to support funding for green jobs and a green economy. We’re going to ask them to help this country be a leader for the rest of the world to see that we can indeed stop global warming and save our planets.
VOICEOVER: Monday’s actions took a variety of forms. One, a rally outside of the Capitol, featured speakers such as Maryland representative Chris Van Hollen.
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): I think all of you know that if we’re going to move to power our energy through clean energy sources, we’re going to have to have a power shift in terms of who is speaking on behalf of the American people. It’s time to shift power away from Washington lobbyists and toward the American people, who are [inaudible]
PROTESTER: You know, I think the student movement right now has a lot of tactics at our fingertips. I mean, we are both practical in the sense that we know that it takes hard work and it takes a lot of smarts to make policy change. So we’re in the halls of Congress, but we’re also outside their windows, making sure that we’re turning up the political heat. So I think this combination of doing lobbying and a direct action today is a really good and really strong move on our parts.
PROTESTER: We came from all over Georgia, really, and we came out to support clean energy and lobby our congressmen for climate action.
PROTESTER: We got 103 people from Louisiana in total. And we are going to talk to Bill Cassidy.
PROTESTER: We’ve met with Senator Corker. We’re going to meet with Senator Alexander and then four more members of the House of Representatives later today.
PROTESTER: Right now we are meeting with Gene Greene. He is a representative in the state of Texas.
PROTESTER: I believe all these young people wanting to be a part of this, be a part of politics, it’s going to make a statement.
PROTESTER: Because November showed, like, the youth are getting out and voting. Like, we’re making a difference, so you might want to listen to us.
VOICEOVER: Alongside the lobbying, another, more theatrical action has taken shape.
PROTESTER: Make sure you go down to the power plant now. We got to go?
PROTESTER: Yeah, and we’ve got meetings.
INTERVIEWER: Can you talk about that a little bit?
PROTESTER: Yeah. What it is is it’s called Capitol Climate, and it’s a rally that’s going to go down to the coal power plant which powers our Congress with dirty energy. And we’re going to go petition it, we’re going to go sit in, and we’re going to stop the workers from going in. We’re going to turn it off. This is going to make a statement. Clean energy now! Woo!
PROTESTER: Are you going to the rally?
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. How about you?
PROTESTER: Of course. Of course.
PROTESTER: I’ve been wanting to protest a coal plant for such a long time.
INTERVIEWER: This coal plant?
PROTESTER: Any coal plant.
PROTESTER: Any coal plant.
CROWD: Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Dirty coal has got to go!
VOICEOVER: The estimated 4,000 marching students were joined by activists like poet Wendell Barry, NASA scientist James Hansen, and writer Bill McKibben. The protest leaders were already able to claim one big victory for the growing green movement. Just days in advance of the march, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid released a statement vowing to fully convert the power plant to natural gas.
BILL MCKIBBEN, 350.ORG (TO A CROWD): One down. You know? We’ve got 600 of these things left around the country that we’ve got to take care of and we’ve got to take care of fast. This is the most dangerous thing on earth. A coal-fired power plant operating just the way it’s supposed to operate destroys this planet. Nothing has to go wrong with it; it is wrong to begin with.
CROWD: The people united will never be defeated!
MCKIBBEN (TO INTERVIEWER): We have 4,000 people out here today who are willing to be civilly disobedient and to risk arrest. Nothing like that’s happened in the environmental movement as a whole for many, many, many years. You know? This is a pretty incredible day. And the kind of icing on the cake is that power plant’s not going to be burning coal much longer. You know? We shut it down today, but we’ve shut it down just by the act of coming here when Pelosi and Reed pulled the plug. The next big thing on the calendar is [snip] day of global action on October 24. There’ll be lots and lots of things going on around the country all summer. But that’s the next sort of big, global focus. Alright.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.