When the Senate came out with its underwhelming energy bill, which they then proceeded to fail to pass, I described it as a crossroads moment for the environmental movement. They would either accept what the Senate Democratic leadership handed them, or try to force some changes.

We’re seeing the first effort to go beyond the narrow frame that Democrats have envisioned on this issue. Jonathan Hiskes reports:

Remember those chaotic town hall meetings last summer with irate Tea Partiers confronting Congress members about death panels and socialized medicine?

A coalition of activist-oriented green groups are drawing inspiration from those town-hall scenes in a new push to force senators to answer for their failure to pass clean-energy legislation. 350.org, 1Sky, Clean Energy Works, the Blue Green Alliance, and other groups are urging volunteers to track down swing-vote senators during the August congressional recess. 350.org says it’s already signed up more than 2,500 volunteers to track down senators (both Republican and Democrat) at recess events.

“[L]et senators know it’s not okay to quit working to stop climate change,” says 350.org. “The basic idea is to attend an event where your senator is speaking. Have a few friends stand outside with signs, and then have one or two people inside the event and ask the senator when they plan to actually pass a climate bill.”

Now, I’m going to hazard a guess that this won’t get one-millionth the publicity of last August’s town hall freakouts. But it’s worth a shot to pressure members of Congress on the issue. And Senators are the correct target. The House at least got a carbon cap through already.

I’m sure this will lead to all kinds of catcalls about “the professional left,” but this is basically what activists do. The status quo is not sufficient, and so activists try and find whatever means necessary to pressure their leadership to go beyond it. This is standard stuff that any community organizer would know immediately. That’s why the President consistently tells activists to “keep holding me accountable.”

I don’t know whether public pressure will lead to a grand climate bill this year; probably not. I do know that no public pressure will lead to a complete lack of attention to this issue. And just look around the world today, with 1/5 of Pakistan flooded, and landslides in China, and fires raging during the Russian heat wave, and consider whether that’s acceptable.

I also agree with what Sara Robinson of CAF had to say about last year’s tea party town halls, and the relationship between that and this action:

“It got them massive media attention,” she wrote in an email about year’s town hall activism. “It put them on the map politically. It didn’t win the healthcare fight, and I’m inclined to view this November’s election as a real referendum on whether or not the Tea Party has a future — that’s still up for grabs. But people sure as heck know who they are and what they stand for.”

“As usual, the progressives are left politely not-yelling and handing out leaflets on the sideliines while the right-wing circus passes by in all its noisy glory.”

Maybe that’s starting to change.