You wouldn’t know it from watching the news, but over the past several days thousands of dedicated activists gathered for a conference in Washington, protested throughout the city, took over several places of business in the process, and even secured a meeting with the President of the United States.
What, you may ask, you mean the media coverage of the Tea Party has finally declined? No, actually, this wasn’t a conservative activist set. No, it was the PowerShift conference, where ten thousand young climate activists got together to organize, activate, and even have that meeting with the President. What Obama wound up telling these climate activists was pretty revealing, not so much about Obama but about the bankruptcy of the establishment environmental lobby. Perhaps this younger generation offers the hope of something better:
“The president told us he wants the same things we want, but the politics in the country are really hard right now,” said Maura Cowley, 28, one of two chief co-organizers of PowerShift. “We said that’s fine, but he can’t call coal, oil, nuclear and natural gas clean energy when actually they are quite dangerous. And we said we’re here to help create the political space so he can show bold leadership on truly clean energy choices.” This was precisely the focus of a jam-packed session at PowerShift aptly titled “What To Do When the President’s Just Not That Into You” where many former Obama volunteers seemed ready to apply their social networking skills to demand far more ambitious leadership from the president [...]
If the president wants similar enthusiasm from youth in 2012, he must do much more about young people’s priority issues such as climate change, said activists attending PowerShift. “Obama really needs to address the urgency of getting [the country] off coal and fossil fuels if he wants us to get out the vote for him in 2012,” Ashley Hall, 21, a junior at Michigan State University, said as she joined 400 other students from Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin in training sessions to sharpen their skills at attracting and working with allies, writing press releases and other basics of political organizing [...]
“[Obama] told us it was our job to push the envelope and it’s his job to govern,” said Shadia Fayne Wood, a member of the steering committee of the Environmental Action Coalition. “That was really reassuring to hear from the president, because we’ve gotten lots of pressure from Big Green groups saying we shouldn’t be criticizing him. I think our meeting [with Obama] shows their strategy isn’t working, and it’s time for young people to be leaders of this movement.”
Emphasis mine. That’s really an astounding revelation about the veal pen green groups.
I think these younger activists have the right idea. After scoring this meeting with the President, they marched on the White House today. They also went to the Capitol, the offices of the Chamber of Commerce and BP. They shut down a BP gas station with a flashmob over the weekend. More are planned across the nation on Wednesday, the anniversary of the BP disaster.
The purpose of the event was to train and organize younger activists to raise local awareness of climate issues. There was a focus on tangible steps to make action on the climate unavoidable. You basically have a retrenchment by the grassroots from pushing for some big savior legislation at the local level to just causing a presence, making the focus undeniable and clear. The theory goes that this will force elected officials to address the issue, rather than the reticence of today.
It’s worth a shot. Clearly nothing is happening on the climate right now. So a longer game focused on local, personal organizing seems like the right approach. I’d expect more civil disobedience, more specific actions on corporations or polluters, more aggressive tactics. As Bill McKibben says above, “There is no one else.”
UPDATE: Since Jane was a panelist at PowerShift she can fill in this part of the story, but the conversation between enviros and the LGBT groups which were unreasonable enough to help force through changes in gay rights policies is a really significant development.