More than 1,500 women, men, students, children and babies held hands, sang songs, cheered and stomped their feet last night in anticipation of their march on the coal-fired Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C.
Just a stone's throw from the U.S. Capitol building, the power plant has become a powerful symbol for citizens who scoff at the notion of "clean coal" and argue that the world must stop burning coal completely by 2030. Today's march is expected to end in civil disobedience as 2500 citizens voluntarily face arrest in order to garner national attention for the climate change catastrophe facing the world.
Last night's event, called "Artists for the Climate," was organized by Chesapeake Climate Action Network and by Bill McKibben, the author and activist who organized StepItUp, 2007's national demonstrations against global warming.
McKibben introduced Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., MD), who got the crowd going by saying, "It's time to shift power away from the special interests and into the hands of the American people."
"Our policy must be based on scientific facts, not science fiction," he said, referring to the Bush Administration's tendency to discount climate change as a scientific fraud. "And science says, No More Hot Air when it comes to taking action to stop climate change!"
Van Hollen closed his remarks by asking the crowd, "Are you ready to turn up the heat in Washington, D.C. so we can turn down the heat on Mother Earth?" "Yes!!!," the audience roared in reply.
McKibben praised the crowd assembled in the Lisner Auditorium on the campus of George Washington University. "For the last eight years, we've had no reason to come to D.C.," he said. "Now, our job is to give the Obama Administration the space it needs to get climate change under control."
But McKibben cautioned, "Just because Obama got elected doesn't mean the job is done."
"We didn't un-elect Exxon," he said. "We have to keep fighting."
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus, reminded us of the coal miners buried alive in mining accidents last year and the Katrina survivors being evicted from their homes today. "Chertoff (Pres. Bush's chief of Homeland Security) told us how good things were. I don't think so!"
Yearwood got everyone on their feet, holding hands, and praying for the work we need to do together to end global warming and restore health and prosperity to our nation and the world.
Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, brought the house to a standstill with her eloquent reading that reminded us that what we do to nature we do to ourselves. Laelo Hood, 2007 DMV Rapper of the year for the mid-Atlantic region, riled the crowd back up with his exuberant rap that asked "how many people are ready to make change?" "Turn the lights down, turn the water off, only use what you need, stop being wasteful, y'all," he chanted as the crowd rocked and rolled.
Gus Speth was perhaps the most surprising speaker of the night. As Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, I expected him to be low-key, academic, introspective. Au contraire. This former head of the Council on Environmental Quality during the Carter Administration reported that he started conferring with scientists in 1979 about the mounting evidence supporting climate change. "But the science was trashed," Speth lamented, and thirty years later, "we're watching the Arctic melt."
"For 30 years, the public has been purposely confused and bamboozled," Speth said with passion and anger. "We were told we couldn't afford to deal with climate change."
Speth's solution? "We need a new national energy agenda based on no new coal plants, no more mountaintop removal, and a federal program that helps coal workers find new jobs."
But that's not all. When the new round of climate treaty negotiations convene later this year in Copehagen, Denmark, "the U.S. has got to lead the charge for a tough climate treaty that will make a difference." The crowd jumped to its feet and cheered with approval.
In closing, Speth encouraged people to become involved. "What's been missing until now is a huge outpouring of public demand for action…We must make Congress feel the heat…Senators appreciate the issue intellectually but aren't emotionally committed to it. It's time to put a price on political inaction, not just on the price of carbon."
One of the highlights of the evening was the performance of Grammy-winner Kathy Mattea. Mattea's grandfathers were coal miners; one of them helped organize the United Mine Workers. "It's broken my heart to hear the words "clean coal" come out of the President's mouth," she said, referring to Barack Obama's embrace of this technology as a part of his energy platform. Many in the audience glumly nodded in agreement.
Later, when we were all asked to write our Senators and Representatives a letter that CCAN would deliver, I wrote to Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, the Maryland senators who represent me. "Squash the ridiculous idea that there's such a thing as clean coal," I penned. "There's no time to lose."