Philadelphia activists rally & risk arrest to tell the EPA no more MTR

1 03 2010

Philly EPA Considering 16 New Mining Permits

This morning activists in Philadelphia descended upon their Regional EPA branch to put an end to Mountaintop Removal mining (MTR).  Decisions made here in Philly have devastating consequences for Appalachian communities and our country as a whole.

Activists prepared to enter the building and risk arrest by sitting-in until they were granted a meeting with officials inside, and after a successful engagement and demands met, the rally of 40 people exited.

In recent months, the EPA has wavered in their position on mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR); in particular with the recent approval of the high profile Hobet 45 Mine permit. Philadelphia’s EPA has oversight of MTR permits for Virginia and West Virginia, which includes the Hobet 45 Mine. Philadelphia’s Region 3 EPA is considering 16 upcoming MTR permits and is responsible for the enforcement of the Clean Water Protection Act at existing MTR sites, which makes it a critical agent in ending the mining practice.

This has become a national issue. Appalachians can’t wait any longer, and Philadelphia activists met this urgency with action.

Meanwhile, there is a simultaneous rally at EPA’s region 4 in Atlanta GA, also responsible for MTR permitting.

Every day, across Appalachia, the coal industry literally blows the tops off of historic mountains, impoverishing communities, poisoning drinking water, clear-cutting entire forests, wiping out the natural habitats of countless animals, and sacrificing the heritage and the health of families across the region. The EPA estimates that more than a million acres of American mountains across Appalachia have already been lost to MTR, and yet they allow it to continue.

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Bangkok: day one of the UN Climate Negotiations

28 09 2009

…and we’re off to a crawl

cross posted from Grist.

Coming right off the heels of the UN General Assembly in New York and the G20 in Pittsburgh, the world has taken its next step on the road to Copenhagen: the Bangkok round of negotiations for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This morning the Thai Prime Minister opened the session by saying “There is no plan B, if we do not realize plan A, we go straight to plan F, which stands for failure.”

So, no pressure.

With an invigorated sense of skepticism, civil society, governments, and of course business interests are here to try to hammer through obtuse and contradictory text to create something that can be of some use on the table at the Copenhagen meetings this December.

The UN press office was quick to hand me a defensive-sounding media release stating ‘Negotiations set to pick up in Bangkok as a result of New York Climate Change Summit’ – hoping to put a positive spin on the process. Sure, the New York summit yielded lots of big talk about Climate – unfortunately very little in the way of meaningful targets and commitments, as pointed out (to much applause) by a Sudanese delegate this morning.

The reality of the US being able to meaningfully commit is grim, as illustrated by the statement released by John Podesta and Rajendra Pachauri, this Friday. Despite Obama talking a good game (which in itself is a welcome departure from the Bush years), he still failed to put forward any details. Hopes previously pinned on Obama have been deflated by stalled domestic legislation that NASA’s Dr. James Hansen said, if implemented “would do more harm to the environment than nothing at all.”

On the flip side, many people here in Bangkok have been encouraged by China’s announcement at the NY summit that it is increasing commitments on carbon reduction. We all know though, that responsibility to lead with these negotiations lies on the global North to make bolder and serious commitments. India and China are moving, and the classic US approach trying to pin blame on them is increasingly seen as excuse-mongering even to those who may have bought the line before.

From where we stand now, it looks like Copenhagen will be a greenwash. But civil society here in Bangkok is not taking this as a moment to despair but as a higher call to action for just and equitable ways to meet meaningful targets. Peoples movements and activist networks from across the globe are taking this opportunity to build and organize, invigorating local solutions back home, regardless of what ends up on the negotiating table. And so we keep pushing. If we temper our ambition along with our expectations, governments will feel more emboldened to backslide and allow the treaty to be an industry giveaway. Lets keep pressure up.

Here’s an inspiring quickie of organizers in the United States working for community based solutions to the climate crisis:





Our Capitol Climate Action Victory: in context

4 03 2009

Yesterday thousands of people converged on the Capitol Power Plant to engage in mass civil disobedience, shutting it down for the afternoon to demand clean energy solutions to our economic and climate crises.

Check out the recent media coverage in Associated Press (AP), TIME Magazine, CNN, Huffington Post, The Hill, Alternet, and USA Today.

See lots of pictures here.

There is already a lot being written about how this action achieved our goals in building outside pressure, political will, and urgency to change the national conversation around the climate crisis and get bold policy in 2009. The announcement three days prior to our action that the Capitol Power Plant would be switched off coal validates the power of mass pressure and people power, as we push on to fight for truly clean energy. The amazing media (over 400 stories) we have already gotten have helped shape the national conversation.

I want to talk about another goal we had: movement building – and how we can make the most of it.

Through organizing this action, nearly 2,000 people were trained in non-violent direct action. Hundreds of people stepped into roles like peacekeepers, contingent leaders, artists, trainers, media runners, tablers, scouts, chant leaders, media wranglers, technical communications, police liaisons, worker liaisons, trash clean up, medics, support (bringing people food, water, blankets, and hot chocolate), online support, photographers and videographers, spokespeople, and many many others. Our resolve and determination not only brought many to risk arrest, but all of us to brave harsh weather. Speakers ranging from Dr. Vandana Shiva, to Bobby Kennedy, to DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, to Dr. James Hansen took the mic to support this movement and action.

We certainly surpassed our expectation of 3,000 people participating, some are estimating many more than that.

But here’s the inside scoop: it’s important to be real about this action, what it is, and what it isn’t.

This action was a national flashpoint to get together and help move our country forward on a federal level. It was also an “outside strategy” that gave leverage to the thousands who were inside Congress lobbying for clear and specific policy.

But we all know that civil disobedience and non-violent direct action is just one tool of many – sometimes it’s strategic, sometimes its not. We are honored and excited that so many thousands of people have had a transformational experience yesterday and are energized to go home and use these tactics. That was a goal.

But to get excited about tactics for their own sake – devoid of strategic context and community accountability – would be to take the wrong lesson home.

We believe in direct action that is community led, and part of ongoing campaigns where directly affected people are in leadership positions and making decisions. These kinds of direct actions are often smaller and much less “sexy” and “flashy” than national convergences like Capitol Climate Action. The role of national convergences like CCA is specific and rare – and the real work happens when we go back home.

While yesterday’s action was endorsed by over 100 organizations, including many from impacted regions throughout the continent, the convening organizations who made up our organizing group (along with allies) – Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the Ruckus Society – are justice-minded organizations that are national or regional in scope, but are not community-based groups. We want to be transparent about that. We believe in supporting such groups and their leadership in our movement. We were honored to be able to support Native, Appalachian, and urban communities affected by the life cycle of coal in leading our march and being spokespeople for the action. But people wanting to engage in tactics like this should seek local community support and build with one another to craft a smart, thoughtful intervention and escalation with people who live in the impacted area. Read the rest of this entry »





Rebirth of a Dream

15 04 2008

by Amy Ortiz and Joshua Kahn Russell

This past weekend, April 4-6th, something historic took place in Memphis, Tennessee. During the same few days where people from across the nation gathered in the place where Martin Luther King Jr’s was assassinated forty years ago to honor the man, his legacy, and his dream for America, a thousand people, the majority of them people of color, came together to take part in rebirthing MLK’s vision. At The Dream Reborn, visionaries, artists and leaders came together to “create ecological solutions to heal the earth while bringing jobs, justice, wealth and health to all our communities.” We saw environmentalism re-defined, re-vitalized, re-energized and re-imagined, and witnessed not just the rebirth of MLK’s dream, but also the birth of a transformative movement with the power to bring the kind of change that we so desperately need.

The Dream Reborn was a weekend charting a new environmentalism that isn’t so new: the marriage of movements for social justice and the environment. Environmental Justice and other groups have been working at this intersection for years. Racial and Economic justice organizations strive to put an ecological lens on their organizing, just as Environmental organizations strive to put a racial and social justice lens on their work. But this weekend was the birth of that organizing with new language that is gaining influence in the mainstream of society, energy around program such as Green Jobs, and forcing major institutions and even presidential candidates to take notice. In more ways than one, the time for a new environmental movement, one for justice for both people and the planet, has come.

We spent our time at Dream Reborn coordinating and participating in Rainforest Action Network (RAN) – and it’s youth arm RAN Youth Sustaining the Earth (RYSE)’s youth delegation. 13 amazing people aged 13-22, along with 4 RAN staff, came together from across the nation. We represented many different communities, ages, and interests. We came to Memphis to connect, learn, grow, share and ultimately leave with the tools and the inspiration to go back to our communities and build a just, sustainable future. It was a chance not only to bring diverse youth to the table as stakeholders in conversations around green jobs and movements for environmental social justice, but to offer ideas and leadership to RAN’s growing network and the evolution of RYSE.

Featuring keynote speakers such as the Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Winona LaDuke, Afeni Shakur and Majora Carter, with Van Jones emceeing the event, it isn’t surprising that visions of a future of eco-equity permeated the entire weekend. Workshop and panel sessions such as Food Justice and Building a Youth Movement for Green Jobs focused on providing conference attendees with the connections and skills needed to go back to their communities and make this vision a reality. A shared understanding of the truly historic moment we were all partaking in created a space that was imbued with hope and spirituality. There were many moments when we all broke out in spontaneous hand clapping, song, celebrating the beginning of a revolution birthed from love, compassion and respect for all people and the planet.
The conference was more than just a networking opportunity. We were building community. Community with one another as RAN and RYSE organizers; community across organizations and movements. It was the birth of something exciting. It charted a course for a new revitalized vision for our country and the world. It helped provide the kind of glue that social movements are made of, bringing together the longstanding amazing work of organizers and organizations for racial and economic justice, and for the sustainability of our planet, in a way that makes a truly multi-racial mass movement for change in this country seem within our reach.

As young people, we’re committed to making the dream a reality. Lucky for us, we have the knowledge and wisdom of movements past and present to build with and learn from. We’re ready.