Strategy Note – Dress to Impress at the Capitol Climate Action

Organizers asking action participants to dress in their “Sunday Best” at the civil disobedience at the Capitol on March 2nd.

We’ve all heard that movements for ecological sanity and social justice are in a crucial political moment. We’re moving from margin to center, and ideas that were once considered on the radical fringe are seen as common sense and self-evident. We’re embracing strategies that employ a diversity of complimentary tactics. Our president proudly writes a narrative of American progress driven by civic engagement and social movement. Our battle is no longer of whether climate change is real, but whether or not we will meet this challenge with the speed and urgency our times require with solutions that are deep enough to solve the economic and climate crisis for everyone, not just for a few.

The nature of protest must evolve to seize this opportunity.

On March 2nd 2009, thousands of people from all walks of life and organizations from across the political spectrum will gather at the coal-fired power plant that powers congress for the Capitol Climate Action in DC. The Capitol Power Plant is a flashpoint and national symbol for a clear message of real solutions, healthy jobs and communities, and climate justice.

In this action, the medium is our message – we’re engaging in an act of civil disobedience. We’re highlighting the moral imperative to take action; our future can’t wait, and we’re willing to put ourselves on the line to ensure we have one. Nothing less than the survival of our species hangs in the balance, and we’re taking ourselves seriously enough to convey that with clarity.

That’s why in their initial public letter, Wendell Berry and Bill Mckibben said, “this will be, to the extent it depends on us, an entirely peaceful demonstration, carried out in a spirit of hope and not rancor. We will be there in our dress clothes, and ask the same of you.”

Dress how you like – it doesn’t need to be a business suit. Folks from different cultures have different ways of “dressing up” – feel free to do what feels right.


People often draw parallels between the emerging climate movement and the civil rights movement in the United States. While the climate movement still has a long way to go to earn that comparison, we are right to be inspired by it. Throughout history people have taken bold and confrontational action, often breaking laws to bear witness to an evil and reshape society. We understand that we are the inheritors of this spirit and its tone of seriousness and respectability. Throughout the labor movement and various currents for racial justice people have chosen to wear suits as part of their message they send through these bold actions.

We are asking participants to honor this legacy and use this as an opportunity for change-agents of all kinds to look at ourselves perhaps a bit differently than before. We realize it will be cold and we may all be bundled up anyway, but request that all participants respect the “tone of the zone” and come ready to engage in a positive solution-oriented bold national call to climate action. Dressing up is just one part of an overall message that will only enhance the powerful nature of this action.

And of course, please RSVP for the action and find ways to plug in,  here.

47 Responses to “Strategy Note – Dress to Impress at the Capitol Climate Action”

  1. 1 Jesse Jenkins Jan 30th, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    This is great. The visual imagery of activists and citizens, old and young, dressed in their “sunday best” to rally for a cleaner energy future is right on. I much prefer this to polar bear suits…

  2. 2 Calamity (A) Jane Jan 30th, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    I am excited about the prospect of direct action, but question the use of that word in this case. While no doubt a mass action of this scale could potentially achieve many goals of this movement, I feel it is imperative to be clear with ourselves about what those achievements will be.

    We are at best discussing an action that is mostly symbolic, with tints of temporary disruption. I think this can be effective if our goal is to receive attention, and momentary (albeit superficial) power. But will this action be successful in returning environmental policy into the hands of the people? I expect it will not, much like many other similar actions of this scale in U.S. history. So what then? Perhaps an action like this could be more effective in these and other more long term goals if a pronounced focus were placed on organizing the infrastructure necessary to achieve reparation of power by the people in a tangible way.

  3. 3 PG Feb 4th, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    I think encouraging people to dress up is capitulating to established power, as though decision-makers won’t listen to us unless we dress up. This is a conservative move, and won’t be supported by grass roots activists actually working to solve the climate crisis. We should dress the way we feel comfortable, not to “impress.” Impress who?

  4. 4 DG Feb 5th, 2009 at 9:20 am

    “Dressing to impress” is definitely a great idea, and I strongly disagree with the previous post. We are dressing to make a positive, professional impression on members of congress, not to be written off as “a bunch of hippies.” This is sad, but true, and I think more would get done if Congress saw us as “more like them” or more like their broad political base–a majority of concerned and “normal” citizens who won’t stand for continued global warming, and not some fringe group. It’s an excellent, well-thought-out move, and I hope it’s as effective as we want it to be.

  5. 5 EG? Feb 7th, 2009 at 7:46 am

    PG, thinking like yours is exactly why progressive movements don’t get anywhere fast. Thinking you can drastically overhaul the system by constantly fighting “the man” may get you the hippie vote, but that’s the only vote you’ll be getting in the end.
    If you want to start to make any sort of real impact then you are definitely going to have to impress not only the “established power”, but the rest of America as well.
    Whether you truly realize it or not, but the majority of America is not behind you or your cause, and unless you are willing to make concessions on your pride, you will not connect with them, and just as the above poster stated, you will be written off as a bunch of hippies.

    It may not be ideal or how you think things should be, but appearances matter, and they matter a lot in this country. Build a relationship with the rest of your fellow citizens, show them that you are like them, make them feel comfortable, and then bring your politics into it.

  6. 6 Gustavo Feb 9th, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I can see the idea behind this strtegy, I can see that it is well intentioned, but unfortunately, I can also see the negative repercussions. Why? It is obvious that it automatically excludes those who decide to un-dress or to challenge dress codes as part of their struggle. Business suits are part of the dominant/hegemonic cultural symbols of Wall Street.

  7. 7 Joshua Kahn Russell Feb 9th, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    hi gustavo – your sentiments are really thoughtful. in the middle of this post it says “Dress how you like – it doesn’t need to be a business suit. Folks from different cultures have different ways of “dressing up” – feel free to do what feels right.” which is a very important part of the intention behind this and why we have that written in all the outreach around this idea.

  8. 8 Jackie Feb 9th, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Honestly, shouldn’t we be wearing recycled clothing or something so that we don’t look like a bunch of hypocrites?

  9. 9 ELDaOddGod Feb 10th, 2009 at 12:47 am

    I don’t have any dress clothes, should I not attend?

  10. 10 Crazy-Diam0nd Feb 10th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    I’m not a congressman. I don’t want to be a congressman, and I sure as hell don’t want to look like one either.

  11. 11 Mattie Reitman Feb 10th, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    I don’t have a tux, but I have a shirt and pants that look alright. Looking at the picture in this post, you better believe I’m gonna wear em!

  12. 12 Jonathan Feb 10th, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    @ Jackie: A noble sentiment, and wear ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. As far as I’m concerned, all of my clothes have a small kind of eco-friendly value, in that I have had them a long time and will continue to wear them until they no longer function. Better on me than in a landfill. I bought my dress suit before I became active in the environmental movement, and it’s still a nice suit. “Use what you already have” is also a part of the green (and frugal) ethic. I’m not going to rush out and buy new clothes just to make a statement, although I will bear that statement in mind when these old rags finally do wear out.

    @ Everyone: Look your best, feel your best. A large part of that is determining for yourself what that best is. No one will be turned away from the protest for failing to meet the dress code. Meanwhile, please give the same respect that you’re asking for to those who do choose to express themselves by wearing a suit.

  13. 13 stuntcat Feb 10th, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    I don’t have much for dress clothes.. I work at home, on stuff you would not want to dress nice for! And it’ll be too cold for the sundresses I have.

    I’ll look nice as I can though. promise :)

  14. 14 Jackson Feb 11th, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    I just think this whole discussion is pretty ironic given that the style of dress was a very important part of this:

  15. 15 R.A.L. West Feb 12th, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    This is a wonderful action, and I can support it by spreading the word and keeping a clear intention for a positive and powerful outcome.
    AND, I would like more people to be aware of the work of, a citizens initiative to create funding for TRULY innovative energy production research and implementation; IE: zero point,
    over unity, etc.; these are our future…why not do it sooner than later?
    Even with the best of solar and wind generation, the grid itself is falling apart, physically…..and why not have clean, free energy generation for each household, or small community??? This stuff is real, possible and will give you lots of hope, focus and inspiration to envision REAL solutions.

  16. 16 Silly Willie Feb 13th, 2009 at 11:06 am

    To Jackie – Most of my clothes are recycled. Great deals to be had at Value Village! I try not to spend more than $6 on a shirt or pair of pants–and that’s for clothes I wear to the office.

  17. 17 Dave Feb 16th, 2009 at 4:01 am

    Its about time some one says dress to impress ! i have dread locks but mabye i can hide them.Its about time some one told people to look in away they won’t be easly marganized at one of these things thank the lord !

    O by the way counter culture is bussness culture any way its all based on products you buy the part of me that looks punk is the part of me that is a captlist. So dress in your sunday best and lisen to the organizers they are right on !

  18. 18 Dave Feb 16th, 2009 at 4:05 am

    Its about time some one says dress to impress ! i have dread locks but maybe I can hide them. I will at least put on a button tuck it in Its about time some one told people to look in away they won’t be easily marginalized at one of these things thank the lord !
    O by the way counter culture is business culture any way its all based on products you buy the part of me that looks punk is the part of me that is a capitalist. So dress in your Sunday best and listen to the organizers they are right on !

  19. 19 Nancy Feb 16th, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I’m in (fired up and ready to go), but where are people staying. I am coming from Texas and although I can bring my sleeping bag, I am 51 and the cold weather in DC will be a shock.

  20. 20 Allison Feb 18th, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Just show up – That’s the point!! They’d rather you be there in a t-shirt and jeans, than not show up at all. Call it a “come as you can” party, just go. Like they said, dressing up means something different to different people.
    Hit the nearest Goodwill Store or consignment shop for some new duds. It will help boost your local economy… and set you up for your next job interview.

    And Dave, don’t try to hide the dreads, they are part of you – embrace it! Can ya really even “hide” dreads? Besides, men with dreads who wear suits look great!

  21. 21 Jen Angel Feb 18th, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    As to whether this is truly “direct action” – I would argue that much of today’s civil disobedience is largely symbolic and doesn’t directly stop anything. Do 20,000 people protesting outside the gates at Ft. Benning in Georgia to protest the School of the Americas stop it from going on, even for one day? No. But it creates a political climate that allows politicians to do the work they need to do, with the support of people. There are very few actions today that literally stop something bad from occurring (though there have been some great environmental actions lately! Like the sabotage of the sale of land, and the hijacking of coal trains, etc).

    The other issue is that those not symbolic actions are often very costly in their repercussions. Those people who hijacked the coal trains? Probably going to jail for a while. Many people aren’t able to take those personal risks, but expressing themselves at an action like the Capital Climate Action can help them assert themselves and their desires for a more just, clean, healthy future.

    And for the record, as an anarchist, my first choice is never to put energy into influencing politicians to get things done. But sometimes, that is a logical step along the way to greater goals, and I support that.

  22. 22 ST Feb 19th, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    I keep seeing “civil disobedience”. Nice buzzword, but… what law would we be disobeying exactly? Will this be trespassing?

  23. 23 RS Feb 21st, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    “I keep seeing “civil disobedience””

    Me also. I don’t see what the CD is here. Parading without a permit, perhaps?

    I also would be concerned about being arrested in my good clothes. DC jails are not real gentle on one’s clothing, and I would not care to sacrifice a suit.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m in full support (including possibly the dressing up), but I’m not clear just what is happining and can’t quite put all the pieces together.

    Thanks and good luck. -RS

  24. 24 Shodo Spring Feb 22nd, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Wearing dress clothes, whatever they are, creates a climate of respect. I’ll be there in my formal Buddhist robes, treating this with the same respect as sitting meditation or any religious event. (Hopefully this will not offend nonreligious participants.)

  25. 25 RN Feb 22nd, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Joining this movement while dressing-to-impress is really great. But I also agree that it is not the most important thing here. The most important thing here is “just be there” to support. Many of us don’t have that ‘dress to impress’ clothes. Being there to support this movement would mean big.

  26. 26 Brian Farmer Feb 23rd, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    AP science writer Seth Borenstein reported, “The ten warmest years on record have occurred since Bill Clinton’s second inauguration.” But then it was discovered that JAMES HANSEN of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had fudged the numbers upon which Borenstein’s statement was based. After NASA corrected the data, the ten warmest years turned out to be, in descending order: 1934, 1998, 1921, 2006, 1931, 1999, 1953, 1990, 1938 and 1939. I don’t see a pattern there, do you?

    Global warming alarmists base their warnings on little more than the results of computer models, which can be manipulated to yield any results one wants.

    The average global temperature, as measured by satellites, is the same as it was in 1980, thanks to a cooling trend that started almost ten years ago. This was not forecast by any of the notoriously unreliable global climate models. However, it was predictable by a decline in sunspot activity since 2000 and by cyclical changes in Pacific Ocean currents.

    In the end, politicians support global warming alarmism because it gives them license to impose more control over the people and the economy.

  27. 27 Oemissions Feb 23rd, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    I agree with PG about this dress your best. Dress for the weather. Most people who get ALL DRESSED UP get to their functions in automobiles because they use as an excuse: they are all dressed up. OK, some women do ride bikes with high heels but that’s a risk to their safety and their health.
    Look at the Academy Awards, they ALL came in automobiles. So much for Climate Change, hey?

  28. 28 Wildman Feb 23rd, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    I am a catamaran sailor from FL and shorts only will not do in D.C. at 40 deg’s. My trucking attire will have to do. I will have my best fishing shirt on w/ a snow jacket and jeans. Coal poisons fish with mercury! Many Billionaires should go to prison for that crime!
    Sincerely PISSED,

  29. 29 Donal Feb 24th, 2009 at 12:36 am

    What a parody.

    After clothing the business of climate in all the disingenuousness of junk science, of financial
    gain, of poor research, of non-scientific claptrap such as ‘consensus’, you now ask the gullible
    to dress themselves up to create another image.

    The little boy in the street will surely shout, ” Look mummy, they have no clothes!” .

  30. 30 Philospher Feb 24th, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Note to all- this is meant to be a law-breaking exercise to garner attention.

    Plan to get arrested because this action makes it sound like a hip, social protest, but plans to use you as fodder for the eco-plans of organizers (I bet they won’t be arrested).

    Hopefully you have no other employment plans for the future since an arrest record is a significant impediment to getting a real, sustainable job that might allow you to support a family someday.

  31. 31 Mark Adams Feb 24th, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    It’s a good idea to wear a nice coat because it’s likely to be rather cold outside.

  32. 32 Don Hawkins Feb 24th, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    “A lie is halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” Twain

    The time is now and we need to get our boots on. The problems we face are big and they are real. The so called leaders are lying to themselves and us. There is still time we must act now.

  33. 33 Start Loving Feb 26th, 2009 at 7:01 am

    This site, and the type of Student movement you present, is the first impressive, hopeful, courageous youth movement I’ve witnessed among this generation. KEEP ON! Your brother, Start

  34. 34 GG Feb 27th, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I think it’s important NOT to forget the real issue at hand. Why fight the movement by arguing against whether or not to dress up. How about just accepting that “Sunday best” is just a suggested part of the movement. It’s an idea created by people who are participating in the exact same cause as everyone here, as an attempt to gain attention. It would be no different if the suggestion were that everyone should wear recycled clothing- “if I don’t wear recycled clothing, may I not come?” A question like that is focussing on the style of dress rather than the movement itself.
    There are many ways to fight “the man” and it is not necessary for one to do them all, all at the same time.
    I don’t see this as trying to mimic congress because they dress in suits, or as following societies rules on presentable attire.
    If your grandmother requested that you dress nicely for her Christmas dinner would you reply, “No Grandma, because your idea of what looks nice is only based on long driven societal standards.” You probably wouldn’t, because you would realize that because you love your Grandmother, you’re just going to dress nicely for her instead of trying to prove her wrong.
    Think of this movement as your grandmother. Because you love the movement itself, fighting agains tit will only make it weaker. We are not fighting dress code this time, we’re fighting global warming, something we all care about equally.
    Together we stand, divided we fall! Instead of wasting our time fighting like-minded people, lets fight what really matters, and appreciate those people for caring about the same things.

  35. 35 atomicpunk Mar 1st, 2009 at 9:27 am

    dress to impress? how about all black paramilitary with gas masks. its what the police will be wearing. that should impress them.

  36. 36 red432 Mar 1st, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Be sure to wear a waterproof jacket, hat and gloves. There will be a lot of snow on the ground and freezing rain coming down. Don’t catch your death. Oh and it might be a good idea to drive a 4 wheel drive vehicle in case the roads get messed up.

  37. 37 James Hansen Mar 1st, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I am planning to march in the swimming suit only, and I will probably throw it away, too. Please, all my brothers, sisters, and comrades, don’t believe the weather forecasts that claim that tomorrow, we will have -11 degrees Celsius, breaking the 1925 record cold temperature.

    All these meteorologists are puppets of the oil industry. Please come in the swimming suit, just like I will.

  38. 38 Jon Samuel Mar 1st, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    So we dress up, freeze ourselves in the DC weather and then go back to our coal-plant heated homes. Tell me again what good does this do?

  1. 1 Marc Gunther » Well, black is always in style Trackback on Feb 15th, 2009 at 9:29 pm
  2. 2 Derek Lerner : syndication + aggregation » The largest mass civil disobedience for the climate in U.S. history : Washington, March 2nd, 2009 Trackback on Feb 18th, 2009 at 10:54 am
  3. 3 Changing the Story » Blog Archive » “Its even worse than we thought” Trackback on Feb 18th, 2009 at 6:31 pm
  4. 4 Today’s Tidbits Trackback on Feb 23rd, 2009 at 2:29 pm
  5. 5 Get into the Capitol Climate Action Loop « It’s Getting Hot In Here Trackback on Feb 24th, 2009 at 11:39 am
  6. 6 Where the Kids Are: Powershift 09 : Sustainablog Trackback on Feb 24th, 2009 at 11:41 am
  7. 7 Chelsea Green » Blog Archive » A Call to Action on Global Warming Trackback on Feb 26th, 2009 at 5:47 am
  8. 8 MARCH 2, 2009 | CAPITOL CLIMATE ACTION « Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Washington, D.C. Trackback on Feb 27th, 2009 at 2:53 pm
  9. 9 What to wear at a protest / Waging Nonviolence Trackback on Nov 19th, 2009 at 4:56 pm
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About Joshua Kahn

Joshua Kahn Russell is an organizer serving movements for social justice and ecological balance. He is an action coordinator, facilitator, & trainer with the Ruckus Society, and has trained thousands of activists. He has helped win campaigns against banks, oil companies, logging corporations, and coal barons; worked with a wide variety of groups in a breadth of arenas, from local resiliency projects, to national coalitions, to the United Nations Climate Negotiations. He has authored chapters for numerous books, most recently The Next Eco-Warriors. His articles have appeared in Yes! magazine, Left Turn, PeaceWork magazine, Upping the Anti, and Z Magazine. His blog is and you can follow him on Twitter at @joshkahnrussell For a full bio see:

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