Pushing the Politics of Possibility

This Earth Day I was torn between excitement and disappointment. With thousands of people convening at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Bolivia and hundreds of thousands of people on the National Mall for a Climate Rally I could see the movement out in force calling for bold change. But then the news broke that Senator Lindsey Graham was further delaying his long-awaited climate bill. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not particularly excited about the bill, it’s woefully inadequate. But the further delay speaks to how the urgency and science are not aligning with the politics. We need to drastically reshape the political landscape of this country through innovation new tactics and visionary youth leadership that pushes what I like to call the politics of possibility.
It is time for our government to match the compassion and leadership that young people are demonstrating on our campuses and in our communities. We have been making progress, but it’s not enough. Let’s look to Senator Lindsey Graham as a prime example. Though he is waffling now, he credits young people for bringing him to climate consciousness, when he told the New York Times in February; “I have been to enough college campuses to know if you are 30 or younger this climate issue is not a debate. It’s a value.” He is feeling the popular pressure but still isn’t listening to the details of our message.  So youth in South Carolina and around the country are responding:
  • On Tax Day on April 15th, students from Clemson and Winthrop in South Carolina met with Senator Graham’s staff to highlight the unfair taxpayer burden of new nuclear subsidies in the bill and let them know that the Senator’s support for off-shore drilling is unacceptable.
  • Youth with the West Virginia Youth Action League, WV-VAL, met with their Congressional Representatives and also began strategizing ways to parody the recent Supreme Court ruling that corporations are “persons” that can spend unrestricted amounts of money in political contributions.  This fall they are considering running a coal company for office to parody how entrenched the coal industry is West Virginia politics.
  • Maryland students held a big lobby day on Capitol Hill and brought Senator Cardin to campus
  • Students at Mizzou in Missouri protested their campus coal plant outside Senator Claire McCaskill’s office
  • Youth in Oregon delivered baskets of local-products that would be affected by runaway climate change
We have done a great job speaking up, but now we need to really shake up the system and let our elected official know we mean business. Of all the media coverage on Earth Day it was Bill McKibben’s Washington Post piece that shines above all the rest. He explains that after the first Earth Day in 1970 the organizers made a list of the “Dirty Dozen” members of Congress that stood in the way of real environmental legislation. Then one-by-one through good old-fashioned community organizing they elected environmental champions to replace them. After that display of raw grassroots power the landmark Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act sailed through Congress with limited opposition.  It’s time for us to do this again! I know that today’s youth climate movement has that kind of power, so let’s flex our muscles.
I’m not naïve, and know today we are up against a lot more with the deeply entrenched web of corporate interests and hyper partisan political pandering. But the innovative local solutions and campaigns keep me inspired. We are defining our decade on our own terms with 100% clean electricity and then putting it into action this summer by building model clean energy communities. Throughout April youth leaders have been helping build the Energy Action Coalition’s fall electoral campaign and devise the winning strategy that will reshape “political realities.” Join us this Wed, April 28th at 9 ET for a National Leaders call to contribute your ideas. It’s time show what we know is possible and make politics work for us.

About Ethan


Ethan organizes in Houston, Texas with t.e.j.a.s. and Tar Sands Blockade. He is the former Field Director for the Energy Action Coalition and organized in Maryland with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). His strong dedication to nonviolence drives him to oppose the violent impacts of catastrophic climate change on our human communities.

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