When some people think of solutions to the climate crisis, they picture wind turbines blowing in the breeze or solar panels on a rooftop. But for me, the best solution is a group of passionate people coming together to directly confront the biggest challenge of our time: re-claiming our political and social power from the fossil fuel industries . That’s just what happened this past weekend, when a group of student activists from throughout the Northwest got together to start a new chapter in our region’s journey to fossil fuel independence.
Together we formed the Coal Action Network, a grassroots organization aimed at challenging coal projects throughout the greater Northwest – and perhaps beyond. Though the name Coal Action Network is new, student efforts to shift the Northwest away from coal are not. Working in partnership with environmental nonprofits, students have already helped put the only existing coal plants in Oregon and Washington on the path to retirement. When the Boardman Coal Plant and TransAlta Coal Plant are gone from the grid, our region will have eliminated its two biggest sources of carbon pollution, opening up space for clean energy to grow.
These victories never would have happened without countless individuals who took a stand, and were willing to say “No more” to the coal industry. With two major achievements down already, we are turning to the next big challenge: protecting our rivers and bays from becoming an international coal export zone. We are already working in solidarity with impacted front line communities who are fighting coal export infrastructure in their back yards.
Today everyone from President Obama to BP is willing to talk about technological energy “solutions.” But what about the original democratic solution that formed the foundation of every successful social movement in history: a community of principled individuals willing to stand up for justice? Technology will of course play a vital part in the transition away from fossil fuels, but wind turbines and solar panels will not on their own stop destructive coal infrastructure proposals. Just as leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and the India liberation movement won by refusing to cooperate with oppression, we must do the same – and we must remember ignoring the problem is tantamount to participating in it. That’s why I’m so excited to see this new chapter of solidarity with impacted communities beginning in the Northwest.
In the months ahead we’ll openly confront the coal industry wherever it tries to make inroads on our communities. Whether by turning out to public hearings, working directly with people on the front lines, or calling out the financial institutions that give the coal giants their funding, we’ll shine a light on what’s happening in our region. Since oppression only thrives when its perpetrators can operate in secret, we’ll win by harnessing the power of truth: the truth that as passengers on the same planet we are all brothers and sisters, and a threat to any one community’s right to clean water and breathable air is by definition a threat to us all.
Acting on this principle, the Coal Action Network has already organized one action in the Northwest. Drawing inspiration from groups like the Rainforest Action Network and Rising Tide, which have pioneered non-violent methods for holding financial institutions accountable, activists who attended Saturday’s campaign launch temporarily “shut down” several Bank of America and Wells Fargo ATMs. Signs posted at the ATMs informed customers the banks were closed “due to investments in coal export projects.”
As the beginning of a new school year approaches next month, I expect to see many other creative actions organized by the Coal Action Network. Like the Civil Rights Movement and the India liberation movement before us, we pledge to stand non-violently but firmly in the way of oppression, and bring justice to our own communities ourselves.