by rain araneda
On Feb. 15, 56 people from northeast Florida, about 20 from Gainesville, packed into a chartered bus and began the overnight journey straight to D.C. to participate in what was predicted to be the largest climate change rally in history: the Forward on Climate Rally. Indeed, the Feb. 17 rally and march to the White House drew an estimated 50,000 people from all over the country.
The general theme of the rally was climate change; the goal was getting legislative change. Climate change may be debated in the corporate media to save political face; however, from the perspective of citizens all over the country who are seeing the impacts of climate change now, the debate was over long ago. Some have been gradually feeling the effects of sea level rise and increased drought conditions, while others have had to rebuild after sudden storm surges with increased intensities. Many of these communities are acutely aware of the impact that large, nonrenewable-energy projects around the world are having on the rapid rate of increase in climate change impacts.
As a result, a range of U.S. energy projects were protested against, especially the proposed Keystone XL pipeline by groups such as the Tar Sands Blockade. Other projects of concern were: the more than 500 mountains destroyed for coal extraction in the Appalachia region using processes such as mountain-top-removal; and the more than one million hydraulic fracturing wells dotting the countryside, from Colorado and Pennsylvania, who are already fracked, to New York, where citizens are fighting to keep fracking effects out of their water supply and communities.
The crowd was as diverse as their concerns. The energy was unified, and a number of people who had never been to a mass rally before braved the 30-degree weather to say “No!” to our country’s current developmental and economic policies and “Yes!” to increased investment in renewable technologies, to smart planning and design, and to safe, healthy, secure and sustainable communities and environment.
The rally was organized by nationally recognized environmental groups 350.org and the Sierra Club, as well as the Hip Hop Caucus and supported by Florida partners such as ReThink Energy, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Citizen’s Climate Lobby, Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, various Florida Occupy chapters, and student groups, such as Stetson University’s Hatters Harvest and the University of Florida’s Gators for Green Design.
The northeast Florida bus was organized by Tom Larson from the Sierra Club’s northeast Florida chapter and by Abhaya Thiele from the Gainesville chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby. While many of the people who took the bus from Gainesville and Jacksonville were strangers before, we came back a tightly-knit community. While there will be and have been criticisms from all sides with regards to the effectiveness of such a rally, and while others may criticize the tactics used, the intention was to spread the message of climate change reality and to call attention to the thousands of people who are worried about their and their families’ very lives and futures. And that intention’s goal was met.
The other goal, and always the most important underlying tactic of any event, is to build community, and in that, the rally definitely succeeded. By the end of the long journey to and from Washington, D.C., the folks of northeast Florida, though exhausted, were reinvigorated by each other’s passion, hope, and determination to stop one of the greatest threats ever to our planet and our species, climate change.
The battle has been a long one, and the reenergizing was needed. Several international climate conferences and not one agreement that is able to hold water later, large energy projects like hydraulic fracturing and the tar sands continue to be pushed forward by the administration as viable options towards a secure and sustainable domestic economy. But what happens when that dirty local energy being burned results in largely intensified natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, and communities have to rebuild. Is that cost effective? Are these projects really a long-term safe and smart investment?
While some regulation for carbon emissions has finally passed through the EPA and it seems as though no new coal fired or nuclear plants will be built to come online in the near future, what people came to DC to say was that that isn’t enough. The toxic air, water, and dust that surround communities still experiencing the effects of mining from these projects aren’t going anywhere, nor are their concerns being truly addressed. Despite health impacts, such as rare cancers and asthmatic problems, their environments, and their homes, their communities, have been devastated.
So, on Feb. 17, Floridians who are watching their coastlines disappear, were joined by thousands of other citizens who came to DC to use their voices and demand real change and effective policies, that protect people and the environment first, not profit. People came to hold their elected officials accountable. That may not seem an effective tactic to critics, but to the 50,000 people who shared the experience in D.C., some who had their first moment feeling that type of inspiration that comes from solidarity and community, the effect will resonate; and it will drive them all to continue to do more, to keep fighting, because they know and understand they are not alone in this larger than life fight for survival. And that, that is effective change.
For more information on the Feb. 17 demonstration in Washington, D.C., check out Iguana editor emeritus Jenny’s Brown’s article on LaborNotes.org – “Climate Change is Drowning Out ‘Jobs vs. Environment’ Debate” from Feb. 14.