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2009-02-26

Power Shift: Youth Climate Activists Swarm D.C. for Weekend of Organizing, Lobbying and Protest

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On Monday, a large protest has been called at a coal-fired plant in Washington, D.C. in what organizers say will be largest act of civil disobedience against global warming in this country. In the days leading up to the protest, youth climate activists are organizing a conference called Power Shift ’09. Thousands of student activists plan to lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill, urging them to rebuild the economy through bold climate and clean energy policy. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

On Tuesday, two members of the group Climate Ground Zero and a photojournalist were arrested in West Virginia during a protest near the Shumate Dam, a sludge impoundment that holds back nearly three billion gallons of toxic coal waste in a sludge pond in southern West Virginia. It was the latest protest in a wave of actions against the nation’s reliance on coal energy.

On Monday, a large protest has been called at a coal-fired plant in Washington, D.C., in what organizers say will be the largest act of civil disobedience against global warming in this country. In the days leading up to the protest, youth climate activists are organizing a conference called Power Shift 09. Thousands of student activists plan to lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill, urging them to rebuild the economy through bold climate and clean energy policy.

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re joined right now in Washington by two guests: Jessy Tolkan, executive director of the Energy Action Coalition, the lead group organizing Power Shift, and Danny Chiotos, member of the Student Environmental Action Coalition based in West Virginia.

We’re going to start with Jessy Tolkan. Tell us about this conference that’s taking place, how many people you expect and what you’re doing?

JESSY TOLKAN:

Sure. We expect nearly 11,000 young people to converge in Washington, D.C. from all fifty states and nearly every congressional district for four days of massive activity in the fight for a clean and just energy future. Through workshops and panels and keynote addresses and the largest single lobby day on climate and energy in our nation’s history, our goal is to demonstrate that there is massive public demand for bold solutions on climate and energy and that the young people of this country demand urgent and bold action in 2009.

You know, we voted in record numbers in this past election, and we’ve come to flex our new political muscle and make sure that our elected officials know that we are ready for action now.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And are there any main items that you’re going to be pressing to the members of Congress, when you go to lobby them, that the entire group agrees on?

JESSY TOLKAN:

Absolutely. That’s one of the most unique things about the Energy Action Coalition, the sponsoring organization of Power Shift 2009. We’re a coalition of fifty really diverse organizations that range from young evangelicals to young people from indigenous communities across the country to college students. We have united around a bold vision for what we think needs to happen on climate change.

Like the previous guests mentioned, we think it’s essential that we pass bold climate legislation in 2009. We think the science demands it, our economic situation demands it, and the health of our communities demand it.

We are pushing for aggressive, short-term reductions on carbon in our country, on the range of 25 to 40 percent reductions by the year 2020 and 80 to 95 percent reductions by the year to 2050. We want an immediate moratorium on coal in this country. We want unprecedented levels of investment in clean energy infrastructure and technology. And we really want the Congress and the President to usher in a new green economy and help create millions of new green jobs.

We think that addressing our climate and energy crisis in this country allows us to address so many of the top issues that our generation and Americans are dealing with right now — a troubled economic situation, unhealthy communities as a result of decades of production of dirty energy facilities — and that addressing climate change enables the United States to really redefine itself in the international community by taking the lead, after eight years of really being an obstruction to progress.

AMY GOODMAN:

Jessy Tolkan, I’m looking at a piece in the British paper, The Guardian, about what’s happening here, this massive amount of young people coming to Washington. It says, “The massive sign-up drive has generated a fierce rivalry between different universities to see who can bring the largest number of participants. With only 48 hours to go, Middlebury College trails the University of Vermont by only four participants with 194 coming.”

Ben Wessel, who’s leading the recruitment drive at Middlebury, says, "We are bringing over 10% of our whole student body.”

Inspirational stories continue to pour in from around the country. “One sorority in Texas has rescheduled its initiation because the dates conflicted with Power Shift, while a group in California has started its epic train journey across the States to avoid having to fly.”

How did you organize this? How have you pulled this off? And where do you come from, Jessy Tolkan?

JESSY TOLKAN:

Well, I come from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is my alma mater, where I got my start as a student activist in the late ’90s.

But what we see happening here is we see an emerging movement. We see young people from a variety of backgrounds — Latino and Latina, African American, Native American — from all walks of life, whether they’re in that sorority in Texas or they’re environmentalists at Middlebury or they’re the sons and daughters of autoworkers in Michigan or the granddaughters and grandsons of coal miners in West Virginia. We are a generation that has the most at stake right now. We will be around to see the worst implications of global climate change.

AMY GOODMAN:

And where is the conference taking place?

JESSY TOLKAN:

The conference is happening at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center.

We see all across the country that there is just an overwhelming desire of young people to stand up and do what young people have done in generations in the past, in movements in the past, and that is, be out in front, pushing our country to bold action.

And as I last checked, we were nearing 11,000 participants heading to Washington, D.C. this weekend, and those 11,000 young people represent hundreds and thousands of young activists across this country that will work tirelessly over the course of 2009 to ensure that our nation passes bold and aggressive climate legislation.

AMY GOODMAN:

Danny Chiotos, you’re with the Student Environmental Action Coalition. You’re going to be participating in the major civil disobedience on Monday. Explain what’s happening, where it is, and why you’re willing to get arrested.

DANNY CHIOTOS:

On Monday, March 2nd, there’s going to be over 2,500 people who participate in the largest act of civil disobedience in our nation’s history around climate issues. People are coming from all walks of life to come out to this historic event for everything — for every reason that’s been mentioned on the program so far, from the mix of exciting, that I just heard from Jessy Tolkan, to terrifying, that I heard from the climate expert at the beginning of the program. People are coming together to stand up, because now is a time for action.

We’re going to be pushing for a quick transition away from coal to renewable energies and energy efficiency, a moratorium on coal plants and the shutting down of existing coal plants and replacement of those coal plants with green energy.

AMY GOODMAN:

What’s the plant you’re protesting?

DANNY CHIOTOS:

It’s the Capitol Coal Plant that’s just blocks from the US Capitol. It’s providing the US Capitol and federal buildings with heat and cooling. It’s not an electricity-generating plant. And this plant is a symbol of where our Congress is at right now. We need to push them to make that transition away from coal.

And it’s not just about this plant. This plant is a symbol of a bigger problem, that we’re addicted to coal and that coal is killing people in West Virginia, in the communities that I come from.

And we have the opportunity right now to transition to create millions of green jobs all around the country and ensure that the transition happens in the places where it’s needed the most, and ensure workers in the coal industry and fossil fuels industry can find employment in these green industries.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And Danny, there’s one report that I read that James Hansen, the NASA scientist, has said he will join the protest and is willing to get arrested, as well?

DANNY CHIOTOS:

Yes, there’s over ninety organizations, from faith-based groups to student groups to environmental groups, that have endorsed this action. James Hansen is going to be participating. There’s the people who were in the Carter administration, who have been pushing from the inside for years and years and years, who are going to be participating in this. And people have seen that we need to show that there’s support for the bold vision that has been talked about so far in this program and the bold vision for climate leadership.

AMY GOODMAN:

What time is this protest taking place on Monday?

DANNY CHIOTOS:

It’s Monday at 1:00 at the —- it’s starting at the Spirit of Justice Park in Washington, D.C. And I encourage -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, we want to thank you.

DANNY CHIOTOS:

I encourage everybody — everybody — to come out, from farmers to manufacturing workers to students. It’s at www.capitolclimateaction.org. And we just need everybody to stand together on this one.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Danny Chiotos and Jessy Tolkan, I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ll be continuing to cover this on Monday on Democracy Now! We’ll also be joined by Tavis Smiley on Democracy Now! Monday. Thanks so much for being there.

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