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Greenpeace Activists Hang Banner on Mt. Rushmore

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Activists with the environmental group Greenpeace scaled the Mount Rushmore National Monument Wednesday and hung a banner urging President Obama to take action on global warming. The banner was hung next to the carved mountain face of Abraham Lincoln. It read, “America honors leaders not politicians: Stop Global Warming.” The group of eleven Greenpeace activists were arrested and charged with trespassing. They each face up to six months in prison. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to a series of protests. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, we end today’s broadcast with a pair of environmental actions that took place this week. In South Dakota, activists with the environmental group Greenpeace scaled the Mount Rushmore National Monument Wednesday and hung a banner urging President Obama to take action on global warming. The banner was hung next to the carved mountain face of Abraham Lincoln. It reads, quote, “America honors leaders, not politicians: Stop Global Warming.”

The action came as Obama was in Italy for talks with other world leaders at the G8 summit. The group of eleven Greenpeace activists were arrested and charged with trespassing. They each face up to six months in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by one of those activists who scaled Mount Rushmore. Matt Leonard is an actions campaigner with Greenpeace USA. He’s joining us again by Democracy Now! video stream.

Matt, can you tell us where you are and describe the action?

MATT LEONARD: Yeah. Good morning, Amy. Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you.

MATT LEONARD: I’m here. I’m actually in Rapid City, South Dakota, not too far from Mount Rushmore, and we’re awaiting a court appearance later today.

But the action, there was basically eleven of us who were arrested at the monument. And we were basically rappelling off the faces of the monument, hanging a giant banner that, as you said, calling on President Obama to show true leadership in solving the climate crisis and really following through on the commitments he made on his campaign trail just a few months ago and really restoring science to its proper place in the administration.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And how did you manage to get the banner there? Were there no security at the top of Mount Rushmore to stop you?

MATT LEONARD: There is security. I mean, it’s a national park, but it’s also hundreds and hundreds of acres. So it is a place that we were able to hike into — I won’t say easily — but carrying a lot of weight in our packs, between the weight of the banner and the climbing equipment, food and water to make sure everyone was safe and hydrated. And it was a lot of work, but we had a great team that was working on it together. And really, we were able to pull off, I think, a very impressive and very save event that didn’t damage the monument, didn’t harm anyone, and was able to send a very powerful message to Obama and the rest of the world about the need [inaudible] —-

AMY GOODMAN: And describe, Matt, exactly what you did, where the banner was, how you climbed, and where you decided to place it on Mount Rushmore.

MATT LEONARD: Sure. So, we hung the banner, if you’re facing the monument, to the right of Abraham Lincoln’s face. And the banner was about the size of one of the faces, as well; it was about 2,200 square feet. We had a team of five rock climbers who, in various forms, rappelled over the faces, secured the banner safely to the side of Abraham Lincoln, as well as a support team of a few other folks who were on site to make sure everyone was safe. And all in all, there was eleven of us who -— well, twelve of us who were arrested. One person was never charged with anything.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the video that we were able to see and Democracy Now! viewers are able to see show that it was a — it seemed to be a pretty strong wind that was — that was grabbing the banner and pulling some of your climbers considerable distances. Was it more difficult than you expected?

MATT LEONARD: It was a very windy day. And, you know, a giant banner is basically a giant sail, bigger than many you’d find on a lot of sailboats. So there was a lot of wind that was really picking up and lifting us a lot. But we were able to use the climb team, working together as a team to really make sure the banner was safe up there. And while it was a windy and harrowing experience, no one was ever in any sort of danger, and no one — there was no injuries or anything besides a few bumps and bruises.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read for you the quote of President Obama last weekend speaking to reporters. He’s referring to the energy bill, and he says, “I think what — that the Waxman-Markey bill represents a great start, and I suspect that the Senate is going to come in, that there’s going to be a strong overlap, but not perfect overlap. The final legislation that emerges is probably not going to satisfy the Europeans or Greenpeace. On the other hand,” he said, “I think that when you’ve got corporate leaders like Jeff Immelt, legislators from coal regions like Rick Boucher and Al Gore, all agreeing that this is worth doing, that’s a pretty good coalition to work with.” Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric. Your response to that, Matt Leonard?

MATT LEONARD: Well, it was flattering for Obama to recognize the role that Greenpeace has played in trying to lead the thought of the debate and solve the climate crisis. And I think the Waxman-Markey bill is a good start. It’s the first piece of comprehensive climate legislation in this country.

That said, it’s been so watered down by industry interests that it’s really lost its basis in science. We have the world’s best climate scientists telling us we need urgent action and laying out clear roadmaps for what we need to do to reduce our emissions, move away from fossil fuels such as coal. And unfortunately, the Waxman-Markey bill doesn’t do that. In some ways, it actually undermines existing tools that we have, such as the Clean Air Act, to regulate emissions and really solve the climate crisis.

You know, the bill just passed narrowly in the House a few weeks ago and moves on to the Senate. And from where it started in the House, it got watered down dramatically from an already somewhat weak starting point. In the Senate, a lot of people fear it’s only going to get worse as it faces a much more conservative crowd, and we see more and more of that bill being torn apart by special interests, such as the coal industry.

You know, on one hand, it’s nice to see a coalition of business leaders supporting the bill. But it also really draws into question, when you have the leaders from the world’s largest coal companies supporting this bill and smiling at it, we really have to ask the question, is this a bill based on climate science that’s meant to solve climate change, solve environmental problems and really support human rights? Or is it something that’s going to continue to pad the profits and pocketbooks of coal companies and their executives? Unfortunately, I think Waxman-Markey falls a little too far on the side of being more business-friendly than really solving the issues at hand around climate and the environment.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Matt Leonard, we want to thank you very much for being with us, joining us by Democracy Now! video stream from Rapid City, South Dakota. Good luck in your court case today. One of the activists arrested for putting up a sign, putting up a large banner on the face of Mount Rushmore right next to Abraham Lincoln.

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