This was the rallying cry on February 9 as over 60 people dressed in black-and-white striped referee shirts gathered outside the downtown Boston office of Senator Scott Brown (R-MA). Senator Brown has accepted over $1.9 million from fossil fuel corporations and their supporters like the Chamber of Commerce, according to data from Opensecrets.org.
In return, Brown has strongly advocated for fossil fuel interests in Congress; this support includes co-sponsoring a recent bill (S. 2041) that would circumvent a State Department review process and give a green light for the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. With penalty flags and high spirits, the protestors called foul on Senator Brown as emblematic of a corrupt system in which money buys political influence.
The rally at Senator Brown’s office was organized by Occupy Boston’s Climate Action, Sustainability and Environmental Justice (CASEJ) working group, which is dedicated to catalyzing broader conversation and action around environmental issues within the Occupy movement.
Today’s environmental movement increasingly recognizes that its struggles and those of Occupy are often “one and the same,” explains Devyn Powell, a CASEJ member and a student at Tufts University. “We’re talking about a fight between billionaire companies that seek to maximize short-term profits and people who believe in their right to a future worth living in. It’s not about saving the trees and polar bears at the expense of people,” says Powell. “It’s about the 99% calling for justice and for some plain common sense.”
Perhaps no recent issue demonstrates the stakes of contemporary environmental activism more clearly than the struggle against Keystone XL, which would carry tar sands oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada across the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast for export.
The proposed pipeline would threaten the Ogallala Aquifer, the Midwest’s largest source of irrigation and drinking water, with the risk of catastrophic oil spills. It would also accelerate tar sands development, leading to the destruction of a boreal forest area the size of Florida, as well as the generation of massive quantities of toxic waste that are already devastating the health of indigenous communities.
Finally, tar sands extraction has a much higher carbon footprint than conventional oil production. Renowned climate scientist James Hansen of NASA has warned that Keystone XL would mean “game over” for the climate.
Responding to these threats, in early September over 1,200 people (including several CASEJ members) were arrested in front of the White House as part of a two-week protest urging President Obama and the State Department to reject the permit for Keystone XL. This demonstration, which focused a spotlight on the corrupting influence of petro-dollars on US politics, was one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in the US in a generation and represented a sharp change in direction for the US environmental movement.
In recent decades environmentalists have channeled much of their energy into political lobbying and consumer activism (i.e. campaigns to “buy green”). By contrast, the tactics of tar sands activists – peaceful civil disobedience and principled occupation of public space – anticipated those of the Occupy movement, which began in New York City just two weeks after the White House protests.
It was not long before tar sands activists from Boston made their first contact with the city’s new Occupy movement. On October 7, a group of 20 climate activists led a march through downtown Boston to raise awareness about Keystone XL, and at Dewey Square they invited members of Occupy Boston to join them and speak out against the pipeline. While this action was an informal and spontaneous collaboration, the establishment of CASEJ as an official Occupy Boston working group in November provided a regular space for Occupiers and like-minded allies to connect around environment-related projects.
On November 6 many CASEJ members traveled to Washington, DC again, joining 12,000 people for another White House action to continue pressuring the President to deny Keystone XL. Several days later, the President announced that he would delay the environmental review for the pipeline for at least a year. Many commentators saw this decision as effectively killing the project, leading the grassroots climate movement to celebrate a hard-fought victory.
However, the efforts of the likes of Sen. Brown to overturn this decision and force the pipeline’s construction have highlighted the need for continued vigilance and organizing. The fossil fuel industry has shown that it is willing to go to any lengths to enact its agenda, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying efforts, campaign contributions and political advertising to this end.
In addition to focusing on Keystone XL, CASEJ has sought to raise the profile of environmental issues within the Occupy movement and the public more broadly. On February 4, in advance of the rally at Sen. Brown’s office, members of CASEJ brought a proposal to the Occupy Boston General Assembly that noted the destructive influence of fossil fuel and nuclear corporations and called for an end to government subsidies to these dirty energy industries; an end to energy industry influence in politics; immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations to below the safe atmospheric threshold of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent; and a just transition for workers currently employed in dirty energy sectors.
With some slight modifications, the proposal passed by consensus, putting Occupy Boston on the record with a strong statement connecting corporate power, public health and climate change.
To contact CASEJ for more information about the group and meeting times and locations, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Wikipedia page: http://wiki.occupyboston.org/
Twitter: @OB_CASEJ on Twitter.