This past week I watched a recording of the kick-off call for an action called “People vs. Fossil Fuels.” One indigenous leader after another, and other people of color, invited everyone to join them in Washington, DC for five days of action. I found it quite moving to be invited so warmly by frontline leaders. Ashley McCray Engle, with the Indigenous Peoples Network, started off the call with, “Welcome, relatives!”
Ashley said, “We invite you to join in.” “We’re coming together to ensure that President Biden becomes the climate President that he promised us he would be.” “That means acting now to end the era of fossil fuel production. We need you to help us demonstrate people power against fossil fuels.”
Build Back Fossil Free
All of the speakers are part of Build Back Fossil Free, the coalition behind this action which will occur in D.C. October 11-15, 2021. Each day has a different theme. They are working to get 1,500 people to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience over the course of the five days. They are welcoming both those who are willing to risk arrest and those who will come in support of the demands of the action. I think they are thinking well about COVID protocols–requiring proof of vaccination, masks, and distancing.
Voices of Frontline Leaders
Siqiniq Maupin, an Inupiaq activist whose people have lived in the Arctic for 12,000 years invited everyone saying, “I hope that everyone here is ready to take action and come from love, because everything that we’re doing, everything that we want to see in this future comes from love.” “We are here to protect our lands and our waters and the health of our families.”
Anishinaabe activist Taysha Martineau described some of the terrible effects the pipeline projects are having on her people, including violence, sex trafficking, and fear of the future. “What we need is people power. We need people to amplify our voices and stand with the oppressed, and show … that the world is watching. We need people to be brave enough to fight for … the future and the children.”
Sharon Lavigne, a Black woman from St James parish in Louisiana, is already surrounded by 12 polluting industrial facilities. She and other activists are trying to stop yet another horribly polluting, cancer-causing, oil-based, $9 billion plastics plant from being built near them. She explained, “If Formosa plastics is built it will be a death sentence for people here.”
John Paul Mejia, a young person with the Sunrise Movement added, “It is solidarity that will help us win better days.” “This is a matter of life or death, and we are ready to be on the line joined by love and solidarity with everyone here….”
Invitation And Connection
Whether you decide to accept this invitation or not, I think it is significant for all of who are not indigenous to know that many indigenous leaders are warmly inviting us to participate not just in this action, but to be in this struggle together with them for the sake of Mother Earth and seven generations into the future. Even before I decided whether I would go to DC for this action, I felt a sense of connection to these leaders and to indigenous people in general as I watched the video.
Demands Of The Action
I found their demands for the action entirely reasonable. They are focused on insisting that President Biden use his executive authority to stop fossil fuels much more than he already has.
Demand #1: President Biden must stop approving fossil fuel projects and speed the end of the fossil fuel era.This includes canceling federal permits for fossil fuel projects such as Line 3 and rejecting all future fossil fuel permit requests; banning all fossil fuel leasing and drilling on public lands and waters; and stopping all fossil fuel exports.
Demand #2: President Biden must declare a national climate emergency and launch a just, renewable energy revolution.This would give the President additional executive authority to reinstate the crude oil export ban; redirect some military spending to greening our energy system; and provide critical loan guarantees to ensure a rapid, just, development of renewable energy that creates millions of good union jobs.
These are things that must be done to win the struggle against climate change and the sooner they are done, the bigger the difference they will make. None of these require Congressional action.
The timing of the action is designed to put maximum pressure on President Biden just prior to the UN COP26 in Glasgow in November, so he brings a vastly increased commitment to emissions reductions from the U.S. to that conference. Many are calling this COP our last best chance to make a decisive difference in the climate emergency.
Will civil disobedience make a difference? It’s difficult to be certain, but as the leaders of this action indicate, “Nonviolent civil disobedience is a time-tested tactic for change. Every movement for change–from suffragettes to the Civil Rights movement, has proven that the defining moments are those where people are willing to risk arrest.”
I hope you will take three things from this post:
1) a sense of hope and connection from the warm, smart, committed leadership of indigenous people. Even if you have no intention of coming to DC, I encourage you to watch the first 30 minutes of the recorded call just to get a feel for it. We are welcomed by Indigenous people as “relatives” and invited to be “accomplices” in taking action to protect Mother Earth.
2) I hope you will support the action in some way. If coming to D.C. is a possibility for you, please join us. I’ve decided to go and would be so pleased to have you join me. If going to D.C. is not something you can do this time, then please consider making a financial donation to help frontline workers get there by helping to pay their travel or lodging costs. You can donate to the Indigenous Environmental Network and “leave a note” that it’s for the People vs. Fossil Fuels action.
3) I think the emergence of the Build Back Fossil Free coalition is tremendously encouraging. I’ve been writing for some time that building a massive peoples’ movement is the only thing that can lead to the climate actions we need. I also encourage white people to follow the lead of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) people, especially in the climate crisis where issues of racial justice are central.
This coalition includes hundreds of national and grassroots climate and climate justice organizations. The national groups include the Indigenous Environmental Network, Hip Hop Caucus, Sunrise Movement, 350.org, Mothers Out Front, Sierra Club, Indivisible, Greenpeace, and so many more. This is a remarkable coming together of groups previously operated only separately. They are united in demanding that the President take bolder action than he has so far.
Perhaps these developments can make you more hopeful and inspire you to take more action wherever you are.
Russ Vernon-Jones was principal of Fort River School 1990-2008 and is currently a member of the Amherst Community Safety Working Group and of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now-Western Massachusetts. He blogs regularly on climate justice at www.russvernonjones.org.