3 Presidential debates and no mention of climate change. Now, with the effects of Hurricane Sandy sinking in, neither candidate is calling out what made the storm the catastrophe it was. Four years ago, that would have shocked and upset me, I'm not all that surprised. In 2008, both John McCain and Barack Obama spoke about the danger of climate change. I and thousands of other young people across the US dedicated ourselves to electing Barack Obama, because we believed he had a vision for stopping climate change and moving our country off of fossil fuels. I was confident that President Obama had the power and the will to pass a climate bill, because: if you understand the danger of climate change, how can you not work to fight it?
But I, like many of my peers, have spent the past four years disappointed and disillusioned. With no hint of a climate bill, every day brings news of more fracking, drilling, mining and pipelines at the expense of people and the climate. Just ask the Lakota fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, the United Mine Workers potentially deprived of their pensions by Patriot Coal, and landowners from New York to Colorado trying to protect their water from fracking. The current national political system is not working for people. Instead, it is incentivizing fossil fuel companies that already have bottomless pockets. If politicians can’t even say climate change, how are they supposed to fight it?
Over the past four years, I have wanted to completely disengage from the system, to work outside of it because it is so broken, ineffective, and controlled by fossil fuel corporations. The truth is, however, that the political system still has immense power. As we continue to confront fossil fuel companies at extraction sites in heightened ways, we also need to force the political process to work for us.
But what does that actually look like?
On the direct action front, over the past few weeks, I have been transfixed by the Tar Sands Blockade, in awe of the incredible organizing and bravery shown in East Texas. Perhaps Keystone shows most clearly how the political system lets us down, how Big Oil money can overcome thousands of mobilized individuals. But Blockaders continue to bring the level of pressure to a new level, exposing the evil nature of TransCanada. Every day there has been a new action and a delay in construction.
St. Louis, where I live, is the corporate headquarters to Big Coal, with five major coal corporations, including Peabody (the world’s largest), Arch, and Patriot. The political system doesn’t work for people here either. Peabody gets millions of dollars in tax breaks from the City of St. Louis, while its coal causes a summer of triple-digit heat waves, persistent drought, and the highest asthma rates in the country.
How can we force St. Louis’ broken system to work for people, not Peabody? We’re putting political officials on the line and exposing the broken political system by running a ballot initiative that would force St. Louis to divest from fossil fuel corporations, their lawyers and their bankers. By shifting tax breaks away from Peabody and others, we are crippling a source of their political power, harming their finances and most importantly, publicly denouncing as a city the fossil fuel companies threatening our future.
The Tar Sands Blockade is confronting the power of the fossil fuel companies in the most direct of ways. In the St. Louis coal referendum, we are forcing the political system to work for us. We need bold action at the ballot box and on the front lines because neither by itself is sufficient.
To win, we need your help. Here in St. Louis, we need to gather thousands of signatures to get our initiative on the ballot. Big Coal has the big money to fight us, and we expect they’ll come down hard. We need people power more than ever. Can you help us?
Since both political candidates are silent on climate, come to St. Louis on November 6th to tell Big Coal CEOs that they can no longer hide away in St. Louis while destroying our planet. Or head to Texas and join the Blockade. Regardless of if you come to either, we need all of us to be bending the political system and confronting power in our own cities and towns - wherever the fossil fuel companies are.
We’ve spent years as a movement focusing on Presidential candidates and national-level politics, but when there’s climate silence, it’s clear fossil fuel corporations are winning. We need to fight back harder than ever before on our local fights to expose these corporations for what they are. In the end, we don’t have a choice - the stakes are too damn high.