February 2017Campaigns

Notes: local activists rally for ecosocialism

Scott Pruitt, the veteran foe of environmental rules who Donald Trump wants to be the next EPA administrator, bears a disturbing resemblance to George W. Bush when you see him on television. The close-cropped, graying hair and smoothly shaven cheeks are similar, to start with. Pruitt's soft-spoken Southern politeness that seems rooted in a certain sort of conservative Christianity, or at least a certain sort of conservative hypocrisy, is a good deal like Bush's speech at its most insinuating.  For me, Pruitt also resembles our 43rd president in an apparent willingness to lie his fool head off for what he probably considers a good cause, while politely and stubbornly insisting the Earth is probably flat and the multiplication tables open to interpretation.

At least that's how Pruitt seemed to me as he presented himself at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 18, while a huge group of anti-Pruitt environmental activists gathered outside the hearing and most of us had to watch the proceedings on closed circuit TV from an overflow room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The anti-Pruitt demonstrators, by the looks of us, represented the Sierra Club, the climate activist group 350.org, Food & Water Watch, Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and (among other green organizations) the Moms Clean Air Force, an organizing project of the Environmental Defense Fund.  Women and a few men with the Moms Clean Air Force crowded one wall of the nearly packed corridor outside the hearing as 350.org supporters, each wearing a white face mask with blue lettering saying "Stop Pruitt," hugged the opposite one.  The masks technically violated a ban on protest signs inside the Dirksen Building, a policewoman told me, but the Capitol police weren't likely to enforce the regulations.  The T-shirts worn by Moms Clean Air Force members counted as clothing, though, not protest signs, and weren't subject to the same restrictions.

What motivated my appearance at the anti-Pruitt protests, besides personal interest, was the initial program of activism and outreach that our DSA chapter's new Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee adopted at our second meeting early in January.

In that meeting, we organized work groups focusing on outreach to already existing environmental and climate activism groups in the DMV area, on one hand, and on efforts at the national level to oppose Trump's appointments of anti-environmentalists to federal regulatory agencies, on the other.

Our climate committee is still a very new one, but in the past month members have taken part in anti-Trump protests and organizing meetings of several different green groups operating both at the federal level and locally in Maryland, Northern Virginia and the District.

Largely under the leadership of Brian D., the leader of the Outreach Working Group, committee members have protested with 350.org's Action team at potential cabinet member hearings and at the offices of individual lawmakers, participated in conference calls with organizations such as Friends of the Earth, NRDC and CCAN (the CCAN call was for DMV area green activists and featured a guest presentation by 350.org founder Bill McKibben) and attended organizing meetings at Sierra Club and for Our Revolution groups in Arlington and Silver Spring.  At least two of our members also attended a Jan. 18 open house at Capitale Bar in the District hosted by the Center for Biological Diversity.

At least one other member of our group is active with a Climate Stewards group in Annapolis that is rallying religious progressives around the state's anti-fracking moratorium.  Another member based in Virginia is becoming active with the state Audubon Society on environmental protection issues, and several of our members are environmental engineers and/or solar energy entrepreneurs.

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, with very little advance notice from protest organizers, a half-dozen members of our committee attended a last-minute demonstration organized by a host of environmental groups, Native American organizations and racial justice advocacy organizations to protest Trump's recent actions aimed at reviving construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

At a session of the DSA general membership meeting on Jan. 22, which attracted more than 100 DSA members and/or supporters, the Climate Change committee attracted around 25 people, including at least 18 new members. At that session there was little time for anything except introducing ourselves, but we agreed to hold our next full committee meeting on Sunday, Feb. 26, probably at the Kogod Courtyard, and to hold work group meetings on environmental justice issues and outreach efforts, respectively, on Sunday, Feb. 5.

JS, the leader of our Environmental Justice Work Group, has recently emailed members of the group inviting them, and others with a potential interest in environmental justice, to a group meeting from 1:30 - 3 p.m. on Feb. 5 at the Kogod Courtyard.  JS adds: "Thank for your interest in the Environmental Justice Work Group. The Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee of Metro-DC DSA is just getting started, so I look forward to your ideas and enthusiasm."

There should be pizza at the work group meeting, JS states, adding that "I am hoping to use the time to get to know each other and our backgrounds in environmentalism, as well as brainstorm activities and actions for the group. Feel free to bring any friends that are interested in environmental justice. We welcome new faces."

JS added that group members and other activists who would like to do some background reading before the meeting are encouraged to look at a report from the Yale School of Forestry called "The Nine Types of Americans" regarding differing environmental attitudes of different demographic groups. (A PDF of the report is readily available online)  .

Brian D., leader of the Outreach Work Group, has prepared a calendar of upcoming events and activities in the area that committee members both within and outside of his work group may want to attend.  The Outreach Work Group will meet on Feb. 5 from 1:30 - 3 p.m. at the Kogod Courtyard, though separately from the EJ Work Group. Outreach Work group members look to continue information-gathering efforts while coalition building with local, regional, national, and international environmental organizations that have ongoing campaigns in the Metro DC-area relating to a wide variety of issues touching on climate change.

Brian encourages members to join the emailing lists of organizations such as CCAN, 350.org, Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club while bolstering our social media presence by following such environmental organizations on Facebook and Twitter. He also suggests members read a short "Ecosocialist Manifesto" published by activists Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy.

For our full committee meeting on Feb. 26, which probably again will be at the Kogod Courtyard, we are hoping to hear a presentation by David Schwartzman, a longtime environmental activist, local Green Party member and emeritus professor of environmental studies at Howard University.  David is expected to discuss particular environmental justice issues inside the District, including lead contamination and air pollution linked to elevated levels of asthma in low-income and predominately African American communities.

The leadership of the Climate Change Committee is hoping to persuade Jeremiah Lowery, a Sierra Club board member and organizer for CCAN in the District, to speak about CCAN's efforts to get a carbon fee adopted by the DC Council, with provisions to prevent any economic harm to low-income DC residents.  However, Lowery as of this writing has not yet agreed to speak, so this plan is provisional.

Our committee's leadership also has discussed the possibility of having former AFL-CIO official and environmental activist Joe Uehlein, founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), address a future meeting about ways to bring together environmentalists and labor activists to address "jobs vs. environment" issues and promote climate progress in ways that are sensitive to employment and social justice concerns.  However, our discussions about getting Uehlein to speak are still in the early stages.

Another issue that committee leaders hope to address in future meetings is DSA participation in the People's Climate March scheduled for Washington on April 29. Local labor activists who are promoting the march emphasize that it will address labor and social justice concerns as well as climate issues, making it another opportunity for democratic socialists to embrace an "intersectional" approach to curbing global warming.

In Maryland, some of our committee members plan to attend an environmental lobbying night on Feb. 13 at the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis, on working for a permanent fracking ban in Maryland to replace the current fracking moratorium.  On Feb. 20, some of us also will be on hand as the Maryland Sierra Club hosts its annual lobbying night in Annapolis from 5-8 p.m.  The Sierra Club lobby night is at the Miller Senate Building, 1st floor East. Those interested in attending should RSVP at their website. Carpooling is available.

In Virginia, several of our committee members plan to attend a Feb. 6 event sponsored by Our Revolution in Arlington featuring radical economist Gar Alperovitz, a long-time advocate of coops and worker-owned and worker-managed enterprises.  Alperovitz, a participant in the national Next System Project along with veteran environmentalist Gus Speth and other radical thinkers, argues that such alternative enterprises can form part of the basis for a gradual economic transition away from our current system of corporate capitalism.

Also in Virginia on March 18, the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia will host a meeting on environmental advocacy cosponsored by the Audubon Naturalist Society, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, Prince William Conservation Alliance, Virginia Native Plant Society, Potowmack Chapter, and the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter.

At least one of our committee members has plans to attend that event, primarily to learn about the perspectives these different Virginia groups are bringing to environmental activism. The meeting will occur from 1 to 4 p.m. at Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Rd., in the Annandale area of Alexandria.

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