More power to the shift

No-more-coal! No-more-coal! No-more-coal! was the rhythmic chant reverberating throughout the streets surrounding the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on March 2, as columns of thousands of people from all corners of our nation marched through snow and 16-degree temperatures from Spirit of Justice Park to the power plant several blocks south that supplies heat for the legislative branch of the federal government.

The march continued to circle the power plant as some stayed behind at each gate, intending to perform nonviolent civil disobedience by blocking traffic in and out. The police were everywhere, but were nonthreatening, even helpful in many instances. The circle ended at New Jersey and E streets, where there was a stage for speakers such as respected authors Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry, NASA scientist James Hansen, and Robert F. Kennedy with his two young children to join him in being arrested for the cause.

But there were no arrests. The police carefully moved people out of the way, but did not charge them, disappointing those who had come a long way to make a statement through personal nonviolent sacrifice.

The weekend just prior to the Capitol Climate Action brought to Washington a convergence of 12,000 students and young activists in the form of PowerShift, a major strategy conference to address the climate-change crisis by stopping the use of coal to produce electricity. PowerShift included workshops, trainings, meetings and a rally with speakers, folksingers, rappers and poets—strongly reminiscent of an anti-war organizational effort from the 1960s.

On Feb. 26, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pre-empted PowerShift and the Capitol Climate Action by jointly announcing that the Capitol’s power plant would stop using coal and convert entirely to natural gas. The goal of the grass-roots effort had now been realized even before the event took place. But, while the air-quality issue in D.C. is very real, the power plant is largely a symbol for a larger national movement. So, organizers plowed forward with demonstration plans.

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, March 1, in frigid air, 12 people from Asheville boarded a van rented by the Canary Coalition to join more than 400 North Carolinians who were en route or already in D.C. to join the PowerShift and the Capitol Climate Action.

North Carolinians met with others who helped organize the Capitol Climate Action. We handed out more than 5,000 postcards informing participants of the next major national action on climate change: On April 20, there will be nonviolent civil disobedience and a mass rally in Charlotte to stop Duke Energy from completing construction on its new—and we believe unlawful, immoral and unnecessary—coal-burning power plant at Cliffside.

The Cliffside rally is being organized by a broad coalition of health, environmental, social-justice and faith-based organizations in North Carolina, with the help of others in the national movement. It is expected that people will actually get arrested this time. Can we stop Cliffside? Yes we can.

— Avram Friedman, director
Canary Coalition

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