I saw it with my own eyes. 10,000 students were asked a question by the speaker on the second night of Powershift, and when I looked around, I saw them on their feet, many with their fists in the air. I heard them screaming. Lit by dancing concert lights and giant screens, their faces were answering. This was an unequivocal, chills-up-your-spine, “Yes.”
This year’s Powershift conference attendees committed to ending mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia this year.
The people in Appalachia heard it. This is real.
This is something that only a real movement can accomplish.
Soon the adrenaline of Powershift will fade, and assuming we are a real movement and people of our word, we’ll need to start talking about how we are going to do it.
I recently kidnapped my friend Tim DeChristopher. It was right after his trial in Salt Lake City, and I figured he needed some quiet hikes in the desert even more than I did, and he’s good for hanging out with if you aren’t in the mood for idle chit-chat.
Three hours into the ride, as we were nearing the soaring grey Book Cliffs just past Green River on I-70, I asked, partially to myself, “Why doesn’t the climate movement feel like a movement? What is it missing?” An hour later into the conversation, as we were winding along the red Colorado River canyon outside of Moab, Tim abruptly put up his finger, stared straight ahead, and stopped acknowledging my presence. “Well, here we go again.” I thought. (See, usually, when Tim has a “finger idea” I end up spending 60 hours a week working on it for the next six months. But it’s why I started the conversation. I ain’t too proud to admit that that bald guy has some good ideas once in a while.)
He said, and I paraphrase liberally, “The prosecution kept referring to me being determined to ‘make a statement’ in the auction. I did go in to make a statement, even if I didn’t know what it was going to look like. But I think the reason the action was so effective is that I went in to make a statement, but ended up taking a stand. Our movement uses the words ‘take a stand’ all the time, but it’s really just a bunch of days of action and written petitions. People pack up the banners, issue their press releases, and go home. Maybe spend an hour in jail and pay a fine or take a plea bargain. Those are statements. When you take a stand, you follow through until you force the other side to make a decision. I forced the auction to a close when I started winning all the parcels. The movement needs to jump off that cliff and take a stand on something. It needs to make a tangible demand.”
As an organizer, I operate by the personal belief that you can’t, nor should you, tell people what to do if you want them to do it. They need to decide on their own. If you ask and get no traction, and your idea goes nowhere, it’s better than barking orders that might be half-heartedly followed. A movement must express an motive beyond each individual. A manufactured movement does not have access the the will and power underlying this mysterious universe. A force of ego will ultimately fail, or be destroyed by a greater truth. The climate movement must be as driven and relentless and genuine as the will of life–the will to live.
So! I was glad to see Tim choose to ask the thousands of students at Powershift if they wanted to–were ready to–take a stand about the abomination of maountaintop removal coal mining. We were ready to hear “No.”
But we said “Yes.”
And so we must. I’m headed to West Virginia tomorrow with my PeaceUp colleagues to meet with Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival.
See you in there.