By Sam Rubin, who was among 9 arrested for disrupting Congress by singing their climate justice demands from the gallery
This Friday, April 15, I went to Congress to be heard. I went to Congress to sing. I went to Congress to speak truth to power. I entered the visitor’s gallery of the House of Representatives with eight others, and one after another.
We sang a modified version of the Star Spangled Banner:
Oh, Why can’t you see It’s my life that’s at stake
When you sell out our earth
You are stealing my future
Can you look in my eyes
As you Gamble our lives
When will you stop the lies
So that we can survive?
If you represent me
Not the fossil fuel industry
You must stop wasting time
Chasing your dollar signs
Oh, say will you listen to Our Generation
If you refuse to hear us now
Then we have to shut you down
For the entire half hour it took us to file into the gallery and the five long minutes that I waited in my seat, my stomach was hollow and I was more nervous than I had ever been. But once we were all in the gallery, I did rise and sing. I was arrested by the capital police, and along with the others, was changed with Unlawful Conduct: Disrupting Congress. I have a court date on May 5.
In many ways, my political awakening came with the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In Obama I did see a hope for the future. I saw the possibility that, with him, we could change the way that our government worked. We could start to change the ways of corporate influence over our democracy and, in that, begin to address climate change. This was, needless to say, a faith that was highly misplaced.
My role in that campaign, as nothing more than a canvasser a few times, had caused a need for action, and a need for change in the world, to bloom. In the Fall of 2009, I worked on a campaign that sought for 100% clean electricity by 2020, in Massachusetts – a goal that was realistic and within the requirements of scientific research. I dedicated myself whole-heartedly to this campaign, called the Leadership Campaign, and between myself and all the others working toward this goal, we spent thousands of long hours calling, writing letters, and visiting our Representatives. But it didn’t work. After all the intense energy and dedication that all of us put into it, the legislature just ignored the bill and us.
They don’t listen to our pleas as their constituents or as their children. They don’t listen to our scientists or our doctors. They don’t listen to our priests or our parents. We lost.
In the wake of that loss, I was forced to reevaluate the political system in America, and how that effects the climate movement. It was then that I realized that something more is demanded of us. If we actually believe in what we are fighting for- justice, the planet, and perhaps most importantly, each other- then we must hold ourselves accountable to do what is necessary.
So, what does that mean? What is actually necessary? To be honest, I don’t know. It was in this state that I sat paralyzed. The more I understood how convoluted our current system is, horrifically intertwined with climate change (simply writing this blog post is putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere), the less sure I was what to do, and the less certain I was about what is right. But at some point, I realized, you just have to do something. You don’t have to know what is the perfect thing to do, because there is no silver bullet. You just have to step up and do something.
I have been contemplating this as Power Shift has drawn closer. This weekend, 10,000 youth have gathered in Washington D.C. for a climate conference. We’ve gathered together before, but now the movement has become even more urgent. The US government has expressed over and over that it will not do anything about climate change – from the failure of Waxman-Markey to continuation of fossil fuel subsidies and the gross subservience to corporations. Right now our elected officials are acting in a gross dereliction of their sacred duty. I firmly believe that our government is not simply just not acting, they are part of the problem – they are the not the leaders that they have promised. We must become those. And to do that, I had to begin to find my voice. The voice that is inside me that refuses to stay silent. The voice that demands that I speak, and that I act.
When I decided to organize this action, three weeks ago today, I had no idea what was going to happen. There were so many moments, especially right before we pulled it off, that it seemed that everything would fall apart, and that nothing would happen. There were a lot of points where I was about to fall apart, and during one of them, I realized that I have nothing left to lose. The things in my life that make me happy, my friends, my connections to other humans and the earth, are not things that can be given to me, they are things that I must make myself. And once I realized that — that I only have my own integrity and respect to gain, and nothing that I value to lose — I was able to do this. Perhaps the most inspiring thing that drove me to this action was a question that my friend asked me. She said, “If not now, when?” And that truly is something that I had no answer for, when? Now is the only answer I could formulate.
And right now I am not free. I stood up in Congress because that is where I have been told, over and over again, that I have no voice. That I have no voice in my future. My future, which if I remain on the sidelines, will not exist. I stood up to sing because I will be silent no more forever.