Posted on behalf of Craig Altemose, Coordinator of the Leadership Campaign
An update from the front lines of Massachusetts
Last night, I slept in my bed.
Normally, such an action is not newsworthy, but for me, it was the first time I had slept in my bed since the night of October 23rd, 2009. Like hundreds of other students, religious leaders, and community members across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts participating in The Leadership Campaign, I have been refusing to sleep in my home powered by dirty electricity until the state implements a policy before December 7th (the start of Copenhagen) to Repower Massachusetts with 100% Clean Electricity by 2020.
100% Clean Electricity is an ambitious goal, or so I’m informed. I invariably reply that sometimes the impossible is necessary. And the necessity of passing legislation, or actually beginning the transformation that will let us live in a just and stable world is understood by a staggering amount of people, both students and community members. At last Sunday’s Sleep-Out on the Boston Common, we had well over a hundred people there. While that number may not be staggering, the fact that 120 people stayed to receive citations from police, even when explicity told they could leave, staggers me. Here are people who understand the seriousness of the crisis we are all in, people willing to stand by there values.
So why did I give in? It was not a conscious decision. I fell ill on Tuesday, and started feeling much worse yesterday. My girlfriend strongly encouraged me to get a solid night’s rest in bed, and I begrudgingly agreed to go and lie down in bed for a bit, not quite agreeing but realizing it was likely that I would not emerge until the next morning.
I have little to comment about my lapse. I recognize that the hundreds of millions of climate refugees who will soon be forced from their homes will not likely get to ‘take a break’ when they get sick. Indeed, malnourished refugees are more often than not probably going to be fighting off one disease or another. Nor will they get to rise from their nice, warm sleeping bags in their dry tents and walk a short distance to a warm shower to start upon their day.
Perhaps, then, this movement will require higher degrees of sacrifice for us to convey the seriousness and the urgency of global destabilization as a result of rapid climatic disruption. But that is for another post. For now, I would like to comment on where we are, after three-and-a-half weeks of sleeping out.
A Brief Summary
We are calling on the elected officials of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to pass a bill to Repower Massachusetts with 100% Clean Electricity by 2020. Towards this end, students and community members across the state have been sleeping outside to protest the dirty-electricity that powers our homes, schools, businesses, and places of worship, and to draw attention to our world of contradictions.
Is it working?
I’ll let the reader be the judge of that. But here, is an update, after some 25 days of sleeping outside.
We have recruited 21 state legislators (out of a total of 200) who have agreed to sign on to our letter to Governor Patrick, asking him to introduce our bill for 100% Clean Electricity by 2020. We had a meeting on Tuesday with Governor Patrick, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles, and Assistant Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs for Policy, David Cash. These three leaders listened attentively to our impassioned plea, and are expected to get back to us tomorrow with their assessment of Massachusetts’ potential to lead the world to a safe and stable future. If the Governor does not feel suitably prepared to introduce our bill, we have a state legislator who has confirmed his willingness to do so at any moment.
We’ve also gotten the attention of senate candidate Alan Khazei (who might pop in for a visit) and Senator John Kerry who said that “this kind of grassroots activism sends a strong message across Massachusetts that climate change must be addressed now, not years from now.”
Support for 100% Clean Electricity has continued to build. In addition to Students for a Just and Stable Future (formerly Massachusetts Power Shift, the lead group), The Leadership Campaign has been endorsed by over two-dozen groupsincluding religious organizations (Massachusetts Council of Churches, Religious Witness for the Earth, and others), community groups (Massachusetts Climate Action Network, Somerville Climate Action Network, Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities), and even a political party (Massachusetts Green/Rainbow Party). We are thrilled to have the support of all of these groups, and excited to have more join us in the weeks to come.
A number of prominent individuals have brought us support in our struggle, including Bill McKibben and Dr. James Hansen, religious leaders like Episcopalian Bishop Bud Cederholm and Rev. Jim Antal, and political candidates (former Green Party gubernatorial candidates Grace Ross and Jill Stein).
For better or for worse, it is illegal to be on the Boston Common after 11:00PM. While this ordinance was passed with the most sincere of intentions, one wonders what our forbearer’s would think of our Commonwealth when people receive citations for demonstrating on the Commons. Does democracy really close at 11:00PM?
We believe it does not, and have as a result decided to stand our ground on the Boston Common, and accept the legal consequences (a misdemeanor trespassing charge). We hold no grudges against the courteous police officers who give us citations every week. Indeed, we recognize they, like us, have a job to do. Their primary duty is to enforce the law and keep the people safe, and we respect and applaud their efforts towards that end.
Most of the above leaders have even stood with us in the face of police citations for trespassing on the Boston Common (where we gather every Sunday evening). If we make it to court, it should be a pretty good trial, complete with clergy in collars, a respected NASA scientist, and a world-renowned journalist and activist.
But perhaps the most exciting achievement to date so far has not been the political support we have won, the prominent individuals and organizations who have come to our aid, or the media attention we have garnered. Rather, it is the building of bonds across colleges and universities. We, the students, are growing closer and closer together with each passing sleep-out. With every tent we put up and every tent we take down, we are building the bonds of friendship that will make this movement win. Hundreds of students have taken part, and each one has realized that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. They have felt, and they have come to learn the names, faces, and stories of those who stand (and sleep) beside them. As more community members join our sleepouts, they, too, our building with our students and with each other the relationships so needed to change the movement.
The Means Are The End
While the tactic seems to be fairly successful at earning us attention and demonstrating the depth of our resolve, it has also done wonders to help us see each other in a new light. Not as students, not as community members, but as people possessing the principled determination we need to win.
We are going to win.
We are going to win because we believe in the strength of humanity. We are going to win because we believe that our leaders, when presented with the dire predictions of science, will rise to the occasion. We are going to win because realize what is at stake – our futures, and indeed, our very lives – and we treat the situation accordingly. We are going to win because we are willing to sacrifice something morally significant – not just a warm bed, but in many cases, classes, grades, study abroad opportunities, criminal records, or career choices.
We are going to win because we will not stop until every single fossil fuel facility in our state ceases emitting greenhouse gases. We are going to win because we will not stop until there is a solar panel on every roof, thick insulation in every building, and a wind turbine on every hill.
The question is not if we win, but when we win. And that is a question I cannot answer.
But I can say this: When future generations look back upon our time, and ask what the human race was doing when the world was burning, they will be able to look at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and find people who swam against the tide, who spoke out when others were silent, who stood (and slept) for justice.
And P.S. I’m still sick, but I’m going to be sleeping in a tent again tonight.