Then we marched through city streets – about 1,500 strong – to the Capitol for another rally outside the building. One of the speakers was Robert Howarth from Cornell, who was one of the first scientists to point out the powerful impact of methane on warming the planet (“natural” gas is about 95 percent methane) – 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after release, which is the time frame we need to deal with.
The theme of the day is that Cuomo, who has presidential ambitions, fancies himself a climate hero – his administration banned fracking in New York State in 2014 – yet he is enabling all kinds of fossil fuel infrastructure to proceed, while killing a few of the most egregious projects. His goal is to move to 50% renewables by 2030, while protesters are demanding a quicker transition. Organizers say right now New York is powered just 3 percent by wind and sun (which obviously doesn’t include hydro).
After the rally we all marched into the Capitol, chanting at the top of our lungs – and the sound echoed deliciously off the walls of the staircase as we climbed to Cuomo’s office. On top of the state seal activists unfurled a beautiful cloth sun declaring, “The sun is setting on fossil fuels, the sun is rising on renewables.” Then more than 50 of us sat down in a hallway in a long oval, each in turn saying why we came and why we were willing to risk arrest to press Cuomo on the issue of climate justice. I could have given a hundred reasons, but what I said was that my granddaughter is growing up in California between climate change-powered wildfires and sea level rise, and we have to do better in addressing the crisis. One of the best parts was all the chanting and singing we did, led by an incredibly talented and passionate member of the Peace Poets, Lu Aya. He did a workshop the day before the action where we learned some techniques for effectively teaching songs and chants, which I hope to use in the future.
We were taken into custody by very polite state police officers, handcuffed and escorted in an elevator to a big room on a lower level, where we were asked a few questions and released into the room to chat with each other until all 55 of us were processed and released together, charged with disorderly conduct. For many it was their first arrest, and I joked with people that being arrested is usually not like this. We didn’t have to sit on a cold concrete sidewalk blocking doors or be taken to a freezing cold jail and spend several hours before being released. We had plenty of snacks and early access to bathrooms.
I got to talk to new friends on both sides of me – one a musician/activist who teaches music workshops around the world, the other a brand new college grad who got a job working for an organization focused on climate change and public health. And I got to visit with old friends from Vermont, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. We have to go back to Albany in May to deal with our infraction.
This was by far the most racially diverse climate action I’ve ever been in, and it was the result of coalition building between some radical climate activists (almost all white) and some people of color community organizations (brought together by New York Renews) whose demands were not as radical (e.g., Food and Water Watch wanted the demand to be 100% renewables by 2030, while New York Renews proposed 100% by 2050). Because of that, some climate activists declined to participate. The demands of the action were: Stop all fossil fuel infrastructure projects! Move New York State to 100% renewable energy! (with no date attached because the different groups couldn’t agree on one). And Make the corporations polluting our air and water pay!
It seems to me that we need to broaden our base of support for climate action and work with groups we don’t agree with 100 percent of the time, assuming their demands aren’t actually antithetical to ours. One friend who didn’t participate does feel that the differences are too great, but while I was marching with all these fired-up white climate activists and African Americans from impacted communities across the state (from Buffalo to Albany to New York City), I felt like we were on the same page and that we are more powerful together than separate.