I only go to DC for actions of one kind or another, and when I stay with friends, I barely get to see them, which was the case again this time. Someday I’ll go down just to see my pals.
The organizing that went into both the lobbying and the rally was phenomenal. We did lobby training either online ahead of time or when folks arrived at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation that morning, which served as our headquarters. Once we signed up to lobby, organizers coordinated with Congressional staffers to set up appointments, and each team included a lobby liaison and a frontline fighter. Our very savvy liaison was Dahlia with the newish Jewish climate org, Dayenu (which means “Enough” in Hebrew). Our frontliner was Nancy, a retiree who lives in Monroe County, West Virginia, the place I most fell in love with of all the gorgeous places we passed through on our Walk/Drive for Appalachia’s Future last spring. She’s been fighting it for 8 of the 12 years since she retired.
Eluned and I were the Connecticut team, and the four of us met with staffers for both our senators, Chris Murphy and Dick Blumenthal, and our Congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro. Nancy explained the situation on the ground (see my past few blogs for more on that), including how the consortium of companies building the Mountain Valley pipeline through West Virginia and Virginia and maybe into North Carolina has lost permits from three federal agencies due to their egregious violations. It was on life support before Manchin and Chuck Schumer made their “side deal.” The silver lining is that it thrust the MVP into the limelight, and now folks down there are fielding almost more interview requests than they can handle, explaining to a much broader audience (including readers of The New York Times and the Washington Post) why the pipeline is a bad idea.
All the staffers listened but of course were non-committal when we made our asks that their bosses 1) make a public statement in favor of separating the side deal from any must-pass legislation, like the Continuing Resolution to fund the government or the National Defense Authorization Act; and 2) oppose the side deal. Since Blumenthal is on the Judiciary Committee, I emphasized to his aide that the side deal would remove jurisdiction over any appeals regarding the MVP from the Fourth Circuit, where judges have often ruled against the developers (with good reason) to the DC Circuit, where they hope to get more pro-business rulings. That idea – that moneyed interests can pick their courtroom – is so anathema to the way our government is supposed to operate that members of Congress should vote against the deal on that basis alone.
I like to share some Manchin quotes from his home-state media outlet to demonstrate the man’s hubris:
Manchin said the language will be in a continuing resolution to fund the federal government for when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. “This is something the Republican Party has wanted for the last five to seven years I’ve been with them,” he said. “It either keeps the country open, or we shut down the government. That’ll happen Sept. 30, so let’s see how that politics plays out.”
We were thrilled that while we were lobbying, Sen. Bernie Sanders made a very strong statement against the side deal, going so far as to say he’d vote against any must-pass bill that included it. We were also happy that at least 72 House members signed onto a letter from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) calling for the side deal to be a stand-alone bill.
The rally later that day was held in a cozy, tree-lined spot on Capitol Hill, just big enough for the 500 people who came, including front-line fighters from struggles against mining and drilling from all over the country, from Alaska to California to the Gulf Coast to the Upper Midwest, in addition to Appalachia. Contingents from each of those areas took the stage together, each person speaking for about two minutes about their particular fight and all of them pledging solidarity with each other, and showing up for each other, as No Sacrifice Zones implies. The music, if anything, was even more powerful than the speakers. Four of us seven “Mayflies” who locked down last year to protest the Line 3 tar sands pipeline in Minnesota reunited and took a selfie (above).
I tend to talk with folks and walk around at rallies, and I know I missed a lot even though I was there the whole time. So, after I got home, I listened to the whole thing again, and I really had missed a lot! You can watch the whole 2 hours and 11 minutes here, or just skip through it. At 2:06, you can catch the final song, Idle No More, sung by two indigenous women from North Carolina, which harkens back to the nonviolent indigenous uprising in Canada begun a decade ago and seemed an appropriate way to end. Whatever happens with the MVP and the side deal, we have work to do for the rest of our lives.