A coalition of activist-oriented green groups are drawing inspiration from those town-hall scenes in a new push to force senators to answer for their failure to pass clean-energy legislation. 350.org, 1Sky, Clean Energy Works, the Blue Green Alliance, and other groups are urging volunteers to track down swing-vote senators during the August congressional recess. 350.org says it’s already signed up more than 2,500 volunteers to track down senators (both Republican and Democrat) at recess events.
“[L]et senators know it’s not okay to quit working to stop climate change,” says 350.org. “The basic idea is to attend an event where your senator is speaking. Have a few friends stand outside with signs, and then have one or two people inside the event and ask the senator when they plan to actually pass a climate bill.”
The “Shadow a Senator” organizers suggest a polite-but-firm style rather than the screaming summer ’09 approach. In fact, 350.org has a fun video on how not to shadow a senator (below), featuring some of the gun-toters and xenophobic-sign wavers from last summer.
Instead, organizers suggest sign slogans like “Get to work” and “You work for me, not BP!” Guides to senator-shadowing from 350.org and 1Sky [PDF] suggest things like not wearing environmental T-shirts (presumably senators are more honest when caught off guard) and, of course, videotaping the questioning.
“The plan is, frankly, to be putting a little heat on these guys who failed so signally to do anything about climate,” 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben told Politico. “We figured out where everyone is going to be and we’ll be showing up and asking hard questions of them. We’re training people to take on their political leaders.”
McKibben acknowledged that hope for climate legislation is probably lost for this year. He argues that senators won’t pass a bill — let alone a good one — until they sense stronger public pressure of it.
“We need to be able to explain that [senators'] current ways will end something they actually care about, i.e. their careers,” he wrote last week. “And since we’ll never have the cash to compete with Exxon, we better work in the currencies we can muster: bodies, spirit, passion … We need to shame them, starting now.”
Sara Robinson of Campaign for America’s Future offered another perspective on the value of noisy, visual Tea-Party-style action:
“It got them massive media attention,” she wrote in an email about year’s town hall activism. “It put them on the map politically. It didn’t win the healthcare fight, and I’m inclined to view this November’s election as a real referendum on whether or not the Tea Party has a future — that’s still up for grabs. But people sure as heck know who they are and what they stand for.”
“As usual, the progressives are left politely not-yelling and handing out leaflets on the sideliines while the right-wing circus passes by in all its noisy glory.”
Maybe that’s starting to change.
Here’s the reminder to keep things civil: