Photo: Kate Sheppard

Woman wearing a United Mine Workers T-shirt and a “No Coal” sticker.
Photos: Kate Sheppard

In the sea of 85,000 Virginians gathered at the Manassas Fairgrounds to see Barack Obama’s final campaign event Monday night, there were a good number of green “Power Vote” and “No Coal” stickers in the crowd, thanks to the efforts of the Power Vote campaign.

A small gaggle of volunteers for Power Vote — from the Energy Action Coalition, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network — milled through the crowd gathering signatures for their Power Vote pledge, part of a nonpartisan, nationwide effort to mobilize a million young people to vote on the issues of climate change and clean energy.

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“Are energy costs important to you this election?” Brianna Cayo Cotter, communications director for the Energy Action Coalition, asked Janet Spencer and her sister Sharon Jackson as they signed the pledge.

“Yeah, gas prices,” said Spencer, of Manassas, Va.

“Well, they’re dropping now,” said Jackson, who lives in nearby Manassas Park, Va.

“Yeah, but they could go back up,” her sister responded.

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“They could go back up real quick,” Jackson acknowledged.

Barbara Knoll, of Mason Neck, Va., brought her two 15-year-old children, Josh and Shana, with her to the event. Both she and Shana signed the pledge, and Knoll said climate change and energy concerns have become increasingly important to her since the 2004 election.

“I think it’s incredibly important,” said Knoll. “I’ve got children I’d like to see 60 [years old], and if we don’t clean things up, they won’t.”

By the time Obama came on — nearly an hour and a half later than expected — the activists had gathered 1,300 pledges. They had also sent representatives to a McCain rally in Pennsylvania earlier that day to gather signatures.

Photo: Kate Sheppard

Kevin and Kiara O’Hey.

The swag, though, was the most obvious outcome of their campaign. They’d handed out a bunch of Power Vote T-shirts to crowd members, and nearly everyone in sight was brandishing a sticker. Kevin O’Hey and his 8-year-old daughter, Kiara, wore matching “Power Vote” stickers on their left cheeks. The group was also handing out door-hangers and asking the crowd to wave them whenever Obama mentioned clean energy.

“OK, hold them up when they talk about renewable energy, but not coal,” Kyle Ashby, a trainer with Wellstone Action and a volunteer with both Greenpeace and Energy Action Coalition, told one pledger as he handed her a door-hanger. “No coal.”

“I’m against coal too!” she squealed.

Though people from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity were also handing out stickers — theirs said “clean coal” — there were very few on display.

Energy Action head Jessy Tolkan tried to get the crowd going with some nonpartisan, clean-energy cheers. “I say power, you say vote,” shouted Tolkan. “I say green, you say energy!” But they didn’t catch on quite as well as the “Yes We Can” chorus.

Obama was introduced at the rally by former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who’s currently whumping his Republican opponent Jim Gilmore in the race to fill Virginia’s open Senate seat. The Obama campaign is hopeful that it too will triumph in Virginia, which hasn’t sided with a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.

Obama’s closing argument to Virginia voters included a few pitches for clean energy and a pledge to take environmental impacts into account in trade deals.

Photo: Kate Sheppard

“We can build a new electric grid so we can bring electricity to communities that need it … build solar panels … clean coal … a new generation of fuel-efficient cars,” said Obama.

The solar panels drew cheers from the Power Voters; the coal got boos.

“We can create 5 million new jobs, jobs that can’t be outsourced, but it requires creativity,” continued Obama.

Later in his speech, he called on voters — not just government — to act on energy concerns. “The government is going to have to lead the way on energy independence, but each of us is going to have figure out ways to make their homes, their businesses, their schools more energy efficient.”

But as the Power Voters were there to remind folks, Americans also have to vote for that government.

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