For more than four hours on Monday, March 2, upwards of 2,500 young activists braved the bitter cold to blockade the Washington, D.C. coal-fired Capitol Power Plant. Organized mostly by Greenpeace, the Capitol Climate Action (CCA) succeeded in shutting down the plant for the short period of time it was running. The main objective, however, was spreading awareness about global warming. Judging by the amount of press coverage it received, the “largest mass civil disobedience for the climate in US history,” as the CCA calls it, was a success.
Despite the irony of shouting, “We don’t want the world to boil, no coal, no oil” while trudging through the intense cold and snow on the D.C. streets, the operation was well-received. There were counter-protesters present, but their voices went, for the most part, unheeded.
Even the police benignly endured the chants, protected by layers of cold weather gear. Protesters were expecting to be arrested, carrying cash and writing the Greenpeace legal counseling line on their skin with Sharpies. Nonetheless, D.C. police did not make any arrests (to the disappointment of some).
The issue of climate change and global warming has been primarily adopted by youth around the world, since campaigning for change — as evidenced by the small adult turnout — is an occupation consisting predominantly of those from the younger generation.
Youth involvement has historically brought about great change, most notably in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The student-focused environmental convention preceding Monday’s action, Power Shift, had grown from 5,000 attendees in 2007 to 12,000 in 2009.
Global attention to the climate crisis has certainly grown. New Zealand, Norway and Costa Rica are all competing to be the first carbon neutral countries in the world. The European Union promises to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by twenty percent before 2020, and dozens of countries have enacted laws to regulate their carbon footprint. In Washington, the Senate and the House called to switch the plant to less polluting natural gas only days before the rally. Although it wasn’t the pure, no-compromise victory sought after by the protesters, it was a victory nonetheless.
All good news for activists fighting for clean air and water. Although it could be years for any real change to take effect, in the meantime, they will just have to keep one of the many chants heard at the rally in mind: “I’m feeling flirty flirty, coal is dirty dirty.”