Largest Civil Disobedience on Global Warming in U.S. History Turns up the Heat on Congress

Feature story - March 3, 2009
In the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, clean energy activists from around the country staged the largest mass civil disobedience on global warming in American history. Over 2,500 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to make a resounding call for Congressional action that will kickstart a clean energy revolution, create thousands of green jobs, and stop global warming. Activists at the Capitol Climate Action on March 2nd, 2009. © Jon Warnow

James Hansen, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, Bobby Kennedy, Jr., and several other notable environmentalists addressed the crowd assembled outside the Capitol Power Plant, the main site of the peaceful Capitol Climate Action. A diverse coalition of over 90 organizations representing everyone from coal miners and ministers to indigenous communities and environmental activists came together for this historic protest.

Several hundred activists risked arrest when they successfully blockaded all five of the entrances to the Capitol Power Plant for nearly four hours. The police chose not to make any arrests, however. Organizers declared the event a success because of its scale and the fact that the commitment of its participants was the biggest example yet of the kind of public support necessary to get the U.S. back on track in working to solve the climate crisis.

"Today marks the beginning of a new era of activism to fight global warming," said global warming campaign director Steven Biel. "We're done asking nicely. The time for delay is over. We need to start phasing out coal right now and get completely off fossil fuels as quickly as possible."

Coal Out of Congress

The Capitol Power Plant was selected as the target of the action because of its symbolic importance. The plant is partially fired by coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels used for energy generation. Though it stopped producing electricity decades ago, it is still used to heat and cool the Capitol building, which sits just a few blocks from the plant.

While speaking at the rally outside the Capitol Power Plant, poet Wendell Berry said he was willing to risk arrest at the Capitol Climate Action because "we've tried everything else." Efforts in the past to move the Capitol Power Plant off of coal have been stymied by the powerful coal lobby and their allies in Congress. But last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent a letter to the Architect of the Capitol, the engineer in charge of D.C.'s infrastructure, requesting that he move the Capitol Power Plant entirely off of dirty coal energy by the end of the year. It was a major victory, and it was won before the protest had even begun!

The Capitol Climate Action went ahead despite the early victory because Congress needs to be told that the American people expect them to shut down all coal-fired plants across the country (read the coalition press release here). A clean energy future won't happen soon enough to avert the worst effects of global warming unless the American people stand up and demand it.

This is the unedited footage from our live streaming video coverage of the action (more video is coming soon!):

Clean Power to the People!

After a brief staging rally at the Spirit of Justice Park in Washington, D.C. the crowd of protesters moved down to the Capitol Power Plant. Those who were willing to risk arrest then proceeded to lock down all five entrances to the plant, while a second, larger rally was held on the surrounding streets. Some memorable slogans used by the protesters at the rally included, "Thank you miners, for what you've done. But we need our energy from the sun. We'll build a new world for me and you, with clean energy and green jobs too!" And, "Coal is over, coal is done, gonna get our power from the sun!"

Greenpeace Capitol Climate Action poster

The struggle to build a clean energy future is far from over, but today we started something truly momentous. If President Obama and the new Congress are going to have any chance of passing effective global warming legislation, they'll need overwhelming popular support. The dirty energy lobby will be ready to fight every single measure, regulation, or law that is designed to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases or that aims to build a clean energy economy. Today was the first step in galvanizing the progressive movement to counter the big money that will be thrown around by the dirty energy industries.

"We refuse to tell our children and grandchildren that we had the solutions, but lacked the courage," said Biel. "We're in a fight for our children's lives, and we can't afford to play by the rules."

Twitter coverage of the Capitol Climate Action:

Take Action!

Thousands of people took action in DC on March 2nd, 2009. Now it's YOUR turn! Call your Rep. and demand global warming solutions!