Pencil Pushers: How the Fossil Fuel Industry Is Trying to Thwart People Power in Colorado

by Kyli Wagner

August 1, 2016

In Colorado, while activists collect petition signatures to help protect the state from dangerous fracking, the fossil fuel industry is spending millions to stop them. What they’re paying for may surprise you.

At City Park in Denver, Colorado, a group of activists  and I prepare to hit the ground. Clipboards in hand, extra pens shoved in our back pockets, and armed with our friendliest smiles, we are ready to go. We amble through the park and mingle, while jazz music plays in the background and the scent of food trucks wafts over the park. We’re here for a greater purpose — to take on the fracking industry, one conversation at a time.

We are collecting signatures for two proposed ballot initiatives to help protect Colorado from fracking.

Number 75 would allow Colorado communities to decide whether fracking happens in their own backyards  a right that was taken away earlier this year by the Colorado State Supreme Court. Number 78 requires that all fracking operations be at least 2,500 feet from the places most dear to our communities: hospitals, playgrounds, schools, and homes. We need 100,000 signatures by August 8 to give Coloradans a chance to vote on the measures this November.

Meanwhile, another group is sharpening up with a different kind of message.

Spread across the park are people holding signs that read “Billions in tax revenue at stake. Don’t write it off. Decline to sign #75 and #78.” While the signs themselves are curious, the strangest aspect of this counter campaign is the sign-holders attire. They are dressed in full body yellow pencil suits, complete with giant erasers on top of their heads.

The costume is truly mind-boggling. Why a pencil? You can’t sign an official government document (like a ballot initiative petition) with a pencil. Had they tried to get pen costumes, only to find out these don’t exist?

With these questions raging through my head, I had to find out more. Where better to get information than straight from the horse’s mouth, or in this case, straight from the pencil’s … point? I asked this pencil what he was doing, and most importantly, what did his sign mean?

Unfortunately, the pencil had no idea what his sign was about. But he did tell me that he was paid $25 an hour to wear his suit and hold it. When I asked what ballot initiatives #75 and #78 were, he said he thought they had something to do with taxes, but couldn’t be sure. (I’m guessing pencils weren’t provided to take notes during orientation.)

It turns out that the pencil works for a Denver Advertising agency called The Pineapple Agency. According to its website, the agency works with “scrappy startups and Fortune 500 companies alike.” This pencil would certainly fall into the “scrappy” category, but The Pineapple Agency’s client is actually a fossil fuel industry front group called Protect Colorado. This tax-exempt front group has poured tens of millions of dollars into TV advertisements, billboards, strange trucks full of money (pictured above, with the pencil), hiring people to harass petitioners, and most recently, pencil costumes to frighten people away from signing our petitions.

The fracking industry is scared. You can tell they’re feeling desperate when they choose to spend their millions on Craigslist pencil costumes and pay a guy $25 an hour to wear it and hold a sign.

With one week left before the signature deadline, we are steadily fighting to keep Colorado communities safe from fracking.

For every day the industry spends trying to stop us, there is a little girl skipping to her school playground in the shadow of a fracking rig.

We must put a stop to it. Not just for Colorado, but for every community at risk from fracking across the country. Here in Colorado, we have the chance to prove that people power makes change possible — that Democracy works of, by, and for the people, not the fossil fuel industry.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. But as far as I can tell, these pencils don’t stand a fighting chance. I’ll be sure to call the fossil fuel industry next time I need a No. 2 for a standardized test, but they can keep out of my democracy.

Kyli Wagner

By Kyli Wagner

Kyli Wagner is a Grassroots Assistant at Greenpeace USA.

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