Two thousand protesters marched on the Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C., this afternoon and occupied all five gates. The police kept an eye on everyone but let the rally go on, and a few hours into the protest, the organizers claimed victory.
Some participants were upset that the protest ended so soon without forcing the issue, but most followed the organizers’ directions and headed back up toward the Capitol for a protest march.
The protest brought out the stars of the movement. Kathy Mattea took the microphone to sing about coal. Robert Kennedy Jr. and NASA climate scientist James Hansen stopped by to rally the crowd. Hansen told them:
“Every government we’ve elected, they’ve ended up being influenced by the special interests. This is our chance in the next few years. You’ve got to continue the message so our government will lead the rest of the world and solve this problem.”
Farmer poet Wendell Berry also had a few words for the crowd, once the cheering stopped long enough for him to talk:
“Somebody asked me if I wanted to get arrested. The answer is very brief: No. But I’m willing to get arrested. Nothing else is working.”
Gus Speth, a Yale professor who founded the World Resources Institute, called the protest the start of a long-awaited movement to start the phase out of coal and get a greenhouse gas reduction treaty out of world leaders at Copenhagen.
Congress doesn’t yet feel the heat, he said, because Americans don’t understand just how dangerous the situation really is.
The Capitol Power Plant, which heats and cools Capitol Hill, has been burning coal for almost a century. It accounts for about a third of the legislative branch’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The plant could be getting cleaner soon. Last week, as momentum was building for the protest, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote a letter to the architect of the capitol requesting a speedy shift away from coal to natural gas.
The congressional leaders wrote that the plant’s switch away from coal “would be an important demonstration of Congress’ willingness to deal with the enormous challenges of global warming, energy independence and our inefficient use of finite fossil fuels.”
The Capitol Power Plant is a highly visible symbol of the coal industry, but it is only one plant. Hundreds of dirty coal plants still operate, sending greenhouse gases and toxins, such as mercury, into the air, and more are being planned.
Organizers of the Capitol Power Plant protest say their work today was just the beginning. They have power plants in Chicago and a Duke Energy coal plant being built in Charlotte, N.C., in their sights for more civil disobedience campaigns in the next few months.