By: Anna Stump
In the midst of an election that gravely threatens the environment, fear has sparked action.
“One of the advantages of having all of the branches of government run by Republicans is that change can happen, and there won’t be blocks within the different branches.” These words spoken by Citizens Climate Lobbyist, May Bartlett, brought hope to those who attended the “Before the Flood” screening and discussion on November 30th at the University of Utah. This event was free of charge, and had a large turnout necessitating the use of an overflow room as seats filled quickly. A panel of passionate activists spoke about this recent election, and voiced concerns as well as hopeful remarks. The Republican Party now has a majority rule over all branches of government, with GOP leaders against the switch to renewable energy sources and other ways of preserving and protecting our planet. With a climate change skeptic in office, now more than ever it is important for people to take action on a local level- And they are.
In response to this election, there has been a surge in donations to nonprofit environmental organizations. According to a statistic by the Financial Times, “The Sierra Club has nearly quadrupled its monthly donation record in the days following the election, adding 4,000 monthly donors, worth about an estimated $2 million over the course of their donations” (Bissell, 2016). Democrats and environmentalists alike are using this loss as a chance to push for change on the local level to protect areas they love most. Colin Green, the director of the event, stresses the importance of taking direct action to fight for the environment. “What we can do is mobilize, because for big change to happen, ordinary people have to be on the streets and have to be defending the land and the water systems that they love.”
Speaking about the importance of peaceful protest and voting for local action, Colin pointed to a man named Gary who looked to be in his mid-twenties, recently arrested just weeks ago for protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline at a Wells Fargo branch in Salt Lake City. He stood in the lobby with other demonstrators, chanting, “Water is sacred, water is life.” Gary was chained to his fellow activists, peacefully refusing to leave until being escorted out by the police. The oil pipeline, if put into place, would run under the Missouri River, threatening the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s drinking water and consecrated burial grounds. Wells Fargo is now among many large corporations in support of this pipeline, investing nearly $467 Million. The pipeline is one of the numerous issues where support is gaining momentum after Trump’s victory.
Change can be effected if public uprisings generate enough traction and attract the attention of those who hold power, making this method an effective means of constructive social change. In response to the water defenders standing up against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Army Corp of Engineers was denied an easement on their environmental review process. This recent news means the Sioux tribe will be able to preserve their way of life, while the Army Corp is required to explore other routes for oil drilling. This victory is just one small step in the right direction, but it goes to show that direct action protest does in fact work to demand change from the ground up. We might not have as much of a say in the policy determined by leaders of this country, but our voices are heard if enough people stand up and demand change. Through grassroots activism and the unification of small voices, a roar was created that could not be ignored.
A woman approached the panel of activists following the discussion. She voiced her concern about this recent election, claiming that her power is limited as just one member of society. Almost immediately, Colin responded with a powerful message, “Our leaders are just followers of our collective voice.” A revolution to our political and environmental system is bound to happen if enough people demand it. The panel discussion sparked a conversation about how far we have come as a society, reminding listeners that change seemed nearly impossible in the times of slavery and women’s suffrage. Kate Savage, one of the panelists that spoke with those who stayed after the event, explained how radical change requires radical action. “We have moved an economy after slaves, women couldn’t vote less than 100 years ago, (and) people used to work 14-hour work days.” She shed a light on the history that has shaped the society we live in now, explaining that what seemed impossible only a few generations ago was turned into a reality by the demands of the people. Kate confidently expressed her hope for our future, “Just reminding yourself that radical change has happened, and if everyone in history was complacent, I wouldn’t be on this panel.”