The Power of Protest

by guest blogger Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has." --Margaret Mead

Clean water, clean air, and healthy food grown in healthy soils are fundamental human rights. And yet, those rights are being taken from us in service to the greed and power of the energy industry. Politicians benefitting from high-value campaign contributions are laying this country bare to old-money energy sources dependent on fracking, drilling, mountaintop removal, and ever-increasing toxic contamination that are polluting our bodies, our drinking water, air, and food supply. These extreme energy practices are transforming our once-safe residential communities and public lands into unhealthy and polluted industrial landscapes that make our daily lives fraught with increasing peril. (Have you seen the pictures of the oil spill that recently consumed a residential community in Arkansas?) We have a moral obligation to do what we can to keep our natural environment healthy for generations to enjoy. Are we doing all we can?

Across the nation, communities concerned about the health of our environment and the ramifications of global climate change are feeling disenfranchised, undermined, and betrayed by elected officials at every level of government. The increasing loyalty to the energy industry demonstrated by politicians is causing a rise in public dissent. After repeated and fruitless efforts to wade through the approved bureaucratic channels and have their voices heard regarding our energy future, people of all walks of life are turning to their last option: protest.

Protests, sit-ins, blockades, and street theater are among the methods being used to demand a sustainable energy path that rejects fracking, drilling, and other extreme forms of energy extraction.

In 2013 we have already seen a variety of actions:
  • In January, 1,000-plus people joined together in Albany, New York, to protest a plan that would open New York state to high-volume hydraulic fracking and drilling.
  • In February, 40,000 people convened on Washington, DC, to demand responsible action on the Keystone XL Pipeline and climate change.
  • In March, more than 100 people took control of a meeting of an interstate commission, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and for two hours held an orderly public hearing demanding action on gas pipelines, preventing the commission from conducting any business other than addressing the issue of pipelines.
We need a sensible and sustainable energy future, one that puts Americans at the forefront of developing and constructing sustainable energy technologies like solar, wind, and geothermal. And we need to support the next generation of energy technologies created from homegrown thinkers right here in the U.S.

The Civil Rights Movement began with a few simple but brave and important acts: a refusal to change seats on a bus, a sit-in at a lunch counter, a protest in support of equal access to good schools, protests by college students who stood in solidarity with the demand for equal rights across racial divides. Despite the many attempts to ignore, dismiss, or overshadow these important and brave acts, the Civil Rights Movement grew and the power of the message and its substantive validity finally broke through.

That is the path of today's environmental movement.

Politicians, including the president, who respond to public outcry with glossy political rhetoric about clean coal, safe fracking, and doing drilling right don't demonstrate a commitment to a sound energy future. They reveal an ignorance of the facts and a disturbing level of deafness to the voices of their constituents, which are getting louder daily. If our elected officials want the bright light of history to smile upon them, they should take immediate and meaningful steps to protect our environment and pursue truly green energy solutions.

Here's how you can get active:
Actions on energy are routinely posted at the websites of:
And you can also take action online to stand strong for clean water and healthy communities, including the legal exercise of your First Amendment rights, by:

Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper, and has led the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) since 1994. The DRN is a regional nonprofit advocacy organization that monitors the river and all of its tributaries for threats and challenges, and advocates, educates, and litigates for protection, restoration, and change.

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