PHILADELPHIA – More than 10,000 people calling for a “clean energy revolution” marched in the streets here Sunday demanding that the Democratic Party endorse a ban on fracking and commit to heavy investments in renewables on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.
As Hillary Clinton supporters prepared to gather in Philadelphia to unite the party around a platform to defeat Donald Trump in November – and on the same day that Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz unexpectedly resigned due to a furor over embarrassing leaked emails – the march for clean energy kicked off an array of demonstrations this week by activists seeking to have their voices heard.
Despite escalating pressure and growing public support to address climate change, the activists said they believe Democrats aren’t going far enough to tackle the issues that are most important to them as voters – and quite possibly to the entire human race.
“We’ve just wrapped up a Republican National Convention filled with climate denial and extreme energy talking points. Tomorrow we start the Democratic Convention, and the question to all these leaders and politicians is: Are you willing to take the action that science demands, or are you just another kind of climate denier?" said marcher Drew Hudson, director of Environmental Action.
Activists delivered a petition with more than 100,000 signatures calling on the DNC to add a fracking ban to the party platform. Close to 1,000 local, regional and national organizations endorsed the March for a Clean Energy Revolution, which was organized by Americans Against Fracking and made its way Sunday afternoon from City Hall to Independence Hall. Reportedly more than 137,000 fracking wells have been drilled since 2005, putting over 15 million Americans within a mile of an oil or gas well – the majority of these located in communities of color.
Within the march, organizers created space for contingents to build around specific issues, campaigns or identities, including the elderly, communities of faith, students, labor and indigenous communities, as well as issues including Stop the TPP, Peace and Climate Justice and Renewable Solutions factions. Wenonah Hauter, the founder and executive director of Food & Water Watch, said: “Today, after listening to the science, more Americans are opposed to fracking than support it. Our elected leaders must listen to the people.”
Ember Ollom, a volunteer with Greenpeace in New York City, came to the march on a charter bus organized by Food & Water Watch. “Unfortunately, we are in an election year that makes me feel as though I must vote for someone as a way to vote against someone else, and that is why I will be voting for Hillary – I cannot bring myself to condone a Trump presidency,” Ollom said.
“That’s why it’s so important for me to do things like today’s march: to show Hillary that her voters and everyone else around the world deserve to have a green and peaceful future, and that includes a ban on fracking.”
For most participants, the protests scheduled for this week in Philadelphia are less an objection to Clinton individually, and more a demand for the Democratic Party generally. A major contingent of people here would like to swing super delegates to nominate Bernie Sanders instead of Clinton (one report predicted millions of participants will show up at pro-Bernie demonstrations during the convention, while mainstream accounts are going with a modest 30,000).
Last Wednesday, six were arrested during a pro-Bernie sit-in targeting the DNC’s refusal to release the list of party donors in a timely fashion. On Sunday, many cheered at the news that DNC chairwoman Schultz was stepping down, following the Wikileaks release of more than 19,000 emails on Friday that showed ways DNC officials explored undermining Sanders’s campaign.
Among the protesters’ demands this week include calls to abolish the super delegate system; conduct an investigation and oversight for election fraud that favored Clinton; overturn Citizens United; establish publicly funded elections and ensure comprehensive voting rights protections for all Americans; commit to fighting climate change by banning fossil fuel infrastructure and transportation projects including fracking and pipelines; end white supremacy; make Black liberation a priority; end unemployment, hunger and homelessness, allocate more money for education and affordable housing, raise living wages, and end the prison industrial complex.
Considering the extent of the demands and the mounting skepticism that the Democratic primaries serve as an honest system for electing a presidential nominee, many say it is unlikely protesters will be ready to put aside their differences in opposition to Donald Trump by the time Clinton delivers her acceptance speech at the conclusion of the convention on Thursday.
In some circles, especially among hardline Bernie supporters, there are calls for a mass exit from the Democratic Party, coining the Brexit spin-off phrase, “DemExit.” Encouraging this mass exit is the Philly Socialists in connection with the Green Party and Socialist Alternative Party, which has thrown its support behind the Green Party’s campaign to elect Jill Stein as president. A coalition of socialist and progressive organizations is hosting the Socialist Convergence concurrently with the DNC to strategize around “carrying forward the political revolution” through assemblies, meetings, panels and workshops.
While the protest organizers plan for peaceful demonstrations, some fear there is no guarantee the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania police forces will respect their guidelines.
“Law enforcement is very clever. They’re going to have their own people throwing rocks, urinating on a police car,” said former Philadelphia Police Captain-turned-activist Ray Lewis, speaking in an interview with Act Out!’s Eleanor Goldfield last week. “My advice to the activists who are going to the DNC is to prepare for anything. You better be prepared to have that black stick whacked against you."
The ACLU-PA, National Lawyers Guild and Up Against The Law are offering legal assistance and other services to DNC protesters who engage with law enforcement. If protesters observe any suspicious behavior or misconduct on behalf of law enforcement, they are encouraged to contact one of the organizations to seek help.
At Sunday’s March for a Clean Energy Future, Greta Zarro of Food & Water Watch sounded an upbeat note. “Despite the heat, people of all ages stuck through the march, keeping the energy high the whole way. Now is the time to start acting. We know the technology is there to invest in renewable energy, but instead we see fossil fuel companies pushing another agenda.”
Last month, as a delegate to the Democratic platform committee, 350.org founder and climate movement leader Bill McKibbon proposed a tax on carbon, a ban on fracking, a mandate to keep fossil fuels in the ground on federal lands, and a plan for keeping oil and gas companies from taking private land by eminent domain. All the measures were voted down by Clinton-appointed delegates by 7-to-6. "The Clinton campaign is at this point rhetorically committed to taking on our worst problems, but not willing to say how,” McKibben said.