Connecticut Capitol Rally Rejects Fracked Gas as Bridge Fuel to Low-Carbon Future

Posted Nov. 25, 2015

MP3 Excerpts of speeches by Desmond Batts, a member of the Sierra Club of Connecticut's Executive Committee, and Bernardo McLaughlin of the group, Capitalism vs. the Climate, at the "100% Renewable Energy for 100% of the People" rally in Hartford, CT on Nov. 21, recorded and produced by Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus

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A coalition of activist groups rallied at the Capitol building in Hartford, Connecticut on Nov. 21, calling for "100% Renewable Energy for 100% of the People." Organizers, including the Connecticut chapter of the Sierra Club, 350CT.org, and more than two dozen faith-based, local governmental, anti-nuclear and other groups oppose Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy's plan to vastly increase the use of fracked "natural" gas in the state, which he claims is a bridge to a clean energy future.

While natural gas burns more cleanly than other fossil fuels, studies show the leaks of methane – the main component of gas – from pipes and other infrastructure can make it more damaging to the climate than coal. Speakers at the rally addressed the health impacts of fossil fuels, and called for the closure of the state's last remaining coal plant in Bridgeport. They also addressed the disproportionate negative effects on people of color, as well as labor concerns.

Connecticut currently depends on nuclear power from the Millstone reactor complex in Waterford for almost half its electricity. Critics say the goal of transitioning to 100 percent renewables powered by sun, wind and small hydroelectric without natural gas cannot be accomplished by 2030 or even 2050 as some advocates claim. But climate activists say with the political will it is possible, citing examples of several U.S. cities and nations such as Germany, that have made significant strides toward transitioning to renewable energy. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus was at the rally and recorded the speakers. We hear first from Desmond Batts, a member of the Sierra Club of Connecticut's Executive Committee followed by Bernardo McLaughlin of the group Capitalism vs. the Climate.

DESMOND BATTS: Thank you. My name is Desmond Batts. I’m a masters of environmental science candidate at the University of New Haven. I sit on the executive committee of the Sierra Club. I’m an activist and an organizer and a card-carrying member of the black community since 1977 (yays!). I’d like to thank everyone for coming out here. I’d like to thank the Sierra Club and 350 for having me.

And today, I want to talk to you a little bit about environmental justice. For those of you who don’t know what environmental justice is, it goes a little something like this: Environmental justice means no community should be over-burdened with environmental burdens and not receive the environmental benefits. But those of us who live in [impacted] communities, we see first-hand that we are on the front lines. We are the canaries in the coal mines and we are disproportionately affected by climate change. When people in Hartford look out their front doors, they don’t see beautiful scenery and parks. They don’t see happy families playing. They don’t see self-actualized, self-aware people planning their future. But I tell you what they do see: they see garbage; they see abandoned buildings; they see cold, hard streets; colder politics and colder policies. They don’t see open spaces. They see cracks in sidewalks where green grass fights in vain to be noticed. They see empty dope bags. They see crack vials, instead of smiles and dreams being fulfilled. They see violence, unemployment, suffering and chaos. So why would they step out of their homes to take a walk or play a game when that walk or that game could very well end in harm for them?

You know, there’s a big misconception about the black community that we don’t care about the environment, we don’t care about climate change. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth is that we do care about climate change, but we care about feeding our kids; we care about having a place to live; we care about having clothes on our backs, and maybe a few more concerns, and then comes climate change. But I tell you what: When we look at the communities of color, climate change is a very small fish, but when the effects of climate change come back around, it is a shark. It is a ravenous beast that will devour not only our neighborhoods but yours as well. (Whoops.) Thank you. I tell you today is not a time for talk, it is a time for change. It is a time for action. And I leave it up to you. It is a time for action. And I’ll be very brief. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. He says that “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Let’s stay in the fight!

BERNARDO MCLAUGHLIN: My name is Bernardo McLaughlin. I’m a member of a group here in Connecticut called Capitalism versus the Climate (applause). On Monday, I locked myself to a piece of equipment in eastern Connecticut at a worksite of Spectra Energy, which is expanding their gas pipeline in order to transfer more fracking-extracted gas through our backyards. I did it because I was inspired by the strategy that led to the victory against the Keystone XL pipeline – one of the first victories we’ve had recently against climate chaos. And that strategy has to be adopted and repeated. And I came here today to do my part to upset the "land of steady habits." Earlier, this year Connecticut had one of its first really significant days of direct action in recent memory. Here, in my city of Hartford, those of us who are part of the Hartford 17 shut down one of the main traffic arteries that’s used by corporate commuters to flee our city before the sun goes down. And we did it to send a message: that if the wealthy and the powerful don’t think that black lives don’t matter, then we’ll assert that business as usual doesn’t matter. What we accomplished that day was that the elite of greater Hartford were put on notice that our neighbors will not be brutalized without consequences. And we showed that Connecticut is not immune from the radical powerful spirit that’s sweeping the globe today. We can take direct action and make our power felt if we so choose. And I’ll take it another step further and argue that we don’t have a choice – that the political establishment has already made that choice for us, when it demonstrated to us that flooded neighborhoods in New York and New Orleans were acceptable losses as long as their penthouses stayed above water. That choice was made for us as Obama signed off on the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, and as he presided over a large-scale federal campaign of undermining climate justice through the state repression of our fellow activists around the country. It is clear where the line has been drawn, and we have not been the ones to draw it.

I really hate going to jail, a lot, and I hate being on the receiving end of the police state that black and brown communities endure on a much greater scale. But most of all, I hate feeling powerless while the world goes to hell. And what I learned on Monday is that you have as much power as you’re willing to exercise. When we’re told to work inside the system to cultivate good relationships with politicians who are bought and sold by the fossil fuel industry to be respectable and law-abiding, we’re being convinced that we’re powerless. And what I can tell you for sure, not only as a student of history but as a labor movement activist and a steward with my union, is that when we’re organized and brought to the point we’ve been pushed to, people like us are the most powerful force on the planet.

If there are any other union people here, or in your circles, we’ve got to do better, because not only were the Spectra workers at the site I was arrested at union members, they also helped the cops cut me out of my lock and that’s unacceptable. We need to work together to turn the labor movement around, and put it on the side of history it ought to be on, so please come and talk to us at Capitalism versus the Climate over here.

I also want you to consider what it means for us to take care of each other while we’re fighting, ‘cause next week we’re going to be dealing with the consequences of another climate catastrophe that has in part to do with the Syrian civil war and its consequences there, and we’re going to be back here at the Capitol at 10 a.m. next week to demonstrate our solidarity against xenophobia and hatred against Syrian refugees, so please come back here at 10 a.m. next week. Thank you.

Find more information on the groups organizing against expansion of fracked natural gas infrastructure in Connecticut and across New England by visiting 100% Renewable Energy for 100% of the People Rally; 350 Connecticut at 350ct.org; Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club at connecticut.sierraclub.org.

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