by Bill McKibben
Yesterday was one of the truly fun days in this whole wild year of organizing. We had hundreds of referees outside the Capitol, and we blew our whistles like crazy, and we threw penalty flags, and we had a hell of a good time.
My favorite scene, actually, was watching hundreds of people in ref shirts descending the escalators to the subway for the ride to the day’s final stop, the American Petroleum Institute. It was an endless line of black and white, a long human stripe of fair play!
Not only that, it was productive. Two great things happened: one, Senator Bernie Sanders announced at the demonstration that he’s introducing a bill to remove all the subsidies from the fossil fuel industry. And two, Barack Obama, eight hours later in his State of the Union address, joined us to demand that handouts to the world’s richest companies stop. The speech wasn’t perfect — he called for far too much new drilling — but this was an important bright spot.
Ending those handouts is absolutely crucial to our big fight against climate change. A new report from the International Energy Agency shows that ending subsidies for the fossil fuel industry will cut half the carbon emissions we need to stop catastrophic climate change. And it’s partly because they take so much money from the government that Big Oil can afford to spend millions lobbying for projects like Keystone XL.
It felt darned good to be on the offensive for once, not just trying to beat back disasters like Keystone, but taking the battle to Big Oil.
I’d like to ask you to join in the fun by leading an action that blows the whistle on your local Member of Congress who is taking money from the oil industry. We need to be a little nuanced: for those of you with representatives who have been taking lots of oil money and then voting for handouts for oil companies, then the task is clear — they need to hear from some refs. For those of you with representatives who are doing what’s right already, get in touch with us – I’m sure there is some other elected official nearby who needs to hear from some refs.
Even five or ten of you can form a “referee squad.” All you need are shirts and whistles (and maybe some strips of cloth to throw as penalty flags!) — and you need some knowledge: how much money did your Congressperson or Senator take from the fossil fuel industry. The 350.org organizers are ready to help you with the supplies, and information on your representatives is available here.
With those things in hand, you’re prepared to go to a district office, to a town hall meeting, or to almost any other occasion and raise uncomfortable questions: Are you going to vote for or against subsidies for big oil? And if you’re going to vote on these company’s interests, why do you take money from them?
We’ll be doing a lot of this. We need to make these outfits a feared sight for corrupt Congresspeople everywhere. In fact, it’s already happening—early this morning, a dozen college students in ref shirts lined up to make sure they’d get in the room for new hearings on the Keystone pipeline. They dominated the coverage, using their flags to call foul on the proceedings.
You don’t need to wait for your politicians to get home for recess. You can mount a small demonstration outside their office—and if you do it in the run up to the Super Bowl, you’re almost certain to get some media notice. Remember: if one team was buying off the refs in the big game, it would be a national scandal. In DC, it’s business as usual—until now.
I know that in some ways this is harder than traveling to DC to be with a big crowd. But you’re capable of this kind of activism, and it’s what we need so badly right now.
And here’s the thing: it was indeed a little strange to dress up like a referee and blow whistles all afternoon in Washington DC – and I haven’t blown a whistle since I was a kid – but with a big movement behind us, that awkwardness evaporated immediately and we started to have a really good time.
So go to it!
—Bill McKibben for 350.org