What do you get when you bring hundreds of fervent environmentalists and NIMBYs together on the west lawn of the Capitol to denounce fracking, every single fuel that originates from the ground, and, for old time’s sake, Dick Cheney?
You get enviro banjo tunes, the “Ecological Our Father” at the interfaith prayer service (“Our Father, who art in the forest…”), and more punny protest signs built off the F-bomb than even Joe Biden could dream up.
Do it on a standard hot, humid July day in D.C., and add in the global warming condemnations and simultaneous praises of the solar intensity as an endless wellspring of clean energy.
Those trying to escape the mid-afternoon sun under shade trees near the edge of the lawn, though, were chided by an organizer for making the rally look sparse up front as they tried to get a good sign-waving rally photo with the dome in the backdrop. “We can’t hide in the shadows like the gas companies do,” the man at the mic said. “Get out from the shade and in front!”
The “Stop the Frack Attack” event began with lobbying while lawmakers were still around the Hill on Thursday, begging support for the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC), sponsored in the House by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and in the Senate by Bob Casey (D-Pa.). The bill would amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to repeal a certain exemption for hydraulic fracturing. Even though DeGette’s bill has 70 co-sponsors including Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), no lawmakers showed up to speak at the rally.
“It’s time to stop getting our energy from the ground… we are here to work toward the day and envision the day when we will get our energy from heaven,” a Unitarian-Universalist preacher told the ground at the interfaith event to kick off today’s rally, a service that also featured a rabbi singing about how “farmers turn on the spigot in their kitchens and the water turns to flame.”
Before the speakers began, the organizers led the crowd of hundreds in a chorus of “This Little Light of Mine.”
Signs in the crowd included “Don’t Frack with Mother Earth,” “Keep the Frack Out of My Water,” “Frack Off NY,” and “Don’t Frack My Future.” Participants included a 15-member group from Butler, Pa., the “Tour de Frack,” who rode bikes the 400 miles to the event for the anti-fossil fuel bragging rights.
“The extreme weather that we’re experiencing is being driven by extreme energy,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, offering mountaintop strip mining and offshore drilling as examples yet calling fracking “the mother of all extreme energy.”
Catherine Thomasson of Physicians for Social Responsibility also linked fracking to weather events such as “tornadoes in February.” Someone in the crowd yelled, “Earthquakes!”
“You all are gonna save more lives than I can as a physician,” she told the activists. “We’re here because of corporate greed, corporate control of our electoral process.”
Thomasson shared the crowd’s view that natural gas is as much an enemy as big oil. “Natural gas isn’t as clean and green as we thought it was,” she said, charging that “unregulated fracking pollutes our water with carcinogens.”
Sierra Club president Allison Chin said the “righteous passion of the American people” can put a halt to hydraulic fracturing.
“No state has adequate protections in place,” she said. “Thanks to multiple federal exemptions we can’t even count on the federal government to keep us safe.”
Chin said fracking is not the answer to domestic energy independence. “What will this do to solve America’s energy problems? Nothing,” she said. “The only way to achieve energy independence is to move beyond all fossil fuels.”
A medic then stepped up to the mic to check on the protesters, who were decrying fracking’s purported negative health effects while broiling in the sun. “Is anybody feeling faint?” she said. “Try to stay in the shade and don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Protesters who were referred to a water table to refill their bottles were referred to a brick water fountain in the park, seemingly on the assumption that fracking taints groundwater but D.C. tap water is pure.
The crowd was riled up by Josh Fox, director of the documentary Gasland. “If anyone’s thirsty, I brought some water from Pennsylvania for you,” he quipped, referring to one of the hotspots in the fracking wars.
Fox called Washington “the biggest frack site in the country,” except money was being injected underground instead of water. “If anyone here’s got a spare $747 million — the amount they spent on the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act — then maybe you can start to buy back our government,” he said. “I’m guessing maybe you don’t. You have your bodies, you have your minds, and you’ve got your hearts.”
He said the movement would continue with events Aug. 25-27 in New York City and Albany, N.Y., another state that has a groundswell of not-in-my-backyard anti-fracking activism, along with a September “shale gas outrage” event in Philadelphia.
“The amazing thing about this problem is there’s a solution… we know we can run the world on renewable energy,” Fox said. “Today we have a reminder that we can run the world on the sun.”
A man shooting video for the Stop the Frack Attack website noted to another that there were 83 viewers on their livestream at this point. “Not too bad given that nobody’s getting beat up by the police,” the videographer said.
The crowd got a musical interlude from a bluegrass band: “Well you ain’t gonna frack tomorrow/No you ain’t frack next day/No you ain’t gonna frack tomorrow/Cause it may bring the end of days.”
Bill McKibben of 350.org told the protesters that also today, activists in Texas were gathering “to blockade the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline.”
“It is a movement fighting the biggest fight human beings have ever fought,” McKibben said. “Greenland in this past week has melted like it has never melted before.”
He lamented that Exxon posted a $15 billion profit last quarter. “If you’re taking away our planet and you’re taking away our future then we’re taking away your money,” McKibben told the crowd their rallying cry should be.
The rally didn’t get any of the celebrities employed to promote the event as speakers. Attendees did get an environmentalist celebrity from Down Under, though.
Dayne Pratzky, also known as “Frackman,” told the fracking opponents that they weren’t getting down and dirty enough to stop the drilling.
“Unfortunately, your dirty technology that was developed in America has landed in our backyard,” he said. “We are climbing drill rigs, we are blocking roads, and we are taking the power back.”
“If we can’t stop this here in America, it’s going to destroy the world,” Pratzky warned.
With some of their “great chanters” leading the way — “Hey hey, ho ho, hyrdofracking’s gotta go” — the crowd set off on a lengthy march up Pennsylvania Avenue and then north toward the offices of two industry associations: America’s Natural Gas Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute.
Some waved flags that said “99%” or “Occupy.” Chants included “Hey Obama, we don’t want no fracking drama” and “No fracking, no warming, resistance is forming.”
More clothes were peeled off the longer the crowd marched through the heat. A shirtless man wore a sandwich-board sign and held an “End Halliburton loophole” sign above his head. “They’re getting away with murder,” he said.
At the first stop, many in the crowd just pushed ahead with the march instead of staying for the planned street theater in front of ANGA. Chanting “shame, shame” and clad in hazardous-waste suits, several protesters presented the industry association with the “gift” of gallon bottles filled with murky water.
Except considering that they’d planned their presentation for a Saturday, no evil oil and gas barons were around to answer the door.