April-August Organizing Report (Lee Stewart)

August, 2017
Quarter 2-3 Organizing Report
Beyond Extreme Energy
Lee Stewart

Dear friends,

Beyond Extreme Energy’s Community Supported Organizer (CSO) Program currently contributes about $900 to our $5000 monthly operating budget. This budget funds Jimmy Betts and myself, BXE’s two organizers. Your much needed and appreciated sustaining donation plays a significant role in keeping us funded and fighting for a better world. It’s a great privilege to do this work, and I’d like to thank you for making it possible.

Every three or four months, I send out an organizing report about what I’ve been up to. This one is a little late and a little long. Please accept this as a report to peruse, but also as an invitation for conversation, critique, and involvement. I’d love to help plug you in if you’d like to get more involved in our work.

The people who make up BXE are some of the most remarkable people I know. Working with them is a privilege beyond measure. There is a lot of work that is not visible. I wanted to acknowledge this work and to express gratitude for everything everyone puts into BXE.

For me and much of BXE, April-August has been about escalating the FERC Vacancies Campaign. When Norman Bay resigned from FERC earlier in the year, thus rendering the commission unable to approve fossil fuel infrastructure, I don’t think many of us imagined that half a year would go by without the quorum being restored. The quorum was ultimately restored a few weeks ago and we are now busy getting ready to respond in a big way on September 20th.

In addition to working to help delay a restoration of FERC’s quorum, I’ve also gotten more involved in the effort to stop the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast fracked pipelines proposed through my home state of Virginia. You can read more about this and other work below.

Please be in touch!

In the struggle,
Lee Stewart
BeyondExtremeEnergy.org
703-999-2634

==========================================

FERC Vacancies Campaign

The FERC Vacancies Coalition resulted in the coming together of multiple groups across the country to build a campaign to stop or delay Trump’s nominations to FERC. Although the quorum at FERC was restored a few weeks ago, this only happened after months of delay and movement building. Through the campaign, BXE built a closer working relationship with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Berks Gas Truth, and Green America. Together with these groups and other partners, we helped coordinate call-in days, letter to the editor writing, district office visits, twitter storms, national lobby days, committee hearing disruptions, and a sit-in. This effort has given us several close contacts to work with in the Senate and has made the FERC fight more widely known.

When the quorum was restored, I was devastated. What was particularly disturbing was the fact that not a single senator raised a voice in opposition after the vote was scheduled. This should say something about how messed-up our political system is. It should also say something about what can only be seen as hypocrisy on the part of senators who claim to be climate champions but who do nothing when it really matters. The road ahead is long. Click here to read BXE’s official statement in response to the restoration of FERC’s quorum.

Although the FERC Vacancies Campaign has been great, there are many things that can be improved. It was remarkable that nearly 200 groups signed on to the coalition.  In reality, this amounted to not much more than a talking point to use with the media. We didn’t build relationships with most of the groups in the coalition, and it’s hard to say how much the various groups engaged with the campaign. A lot of my work consisted of sending out calls-to-action via email. How can we build more personal relationships with these groups? I think that is an important question going forward.

Another thing I think we have not done, which I believe is critical to do, is popular education and base building around the FERC fight. It was difficult to find people who were willing and able to participate in the disruptions of the Senate hearings on FERC nominees. FERC is destroying communities and the climate in a major way, yet it seems like the only people who understand this or who are engaged in the FERC fight are those who are most directly affected. These are the folks who are busy fighting infrastructure at home and who might have less capacity to engage in a more widely focused campaign.

FERC is the perfect example of everything that is wrong with our deadly and undemocratic energy system, built as it is to feed the market at the expense of people’s lives and livelihoods. How do we make the FERC fight more popular? How do we make it more accessible to people who are busy with other fights, or people who are not connected at all? How do we make our mission to replace FERC with an agency dedicated to a just transition off of fossil fuels more of a mainstream demand? These are questions I hope we can explore.

If you have not yet heard about the September 20th mobilization at FERC, when they are holding their first public Commission Meeting after the restoration of the quorum, please click here! We’d love for you to join us. If you want to join the strategy session that will happen right after events on the 20th, please email me directly.

Fighting White Supremacy

When BXE wrote our principles and practices document, we decided to put fighting white supremacy front and center. We were meant to seriously explore what it meant for a majority white climate justice group to center this fight. Up to now, however, we have not seriously explored this in a way that has led to solid outcomes.

From the beginning, the Fighting White Supremacy Working Group has had low and/or periodic attendance. When we started building a national call series on the topic, we had to delay the project due to low attendance and energy. It has not been revived. Now, the working group meetings are used to share ideas, thoughts, concerns, and stories as they come up for us in our lives and work. Just this past week, we were joined by an organizer with the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee who talked to us about how tax resistance can be used as a tool to fight white supremacy.

Although having a forum to talk about these things is extremely valuable, it falls short of what the working group was intended to figure out. If centering the fight against white supremacy in the climate justice struggle amounts to sharing stories, something is lacking.

Why have things been slow going with this working group? In part, I think it has to do with capacity. BXE is a small group. We are all stretched thin. There are fossil fuel projects coming at us right and left.

It might also have to do with the structure of BXE itself. All of us are from different places. We have different frontline struggles we’re a part of. We meet via conference call. Sometimes, people say they are engaged in fighting white supremacy outside of BXE.

Given this reality, what can we do as a group to make fighting white supremacy central to who we are as BXE, regardless of the work we’re all doing separate from each other? These aren’t excuses, but observations about stumbling blocks I think we need to get over going forward.

I remain firm in thinking that unless we put fighting white supremacy at the center of our work, we will lose our communities and the climate. I don’t feel like BXE has found out how to do this as an organization. I hope to focus more of my attention on this going forward.

One idea is to create resistance reading groups in the BXE network that are explicitly about community building, political education, and revolution. Two books that I think would be particularly appropriate are Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, and Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford’s Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South (online PDF here).  If anyone is interested in exploring this idea, please be in touch.

Virginia

I spend some of my time working with a group called 350 Loudoun, a climate action group based where I grew up in Loudoun County, Virginia. This group has been doing a lot of amazing work to fight the two major fracked gas pipelines proposed for the state (Dominion’s Atlantic Coast pipeline and EQT’s Mountain Valley pipeline), not to mention a proposed expansion of a Dominion fracked gas compressor station near Leesburg, the county seat. They are also a big part of a new climate coalition that has formed for the Northern Virginia region. This group just had their first in-person meeting a few days ago which I was happy to attend.

Recently, the pipeline fight has taken two forms in Northern Virginia. The first is organizing for the People’s Pipeline Protest being coordinated by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). The protest is aimed at pressuring Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to do a more stringent analysis of every pipeline stream crossing across the state. It consists of three days of action at all DEQ offices around Virginia.  I have not been a part of planning this, but several folks in 350 Loudoun are playing key roles, particularly in organizing for the Woodbridge DEQ office in Northern Virginia. If you can make it out for this, please considering coming. Details can be found here.

The other front has been bird-dogging Democratic candidate for governor in the state, Ralph Northam. It has been a bumpy road. 350 Loudoun  members have been a part of this effort as individuals, but have gotten a lot of push back by members of the Democratic Party in Loudoun County. 

Our bird-dogging activities have been pretty standard. When Northam has speaking events in Northern Virginia, several of us show up with “no pipelines” signs to hold up as people arrive. This week, we’re doing our most significant bird-dogging event to date. We’ll be dressing up like characters in the Wizard of Oz and calling on Northam and other political figures to find the heart, brain, and nerve to oppose the pipelines.

These actions have ruffled the feathers of the Democratic Party in the state, causing what I hope amounts to productive tension. I have personally received emails and Facebook messages from Democrats telling me to stop pressuring Northam to oppose the pipelines, and have had people come up to me at events to confront me on that. This is the case for other pipeline fighters in Loudoun as well. I think it’s a tragic situation that some Democrats are more willing to push voters than they are to push their candidate. That Northam can’t comes out against the pipelines shows that he is willing to risk the election for his loyalty to the pipeline companies.

The BXEEkly

The BXEEkly is BXE’s weekly newsletter. I send it out every Sunday night to about 520 subscribers. It has gained 20 subscribers since March.

Please send me anything and everything you’d like me to include in the BXEEkly–news stories, pictures, poems, art, actions, events, action steps…. The BXEEkly is meant as a forum to share with each other in a media world dominated by corporations that often exclude or hide our resistance.    

Please ask your friends and family to subscribe here.

Click on the dates below to view issues of the BXEEkly from the second and third quarters of 2017.

April: 3, 10,17, 24
May: 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
June: 5, 12, 19, 26
July: 3, 10, 17, 24, 31
August: 7, 14, 21 (no BXEEkly), 28

Life Outside BXE

Although most of my time is spent on BXE, I have been trying to learn practical hands-on skills that could be useful in a community setting as the climate and our society as a whole destabilizes.  Although it’s not funny at all, I sometimes joke that hope is the newest form of denial. To look at the science, and to see how that corresponds with our current political situation, is to recognize that climate chaos is not only inevitable, but already underway. My heart breaks for Texas, Louisana, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, places that have seen great suffering over the last number of days due to extreme weather.

I believe we are in for cascading collapse over the course of the rest of our lives and beyond, regardless of what we do now. That’s why I think we should be doing all we can to fight for a just transition while also learning the skills and building the communities we’ll need to survive, support one another, and resist in unstable times.

Right now, I’m learning blacksmithing. I’m also learning to fiddle as a way to relax and step away from organizing for a few moments every day.

Once every month, BXE hosts a special two-hour conference call to grapple more deeply with issues, concerns, and relationships both inside and outside of BXE. A BXEer recently proposed that one of our upcoming two-hour calls be dedicated to talking about how we’re each preparing for climate destabilization in our own communities. Please keep your eyes out for this call, and please join us when it happens!