Meeting with the State Department is not an easy thing to do. The security is very tight; they need lots of information, but when you talk to the right person…presto!
Jonathan Pershing’s secretary is from Eagan, MN and we had lots to chat about before Sharon said: “let me look at Jonathan’s schedule, can you come in Monday morning at 9 am?” We cleared security, got three latecomers approved and Sharon ushered us to the meeting room. A few minutes later Dr. Pershing (who received his PhD from the University of MN) greeted us. I reminded him of our meeting in Cancun at COP 16 last December. I started the meeting by confirming our 20 minute time allotment (he ended up giving us 40) and each of us gave 2-3 minutes of heartfelt testimony about why we were in D.C. for the Tar Sands action and that we were here to represent the ‘call to action’ from thousands of Minnesotans through our newly established MN350 network, including the Will Steger Foundation, Cool Planet, Citizens Climate Lobby, and MN Interfaith Power and Light.
I was so moved by everyone’s personal testimony; Bobbie and Joy Throm spoke about their health concerns related to environmental breakdowns; Jeanne Johnson and Steve Valk talked about urging the administration to move rapidly to put a price on carbon and return the dividends to the American people; and then Brian Nowak delivered the final comment, a personal statement from 350’s founder Bill McKibben: “the status of the U.S. State Department with the global climate community is at a low point. Taking a strong stand against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would send a major message to the world that the U.S. and the Obama administration is ready to work with other countries to solve this problem.”
Jonathan then spoke for 20 minutes supporting the White House’s position on climate change and talked about the new African Union, the AID mission in island states, Asia and the Caribbean. In terms of domestic legislation he acknowledged “the U.S. is seen as a laggard” and on the global scene that “we can learn things from China.” His most impactful statement to me was when he talked about the last two COP conferences in Copenhagen and Cancun by saying: “Big strides have been made, now we need to deliver.”
We all nodded our heads. He looked at the folder on the table and asked about the 587 MN350 signed petition cards and the Speak Up! hand written cards from many Minnesotans expressing the urgency to take dramatic action NOW for the climate crisis. He definitely heard our voice loud and clear.
We left with gratitude. We gave him four hand made cards from YEA! MN (crafted by Mindy Ahler-Olmstead), Sweet Tango Apples from MN for his bosses Todd Stern and Hillary Clinton, himself and Sharon the woman who made it all possible. Of course I gave him a Cool Planet Frisbee for President Obama’s late birthday present.
We left quite inspired and wondered: Do citizen lobbyists have a chance against the power and big dollars of the fossil fuel corporations?
Two days later when Joy and I completed our drive home to MN we got our answer. The State Department asked the White House to send the Keystone XL permit back to do further study and our President supported that action.
Successes like this have been few and far between for the climate movement.
I’m now even more excited about my upcoming participation in the U.N. climate conference in Durban, South Africa. What’s possible in Durban? Are the rich countries of the world ready to dig into their pockets to fund the kinds of programs needed to stem the growing tides of a world on fire?
John Howard and I are headed there tomorrow and with the people powered movement of concerned Minnesotans behind us, we are expecting some fireworks and strong feelings to emerge as the youth of the planet continue to speak up and be heard!