Oil Change International

Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels

Elections 2014: Amongst the losses, six wins shine

DontFrackDentonRick Berman — the Big Oil henchman once called “Dr. Evil” by CBS’s 60 Minutes — was recently caught on tape instructing oil industry executives that they can either “win ugly or lose pretty.”

Last night, the climate justice movement did the opposite in a precious few places: we won pretty.

Where we played their game — a game of big money, of trying to work (albeit for the greater good) within our broken political system — by and large, we lost.

But, where we played our game — a game of communities rising up, of organizing, of using facts to guide us, of running straight at our progressive values and being unashamed of them — we won. And those wins were beautiful.

Take Richmond, California, in the shadow of the huge Chevron refinery. Chevron poured tanker trucks worth of money into local campaigns for Mayor and City Council in this relatively small city. Over $3 million by last count….and they lost. They lost to progressive champions who stood up to the big money, whose volunteer-led campaigns were full of organizers who have been organizing against Chevron for years. They looked the beast in the eye and they said no. You’re not buying our town this time. They put forward a vision of a new future for Richmond and this country, and they won.

Take Denton, Texas, the birthplace of fracking. Grassroots pressure has been building for years against the oil industry there in the belly of the beast. They’ve stood up against the building of the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline when many had lost hope. They’ve organized their neighbors and educated their community about the dangers of continued fossil fuel use and the ever-scarier methods of extraction. And they won a ban on fracking. In Texas. In the town where fracking itself was basically invented. Similar scenes played out in San Benito County and Mendocino in California and in Athens, Ohio…all in the face of buckets of oil money trying to buy votes.

And then there’s Omaha, Nebraska — Lee Terry’s soon-to-be-former district. The fight against Keystone XL in the Sandhills and ranchlands of Nebraska has galvanized a new generation of pipeline fighters, of community leaders, of farmers and Native Americans coming together in a new coalition to push not just for the protection of their land but for a brighter energy future for all of us. And that movement could be seen in full force in the home of Keystone XL’s biggest cheerleader in Congress in recent weeks. Despite millions in oil money, Lee Terry was defeated. In the heart of a Red State on the reddest of nights, Omaha went the other way.

Before I went to sleep on election night, I shared these thoughts with my friends:

Six weeks ago 400,000 concerned citizens filled the streets of New York demanding climate justice. Hope filled my heart, and it felt like the tide was turning. Today’s a setback, but those 400,000 friends haven’t disappeared. They were in Denton today, and San Benito, and Richmond, and Omaha. That’s what I’m going to sleep thinking about.

I’ll never forget the beauty of the crowd on September 21st at the People’s Climate March in New York City. It was a movement we’d all longed to see, finally out in force, waking up the world and saying the time is now for change. It included folks from Richmond, and Denton, and Omaha. And it put indigenous leaders, frontline communities, and the young leaders of our movement out front.  And it was beautiful.

The communities that won last night won beautifully, too. They led with their values, they worked with their communities, and they stood up and said no. Their wins aren’t wins just for their communities — they are wins for all of us pushing back against the fossil fuel industry and for a climate safe future. They are bright spots in an otherwise dim night.

Someone I know asked “Where’s our bench?” in the wake of the many defeats on Tuesday night. Where’s the next generation of progressive leaders who should be encouraged to stand up, take charge, and turn this ship around?

The answer’s obvious. It’s at the grassroots in towns facing the fossil fuel behemoth head on. It’s in communities standing up to Big Oil, Gas and Coal, looking them straight in the eye, and saying NO. “Not in my town, not in my state, not in my country.”

And we know we can win. The anti-tar sands campaign has stopped projects, cost the industry billions in lost revenue, and kept tremendous amounts of carbon from entering our atmosphere. Communities across the country have made new coal plants nearly a thing of the past. Fracking bans may be the next wave. Communities have risen up before and have won, beautifully.

But don’t be fooled: This is a war, and winning pretty doesn’t mean playing soft.

The world’s most notorious climate denier will now run the U.S. Senate’s environment committee. A Big Oil booster from Alaska will chair the Senate’s energy policy proceedings. Mitch McConnell, the presumed leader of the Senate, has taken millions from the fossil fuel industry and is sure to bend to their demands.

And you can rest assured these folks aren’t looking for compromise. You can be sure they’re not looking to cut a deal. They’re reaching for the jugular of American democracy with one hand while accepting dirty cash with the other.

Approval of Keystone XL won’t be “traded” for some progressive victory. Weakened power plant rules won’t lead to less demand from this Congress for dangerous oil and gas drilling or more investment in renewables from the oil soaked Congress. They have no interest in compromise and will stop at nothing to make sure their industry sponsors get their way.

Our fight just got a whole lot harder.

So what I take from the 2014 election is this: Don’t back down. Don’t run to the (imaginary) middle. Don’t apologize for wanting a just, sustainable future for the generations to come and an end to the dirty economy and broken political system we have today. Don’t court that big money we all know corrupts the system and don’t pretend fossil fuels have a real future in a safe new world.

Don’t play their game. Play ours. When we do that, we win.

Comments (13)

  1. carrie durkee says:

    thanks from Mendocino County initiative campaign.

  2. carrie durkee says:

    Thank you….for mentioning our Mendocino co. campaign to ban fracking.

  3. thomas richards says:

    This is a battle of increments- small victories at every fray build upon each other, turning the tide as momentum builds and others see and join in. “Persistence alone is omnipotent” Our greatest failure is inaction

  4. Tim Ruggiero says:

    The KXL is a terrible idea. The proponents of the KXL tout the “creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs”, and “reduces our dependence on foreign oil”. This absolutely false. This tar sands oil is not being transported to the US for use, but rather refining-and then shipping to Asia for sale. The 500K jobs might be correct, though, if we consider the amount of environmental clean up crews, medical treatment facilities, repair tems and emergency responders that will be needed.

  5. Marian Cruz says:

    I was a part of the Yes on J in San Benito County. This only happened because there was a core of extremely dedicated people that worked tirelessly to educate the community and get out the vote.

  6. Tom Shetterly says:

    Thanks for all your hard work and commitment to this extremely important cause. I live close to Richmond, and I am immensely proud of them for stopping Chevron. Martinez, CA also needs to keep fighting to stop a “refurbishing” of the Chevron refinery there. If we keep our eyes on the ball, and don’t back down, speak truth to power, all of these battles in time can be won. It’s very exciting.

  7. Andy Hsia-Coron says:

    We are feeling very hopeful about the future here in San Benito County where our people beat back a $ 2 million dollar campaign by the oil industry to beat our anti-fracking initiative. We were outspent 16:1 but still won with almost 58% of the vote. Democracy was at stake here in our county and democracy prevailed.

  8. I feel, and very strongly too, quite like you do. We cannot win playing their game, outshouting them, outspending them, making deals or trade-offs.
    The democrats defeated themselves in a craven, disgusting retreat from all they should have stood for. I don’t care whether this betrayal was deliberate or accidental; I’m done with them. I’m done with anyone trying to work within this broken system by watering down their message.
    It is now time to deliver honest messages to the people: “This is our situation. This is what we must do. If we don’t, these will be the consequences. If we do, the consequences will likely be such. Period.”
    Speak truth. Deliver facts. Trust in human beings. It works; it works best if we work together.
    I’m searching for a good soap box!

  9. Rhode Izaguirre says:

    I am still fuming inside about Tuesday. The question keeps going over and over in my thoughts, how can this be? After all the obstructions, even shutting down the federal government, with all the mighty dollars they had, they won and won big. I do congratulate those who did manage to win. We definitely need to not give up, to keep on with the good fight. We also need to give a major push to fight and overturn Citizens United. Campaign finance reform is critical, otherwise the Republicans and the climate change deniers will continue to buy their way, any way they can. It hurts, but we must keep up the fight.

  10. Robert O. Scott says:

    The media is already hyping that the dubious election victors will attack the pipeline resistance with renewed determination to make it succeed. Succeeding is a result that simply must not happen. The election changed none of the facts why the Keystone XL pipeline was and still is a very bad idea.

  11. JoAnn Williams says:

    Unfortunately in Pa, we have a huge fight on our hands. At least we kicked out Corbett loved by all brackets.

  12. Sally Peck says:

    Thank you very much! I’ll share this widely. People need to hear your message of hope, victories and challenge.

  13. marjorie trifon says:

    I am so glad i have been supporting you these many yrs. Keep on fighting & I will, too. U r doing a great great thing-we must save our country & our planet. Thanks for all u do.

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