Here’s an update from our friend Julie Erickson who is working with the Avaaz DC Action Factory, an awesome group that’s keeping the heat on the US Senate. Since October 24, we’ve been working to translate grassroots action into political momentum and the US is no exception! 

The US is the biggest obstacle to global progress in getting the world back to 350 ppm. More specifically, the Senate is the institution most blocking progress within the US government. And within the Senate, the Finance Committee, is probably the biggest barrier to passing ambitious climate legislation.

That’s why I decided to go the US Senate Finance Committee’s first hearing on the US climate bill this week. Along with other members of the DC Action Factory, I greeted Senators in the hallway as they went in and out of the hearing. I helped present them with photos from 350 actions in their home states, and, as an added bonus, 350 neckties.

Senator John Kerry accepted our gift of a 350 tie, which he took with him into the hearing room along with a photo of one of the many 350 actions that took place in Massachusetts. I’m from Colrain, Mass., so I thanked him personally for his work authoring the Senate CEJAPA bill, and encouraged him to continue standing up to industry lobbyists who want the legislation weakened. He paused for a minute to and turned to two other activists from my group who were dressed up as “astroturfers” – coal industry lobbyists who pretend to represent real grassroots activists, but who are pouring millions of dollars into fighting against climate action. “You guys are (already) getting $10 million… I hope you to know that.” Kerry said, scolding them.

Our encouragement helped.  During the hearing, Senator Kerry aggressively questioned a panel of climate deniers and industry spokespeople who just didn’t seem to know their facts and who refused to speak honestly about the role the US must play in the global effort to fight climate change.

We reminded him that his constituents want bold and courageous action on climate change, and are willing to organize events in their communities to make that happen.

Salt Lake City Senator Orin Hatch of Utah, a notorious climate denier was notably impressed when we handed him a picture of a 350 action that took place in Salt Lake City (left), so big props to Utah Climate activists! Your photo made it into the Senator’s hands. Likewise, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state appreciated the beautiful 350 aerial photo from Seattle.

Senator Thomas Carper seemed amused by the photo from his state of Delaware, but refused the tie, claiming, “that is the ugliest tie I’ve ever seen”. I guess it can be tough to have a good sense of humor when you’re a senator. At least he was honest?

The Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, refused the 350 tie altogether, which surprised me, given that he willingly accepts millions of dollars in campaign contributions from energy lobbyists. Alas, we have much work still to do.

Even as an activist group in DC, it is sometimes difficult to get Senators’ attention if you’re not a constituent or a wealthy lobbyist. This week though – thanks to all the 350 actions – we were able to print out photos from 350 actions from every state in order to send a clear message to Finance Committee members as they begin to consider climate legislation: no matter where you’re from, your constituents want you to work toward 350 and a safer climate. Thank you to all the local 350 organizers for making October 24th the largest day of grassroots action in history! As a result of your work, we can easily deliver our message directly into the hands of decision-makers.

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