Walking the Walk

Ed Fallon, Sen. Joni Ernst, Miriam Kashia

Ed Fallon, Sen. Joni Ernst, Miriam Kashia

Twelve participants in the Great March for Climate Action made a reprise visit to Washington, D.C. last Wednesday.

Ed Fallon, march founder, tried to get meetings with the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency to coincide with the end of the march last September, however, key people were unavailable at the time.

The White House meeting did happen, with Dan Utech, special assistant to the president for energy and climate change; Rohan Patel, special assistant to the president and deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, and Angela Barranco, associate director for public engagement at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. My story about the meeting in the Iowa City Press Citizen is here.

Fallon was unable to attend the meeting with EPA later that day. Marchers met with Joseph Goffman,  senior counsel, assistant administrator for air and radiation and Mark Rupp, deputy associate administrator for intergovernmental relations. After the EPA meeting, marchers fanned out and met with their congressional representatives.

The Great March for Climate Action was not a stroll in the park for the core group of 35 marchers who made some or all of the way from Los Angeles to Washington. There were physical challenges including weight loss, foot and leg problems, fatigue and stress. They dealt with extreme weather events physically, notably in Nebraska where they encountered a giant hailstorm unlike any they had previously experienced. More than anyone I know, Fallon and company walked the walk, experiencing personal hardship to do so. The meetings in Washington were both a culmination and a new beginning for participants in advocating for climate action.

“Officials recognize that climate change is difficult for many people to grasp,” Fallon said. “The eight months along the march route allowed us to experience the situation directly, and this places us in a unique position of credibility.”

In addition to the White House meeting, Fallon called on Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and Representatives Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and David Young (IA-03) to advocate for climate action. While the results of the meetings were mixed, marchers had the ear of their elected representatives. All four politicians voted for a bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline, something the marchers adamantly oppose.

Last night, Fallon posted a photo of himself and Miriam Kashia of North Liberty with Senator Joni Ernst on his Facebook page.

“Between driving, meetings and presentations, I’m behind on getting these posted,” Fallon wrote. “Our meeting with White House staff on climate change: very encouraging! Our meeting with Senator Joni Ernst: not so much.”

Having gained standing by walking the walk on climate change, it opened doors. What marchers found on the other side wasn’t all they had hoped. While they were away from Iowa, the electorate brought to power our most conservative congressional delegation in a while, notably absent Senator Tom Harkin.

In effecting progressive change there are two important parts. Electing people who represent our views and advocating for our causes with them. In 2014, progressives did not fare so well on the former, which makes the latter more difficult.

While some may not like looking at photos of Fallon and company posing with these politicians, they are doing their part for progressive change. If we don’t like the current crop of politicians, we can’t give up.

“Obviously we were all disappointed with the outcome of the last election, and there are a lot of reasons for it and I’m happy to take on some of the blame,” said President Barack Obama at the House Democratic Issue Conference on Thursday. “But one thing I’m positive about is, when we’re shy about what we care about, when we’re defensive about what we’ve accomplished, when we don’t stand up straight and proud… we need to stand up and go on offense, and not be defensive about what we believe in.”

It’s an open question whether progressives will get organized for the next election. It’s clear we won’t unless we emulate the Great March for Climate Action and walk the walk—beginning now.

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