October 17, 2014
In Washington, D.C., next month, environmentalists who've made their way across the country are planning to pressure the Obama administration to stop using fossil fuels. They're part of the Great March for Climate Action that started in March in Los Angeles.
One sunny Saturday afternoon this October, the marchers met with local fracking activists in Diamond Park, across from the Butler County Courthouse. The event was part of the Global Frackdown, one of many protests worldwide against fracking for oil and gas.
Lisa DeSantis, from Lawrence County, describes herself as an activist clown. She's painted tears of oil dripping down her face for this protest. She thinks fracking should be banned because it can contaminate water.
"No one is listening to us. We just want to protect what is ours," DeSantis says. "We’re mama bears standing with our claws out ready to attack back at this industry."
Michael Bagdes-Canning wears a ball cap loaded with anti-fracking buttons. He’s with Marcellus Outreach Butler and he’s juggling a cell phone and clipboard because he’s the organizer of today’s rally. He says his group and others have had small successes, like stopping a new well from being built near Lake Arthur, used for fishing and recreation.
"Today we’re celebrating a bunch of things," he says. "And we’re also trying to convince people they aren’t alone."
A yellow school bus pulls up to the curb alongside the park. The climate marchers file off the bus, singing.
"We need to build a better future, and we need to start right now," they chant, as the local protesters greet them.
The procession of about 50 climate marchers melts into the crowd of the hundred or so local activists.
Lee Stewart is kind of a quiet young man from Virginia. He's just spoken publicly, and emotionally, to the crowd about joining the climate march to provide a better future for his nephew.
"I guess another reason I joined the march is to try to find hope, because looking around Virginia, I see all of these projects coming up, the Atlantic Coast pipeline, compressor stations," Stewart says. "No matter what we say and what we do, it seems like they’re always approved, and we don’t really have a voice."
In September, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Dominion Cove Point LNG export project in Maryland. When the march reaches Washington in November, Stewart and others will ask them to reconsider.
As the rally ends, everyone heads a block down the road to the American Legion Hall for a spaghetti dinner and some networking.
Kathe Thompson is a marcher from Wellington, Fla. She says she joined the march because she’s frustrated with the sea level rise and severe storms she says climate change is causing in her region. She was also frustrated the attitude of the people around her who weren’t doing anything about it. This is her first time being in a community where there is fracking.
"I am angry. I am saddened, but I’m thrilled to meet these people," she says. "The one thing that we have talked about all the way across the country is doing away with fossil fuels. I see here, this is where you start, you start with what’s affecting you right now."
The Great March for Climate Action is traveling across the U.S., gathering information and momentum from communities to inform the energy protests in Washington. But it’s also having an impact on locals they meet along the way—like Bridget Shields with Marcellus Protest in Pittsburgh.
"You know, in this movement, we get so tired and burned out," she says. "And I just look to them and think, 'You know, I’ve got to continue this fight. Because if they can do it, I can.'"
Top photo, Michael Bagdes-Canning; Lower right photo, climate marchers join local fracking protesters. Credit: Kara Holsopple