For months, the frustration surrounding the Governor's pro-fracking stance has been simmering among fractivists and democratic party delegates alike. We have done literally everything within our legal capacity in order to get Jerry Brown's attention. There was the nonstop bird-dogging, the rallies, the petitions, and, more recently, the delivery of more than 100,000 public comments to his office. "We know it's rattling him," said David Turnbull, "We know he's paying attention and he's hearing it."
At the end of February, Jerry Brown announced that he was running for re-election this year, as many of us had expected. There were a few interesting notes from his re-election announcement: "I said that I would work with both Democrats and Republicans, oil companies and environmentalists, unions and business, and I have..." (More: Big Oil and Governor Brown) "My goal is to decrease the use of fossil fuels while fostering vibrant communities and a sustainable environment." (Climate Change: An Update) Unfortunately, actions speak louder than words, and our pro-fracking Governor is still infatuated with the oil and gas industry's plan to frack up California.
On the very same day, there was some good news. LA passed a fracking moratorium in a 10-0-5 decision. "We congratulate the Los Angeles City Council for supporting the L.A. fracking moratorium motion..." Wrote Adam Scow. "We urge the city attorney to stand by the motion’s strong language and set a powerful and positive example for other communities and Governor Brown, who should immediately enact a statewide moratorium to protect all Californians.”
Democratic Delegates Demand A Moratorium
Last year, a few delegates within the democratic party, including myself, started thinking about the upcoming Democratic State Convention. We were still fuming over the powerless nature of our 2013 resolution that called for a fracking moratorium. Due to a severe lack of leadership from our elected democratic officials, our resolution was rendered meaningless. We began to think creatively: "Occupy the General Session", "A Massive Sit-In", or even "An Indoor March and Rally". Many ideas were thrown around, but we agreed on one thing: We had to do something at the convention in order to make a firm statement on the fracking issue. We had a super-majority of democrats in California and, given all that we do as a democratic base to sustain this party's success, we were going to make it clear to our elected democrats that this obvious lack of communication was unacceptable. If these elected officials truly expected to be re-elected in 2014, they were going to start respecting our demands; or there would be real consequences in their November races.
Given the expected media coverage of this event, the nation would soon know that Jerry Brown was heckled during his keynote speech at the Democratic State Convention by his own rank and file members. We would send the message loud and clear to the governor that his stance on the issue of fracking is completely out of line with the views of his party base. The plan we had made was promising, and an ensuing debate on a convention demonstration would ultimately ignite a conversation that would eventually inspire a passionate uprising on the morning of March 8th.
To Disrupt Or Not To Disrupt: The Contentious Debate
Before I could complete my first sentence in response, someone else chimed in. The respondent, unfortunately, rejected the idea. In their opinion, to do something while Gov. Brown is speaking was out of the question. By interrupting his speech, it would be perceived by many as disrespectful, and in their opinion, it would be counterproductive to our goal. Their proposed alternative was underwhelming... The alternative plan was to pass out 'No Fracking' stickers, and to rally outside the convention center before his speech. The final hurrah would be to somehow make our point to the Governor with stickers, and a pre-convention rally outside the convention center with signs and chants.
I was dumbfounded. Was I the only person who was outraged by the Governor's blatant disregard of our party's position on this issue? Was I the only one who could see the industry dollars suppressing our demands for a fracking moratorium? Were people really more committed to the democratic party than they were for climate change?
Email #1 : "We need to do something DURING Governor Brown's speech. Brown has completely ignored our resolution. He ignored 100,000 public comments, 300,000 total petitions. He's ignored tens of thousands of phone calls and emails, our endless bird-dogging, the rallies, the demonstrations, and the protests. He ignored the letter from Marc Levine, the letter sent to him by 20 of the nation's top climate scientists, and a letter from his former advisers. We have literally attempted every single "respectful" avenue of the democratic process in order to convey our demands for a fracking moratorium. At this point, HE is the one who is being disrespectful. It's disrespectful to the party base, as well as the majority of Californians, who are demanding an end to Fracking and Acidization."
"This is our chance, as delegates [and activists], to really drive home the message... Brown has had plenty of opportunities to respond to our collective pleas for BOLD climate action, and at this point, we need to take our stand while there is still time to make a prudent shift to a clean energy economy... This is not how democracy is supposed to work. Elected officials aren't supposed to cherry-pick our demands so that they can act on the easiest, or most politically conservative issues..."
"Imagine the events of March 8th for a moment. Imagine 100 delegates interrupting his speech. Imagine the response from the rest of the room, the people who agree but have yet to state their frustration. Imagine the reaction of the media. We have a golden opportunity to make this election an election focused on Climate Change. We are their most "supportive members", demanding an end to fracking, and demanding bold action on climate change. At that point, there will be absolutely no ambiguity with the party platform's position on Fracking. We want a moratorium, and we expect to see one immediately."
"We need to demand action now, and we deserve some goddamn respect for the efforts that we make to push this party forward. We have a super-majority of Democrats in this state, and we should be outraged by this blatant disregard of our most genuine environmental concerns. We do everything for these elected officials. We run their campaigns, we register their voters, we knock on doors for them, we make phone calls for them, we raise money for them, we "get out the vote" for them, and we are the primary reason that they are eventually elected to represent us in Sacramento."
"We need to make it clear that our resolutions are passed for a reason... A resolution is supposed to mean something. These are real demands. We aren't asking for a pat on the head and we aren't pouring our lives into this party for nothing... We must make it clear to the Governor that we are fed up with being ignored on this issue." (February 22nd, 2014)
Many respondents disagreed: "The 8.5x11 cardstock signs... would be an effective visual during Gov. Brown's speech, without the blowback of an interruption." In a representative democracy, why were we, the people who should be represented, afraid of a Governor who has thus far failed to represent his party base and the majority of Californians? Thankfully, I received some support. "In Damien's defense: Our legislative body has disrespected the party platform- which was specifically in this instance - a moratorium on fracking..." Another email flew in with support: "The thing to do is to mic check Jerry... Something like this could really shake him up and also get tremendous coverage. I think it is more important to stop fracking than to show unity in the party or respect for Jerry Brown." A few of them messaged me directly, interested in the vocal demonstration I was alluding to.
Others, however, fired back fiercely. One person made the claim that, as a delegate for the Democratic Party, I was obligated to respect the office, as well as Governor Brown; without reservation. Vocalizing our demands for a fracking moratorium, according to this individual, was out of the question. Showing up the governor, as this individual put it, was not going to win me friends; and was going to result in a loss of supporters. Apparently, the only thing this vocal demonstration would prove is that "The extreme left can't play nice with the rest of the party." This person wanted nothing to do with a vocal demonstration. A bit flustered by the comments, I responded.
Email #2 : "What's extreme about common sense? It's pretty clear that Fracking is dangerous, and it's pretty clear that our position as a party base is anti-Fracking... Fracking is NOT safe. It cannot be done safely, and at this point, what do we have to do to COMMUNICATE with the Governor? He has ignored all of our efforts."
"As a delegate, I respect people who respect what this party stands for. As a delegate, I expect a Governor who listens to the party base and his constituents. I will not respect a man who disrespects this planet; who values campaign contributions more than our voices; who values rhetorical nonsense over scientific reality... I may lose friends, I may get kicked out of the convention, I may look foolish, but I will not be silent about issues that matter. This isn't about making friends, this is about standing up for what is right. And ignoring the party base is dead wrong. Letting the Oil and Gas industry rape the goddamn planet is absurdly wrong..."
"Since when did subservient a** kissing become the democratic way? Since when did demanding progress become heresy? We should all be outraged by this complete lack of communication between the party base and our elected Democrats... To be polite, or demand real action, that is the question. To be respectful to a man who has disrespected all of us and simply do nothing, or to demand respect from the man who has the power to put an end to fracking, that is our choice... All I want to see is real leadership and representation from this Governor." (February 23rd, 2014)
I received more support: "I could not agree more Damien." Then someone made another great point: "I understand the issue of respect. But Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey were Democrats, too, and I wonder how much longer it would have taken to end the Vietnam war if they had been treated "with more respect " in Chicago in 1968... I think this urgency is more important than the thickness of Governor Brown's skin." Yet again, more delegates emailed me directly, showing interest in taking part in a more vocal demonstration.
The debate was brought to a screeching halt, and the conversation was stonewalled. The message was clear. We are not protesting Brown. Everyone understood that we wanted Governor Brown to change his stance on the fracking issue and be a true climate leader. The message from many delegates was straightforward: Whatever we were planning to do at the convention would have to be respectful.
My Final Email To The Group: "How long must we, as a party base, restrict our own voices for the sake of being polite? When will enough be enough? At this point, is there anything that we HAVEN'T tried in order to get this guy's attention, that is respectful, democratic, and polite? When will people start standing up for themselves, and for one another, to speak out against this despicable display of democratic leadership? Has the Governor forgotten what we do for this party? Are we comfortable with the idea of working our asses off for this party, only to see our most genuine concerns and arduous efforts completely ignored? This is completely disrespectful. And the only thing they have delivered in response is an epidemic of fruitless rhetoric and downright hypocrisy."
"We need to make it abundantly clear to the Governor on March 8th, that we will not be ignored any longer... Make your voices heard, and be creative next weekend. We need to make our base's position unequivocal and direct. We need to demand a fracking moratorium right now." (February 28th, 2014)
With the final messages, the conservative approach was reiterated. People rallied behind the words "Peaceful" and "Respectful." They were determined to communicate our opposition to Fracking on the floor of the convention by "silently" holding our 8.5" x 11" signs. More messages were sent demanding that we all show support for the Governor. The "silence" of our demonstration would show proper "respect." Many of the people in the thread were vehemently opposed to giving the impression that we were heckling our Governor, regardless of his stance on fracking.
Still, more delegates emailed me directly to let me know they were interested in a demonstration during Governor Brown's speech; and I was determined to make a statement, even if it meant that I would be one of only a handful of delegates who would take the opportunity to be vocal. I refuse to remain silent on the issues that actually matter. I cannot remain complacent midst a climate crisis. And I refuse to be "respectful" to a governor who has continually disrespected his party platform; a governor who has failed to hear the voices of the majority of his constituents; and a governor who chose to ignore our respectful demonstrations, so long as the industry continued to contribute millions of dollars to his campaigns.
Maybe the emails I sent were subliminally locked into the psyche of the democratic party delegates. Perhaps the next time our governor disrespected the party base; maybe that would finally drive the environmental base into action. Maybe one voice could truly make a difference. "It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly's wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world" - Chaos Theory
The 2014 California Democratic State Convention
Friday, March 7th, 2014: The Environmental Caucus
At 4:45pm, the caucus meeting began. We passed out signs that read "Another Democrat Against Fracking" in preparation for Saturday's pre-convention rally. The plan was to have a rally before the general session, and to then bring the signs inside the convention to hold up (in silence) when Governor Brown started speaking.
There were 30+ speakers that night, bidding for their chance to address the caucus. Our Chair, RL Miller, made a rule for anyone who wanted to speak to the caucus that evening: "Talk about a fracking moratorium." And so, everyone who came up to speak that evening did just that. Among the strong speakers that evening was Eric Bauman, vice chairman of the state party, who delivered a very powerful speech, calling for a fracking moratorium. Among the other great speakers on that issue were: Betty Yee (candidate for state controller), Derek Cressman (candidate for secretary of state), Mike McGuire (candidate for state senate, SD2) and Brian Caples (candidate for state assembly, AD6).
However, there were many disappointing speeches as well. The first of these came from Assemblyman John Perez (also a candidate for state controller). Every speaker was given one minute to speak and each one was well aware of the context that was expected. They understood that they were supposed to talk about fracking. Not surprisingly, John Perez ended up talking about his accomplishments as the speaker of the Assembly for a minute and a half with absolutely no mention of fracking.
E-Board let him know that he had not mentioned anything on the issue of fracking. Pleading for one more chance to make a statement on the issue, he spent the next minute talking about the need for a moratorium "until there was adequate science to ensure that it could be done safely." He concluded that he would "do everything in his power to ensure that we get a moratorium on fracking this year." John Perez was speaker of the Assembly in 2013 -- the same year that our fracking moratoriums were killed and the same year that SB4 was passed. Dorothy Reik, a state party delegate and anti-fracking activist explained why most delegates are very skeptical of Perez's new-found position on fracking: “When I went to Perez’ office a year ago to ask him to put the moratorium back in the bill, his staff said he had no power to do it. Now when he’s a lame duck, all of a sudden he has the power?”
Perez was criticized by many watchdog groups last year on a variety of questionable relationships and campaign contributions. In fact, John Perez was one of the Democratic leaders who orchestrated the dismal failure of our two moratorium bills in order to pave the way for the weak regulations. It seems that John Perez has done a political calculation on the fracking issue, and has thus changed his statements for the sake of winning support from a strong environmental base within the democratic rank and file.
The only person running for controller who has been abundantly clear about their position on the issue of fracking is Betty Yee. "Let me start by saying this," She told the caucus, "The science behind the issue of fracking is clear. I strongly support a moratorium on fracking."
She is keenly aware of the dangers that fracking will bring to our state; she recognizes the harms that fracking has brought to communities throughout the nation; and she has been unwavering and consistent with her statements on the issue. She is strongly opposed to fracking, and she firmly believes that we need a moratorium immediately. Moreover, Betty Yee is an amazing person; and when we are talking about a position like state controller, we need someone with her integrity in that seat. We must get out and vote this year, and Betty Yee has worked incredibly hard to gain the support she has received thus far. For the sake of making some real change in Sacramento this year, we can really make a difference by voting for her for state controller. (Watch Betty Yee's Amazing Convention Speech)
When it came to Leland Yee and Alex Padilla, our eyes rolled once more. Leland Yee gave a very weak agreement for a "pause to fracking." He seems to think that strong regulations, when in place, could allow fracking to be done safely. To give the man some credit, it was his strongest statement against fracking to date.
As for Padilla, the only thing Padilla had to say was: "we need to take a broad approach when it comes to fracking." In other words, I have no idea what his position on fracking is at the moment. He has completely dodged the issue anytime someone has asked him about it in front of a delegate audience. Given the fact that Padilla has received funding from pro-fracking lobbyists, including ALEC, one could rightfully assume that Padilla is in favor of fracking. Indeed, to date, he has made no indication that he has any genuine concerns with the practice.
The only candidate for Secretary of State who fully understands the danger of fracking, supports a moratorium and/or a ban on fracking, and has firmly stated his position in opposition to the practice is none other than Derek Cressman. Derek is determined to overturn citizens united and to fight for ethical campaign financing, and I would implore all fractivists, environmentalists, and progressives in California to vote for him this year. We need more people like Derek in politics, and if you are looking for a way to change the political paradigm in Sacramento, get out and vote for Derek Cressman. (Watch Derek Cressman's Convention Video)
The night ended on a very high note. My resolution for 100% renewable energy in California passed with unanimous support, and hundreds of delegates were pumped up for Saturday's rally. Certainly, at that point, no one could have expected things to play out the way they did. But, unbeknownst to us at the time, a perfect storm of political activism was brewing. Delegates would soon invoke the courage to shift the political paradigm surrounding the issue of fracking, and the next 24 hours would soon re-define the California Democratic Party.
Saturday, March 8th, 2014: Governor Brown's Speech
Adam Scow, Paul Koretz, RL Miller, Eric Bauman, Marc Levine, and others took to the megaphone and gave their testimonies as hundreds gathered in front of the Convention Center. We chanted for a while, talked among one another, and grabbed our 8.5'' x 11'' signs. People started filing into the convention.
On my way there, I talked with other delegates who were equally outraged. I told them what I was going to do during Brown's speech. Others seemed to comply. As we got close, I put the stack of signs under my shirt and tucked them into my pants. I showed them my badge and made an effort to walk past them. They stopped me and confiscated the sign I had in my hand.
Your free-speech zone is outside...
After I got inside, I realized the lunacy of what had just happened. The only 8.5" x 11" pieces of paper that they were confiscating were the "Another Democrat Against Fracking" signs. When going through my backpack and my convention bag, they payed no attention to the hundreds of other papers that I had in my possession. They were specifically targeting the anti-fracking message and allowing everything else. I headed back to the gate.
"Excuse me," I picked up one of the signs, "You are telling me that the only 8.5" x 11" pieces of paper that are not pre-approved for this convention are these?" Other delegates standing in line spoke out with similar frustrations. The delegate being frisked backed away from the officers, and began complaining as well. One of the security guards approached me. "Please calm down sir. We have orders to not allow those inside the convention. We're just doing our job." At this point, it was clear. Someone had given the order to specifically confiscate those signs. "Where is your supervisor," I asked. The large figure was already on his way to the entrance. "Are you in charge here?" I asked. The man stood uncomfortably close to me. "Yes I am." He took the sign from my hand. "These are not allowed inside."
"Who told you that these signs were not approved?" He replied: "I got an email this morning letting me know that these signs were not approved." An email? Someone tipped them off this morning. I immediately grabbed my business card and handed it to him. "Please forward me that email." I paused for a moment. "Who sent the email?" The man was quick to reply. "CADEM sent it this morning." I spaced out for a moment, and spoke my thoughts. "Are you kidding me!? Where in your job title does it say that you have the authority to take away our free speech? Confiscating these signs is a direct violation of our first amendment rights."
The supervisor immediately jumped in front of my path. "Excuse me! Where do you think you are going?!" He yelled. I was quick to reply: "I'm a delegate for the Democratic Party." I pushed my badge closer to his sight. "I'm going to go to my convention." Without a second to spare, I was walked into a corner by three cops. "Sir, you need to calm down." Said one of the policemen. I was being threatened with arrest for arguing my right to free speech. After a few minutes of talking with them, they backed off and I headed back to my seat.
Eric Bauman soon received the exact same treatment by the guards at the front gate. In fact, Bauman was nearly arrested as well. Once word got around that delegates were being searched for the signs and that the Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party was nearly arrested for resisting the confiscation, John Burton, the chair of the CDP, changed the rule on the signs. As Karen Hansen reported, "Democratic Party Chair John Burton changed the policy, allowing fractivists to quickly pass them out" before Governor Brown took the stage.
With tensions now peaking among half of the audience, the mic-check and chanting ideas were buzzing across the floor. Once Jerry Brown took the stage, anti-fracking delegates would be sure to let the Governor know what we thought about his backwards views on fracking. So, rather than a small group of hecklers taking to the stage, we had a riled up majority of delegates ready to express their anti-fracking views. The perfect storm had just hit the convention.
Climate Leaders Don't Frack
As David Dayen reported, "The California Democratic Party convention is normally a pre-scripted affair... However, this weekend’s convention in Los Angeles exploded into an unusually vocal battle over fracking, revealing tensions between the elected leadership and the party rank-and-file."
As the Sac Bee points out: "Brown has been heckled at public events by environmental activists since he signed legislation last year establishing a permitting system for fracking, but never before have the activists managed to engage him during such a major speech."
"Dozens of party activists holding "Another Democrat Against Fracking" signs rushed to the front of the hall and stood in their seats at the Los Angeles Convention Center, yelling their opposition..." Reported the SFGate.
"The governor was interrupted repeatedly by about 100 protesters as he began to talk about environmental issues and climate change. "No fracking!" they shouted, creating a rumble throughout the massive convention hall." Read a Reuters article.
I was one of the nearly 30 delegates standing a few feet from the Governor as he gave the speech. I stood there from the very beginning. And each minute the heckling crowd grew in numbers. We battered him with demands: "Stop Fracking!", "No More Fracking", and "Ban Fracking Now!" Even the very people who resisted such an action in the cross-fire of emails just days before the convention joined in our chanting crusade against the Governor. There was chanting and heckling throughout most of his speech which intensified when he started talking about the drought. As soon as he hit the climate issue, I was joined by many others up front, as hundreds of delegates behind us held up signs and chanted even louder. It was amazing to see so many delegates take part in this demonstration. I am so proud of this party base for the courage that many of them displayed that afternoon.
"Keep in mind that the crowd at a state party convention is made up of party stalwarts, inclined to support top officials almost unreservedly. That this became the site of a backlash speaks to the intensity of opposition to fracking inside the party, an intensity that’s bound to grow over time... Politicians, and not just Democrats in California but across the country, have a choice to make. They can continue an unholy alliance with the oil industry, trading environmental stability for a promise of jobs, and hiding behind rhetoric about stopping climate change while allowing fracking to flourish. Or they can listen to increasing unrest among the public, and align their stated desire to protect the planet with their actions." ~ Salon.com
"Politicians want to have it both ways. They want to have their clean energy and eat their fossil fuels, too. Cue the "all of the above" energy policy, which has to be one of the least intellectually consistent approaches to governance currently en vogue..." Writes Jamie Henn. "Supporting climate solutions in California while allowing fracking is tantamount to buying your kid an inhaler and then making her smoke a carton of cigarettes before taking a puff. That might make sense to a teenager, but it shouldn't make any sense to a supposed climate champion like Jerry Brown... Governor Brown has a choice to make. He can either become a real climate champion and ban fracking in California or he can be known forever as Big Oil Brown, just another politician who refused to go to the mat for a safe climate future."
Dear Governor Brown, Don't Frack California
One week after the demonstration at the convention, over four thousand fractivists descended on the state capitol. On Saturday, March 15, people from all across the state rallied at the state capitol in Sacramento to send a message to Governor Brown and our state legislators: "We demand an end to fracking."
"They called on Governor Brown and legislators to place an immediate moratorium on fracking by passing SB 1132 authored by State Senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno." Wrote Karen Hansen. "The rally was organized by 350.org and key organizations in Californians Against Fracking, who chartered 26 buses to get many of the fractivists to the rally... Fractivists of all ages and backgrounds came from as far south as San Diego and as far north as the Oregon border." I met anti-fracking activists from Colorado, Ohio, and New York. The energy was amazing and, for the first time in this movement, there was a true feeling of community. We were strangers in one sense of the word. But once the rally started, I felt as though these strangers were family. At that moment, I truly felt that anything was possible.
David Braun, an organizer for Californians Against Fracking, worked in New York to put a moratorium on fracking and he is determined to do the same thing for California.
"They told us in New York, you’re just going to have to fight for regulations, and we said no. And now there has not been one new horizontal well drilled since we won that moratorium." Said Braun. " Mainstream Democrats are aligning themselves with the Green Party; NGOs are working with those at the grassroots levels. This event has clearly shown the breadth and power of this movement." ( Media Coverage: CBS, ABC, FOX 40 )
We WILL put an end to fracking in California.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead