By Catherine Woodiwiss, Special Assistant for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative
A crowd filled New York Ave Presbyterian church in Washington DC yesterday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday with a demand for the White House: take action on climate change.
The interfaith “pray-in”, which ended as a rally outside the White House, drew strong connections from Dr. King’s fight for racial justice 50 years ago to the ongoing fight for environmental justice today.
“Fifty years ago, we faced a racial crisis,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr of the Hip Hop Caucus to the crowd gathered in the rain. “We all came together, we all made a difference. We can again. The time is now.”
Many credit Dr. King with planting the seeds for the environmental justice movement, and his well-known speech on moral urgency was quoted by several at the event.
“Dr. King said ‘We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now… Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”’, said Bob Edgar, CEO of Common Cause, calling these words “prophetic” in relation to the challenge of climate change.
The choice to hold the rally on what would have been Dr. King’s 84th birthday was symbolic of the moral seriousness needed to address climate change, said Lise Van Susteren, an organizer of the event. “People talk about climate change as weather. This is not about weather. This is a human rights issue that requires a moral attitude – to think otherwise is inhumane.”
The event – organized by the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and representing diverse coalitions including Buddhist Global Relief, The Shalom Center, Judson Memorial Church, and Occupy Sandy – follows on previous public demonstrations that looked to Congress for action.
Yesterday, on the eve of the Inauguration, they took their message to the President.
“We are now facing a climate cliff that will not wait for gridlocked Congress,” said Yearwood. “If we go over the climate cliff now, our grandchildren will face suffering.”
The organizers believe President Obama is in a unique position to show leadership on climate issues. They publicly called on the President to “break the silence on climate change” through actions including permanently refusing permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, hosting a national climate summit, publically support and advocate for a carbon fee, and ending subsidies to coal, oil, and gas.
“This is a pressure point, and we aim to be relentless,” said Van Susteren, pointing to the growth in numbers at yesterday’s rally. “These weather events are relentless – so are we.”