The California Democratic Party’s convention in Los Angeles just wrapped up. It was a great gathering as usual, with activists up and down the state getting energized to expand and defend the Congressional map, as well as retain and make gains in the statehouse. While all of that is extremely important, of course, it’s not exactly newsworthy. Two things of greater interest to the general public did happen, though: first, the state Democratic Party expressly voted to put marijuana legalization into the party platform, validating the forward thinking of activists on that front.
[See Don’t Frack California Rally March 15th Sacramento here]
But there was a second, even bigger story of more bleeding edge activism involving fracking. California has a lot of oil deep underground. That oil is hard to reach, dirty, and difficult to refine. In order to get to it, oil companies have to use a process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” injecting toxic chemicals deep underground to help reach and extract the oil. That process has terrible environmental impacts, including groundwater pollution and seismic destabilization. But on a larger level, the carbon impact pulling all of the dirty oil out of California’s deep reservoirs and burning it would be essentially game over for the climate, pushing CO2 levels into irreversibly destructive territory endangering civilization itself. Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown has been unwilling to sign a fracking moratorium bill into law despite his other excellent, forward-thinking positions on climate change.
In response, activists across the state have become vocal about banning fracking in California–none more so than RL Miller, a Ventura County native, former Ventura County Democratic Party Executive Board member, and good friend who was elected to be Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus two years ago in a contested grassroots surge.
RL Miller took the lead in organizing a silent protest targeting Jerry Brown on his arrival at the Los Angeles Convention Center to speak to the assembled delegates. Protesters carried small anti-fracking signs outside the convention hall, and a large number of delegates also had signs inside the hall.
Hullabaloo vet Dave Dayen was also there and described what happened next:
The activist work on fracking was in evidence in Los Angeles. A packed Environmental caucus on Friday night featured an unlikely set of establishment politicians supporting the moratorium, including Eric Bauman, Vice Chair of the state party, and John Perez, speaker of the Assembly last year when the weaker regulations passed. Perez, now running for state Controller, told the caucus he would push the moratorium through the Assembly this year. Some activists viewed this with skepticism. “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,” said Dorothy Reik, a state party delegate and anti-fracking activist. Now when he’s a lame duck, all of a sudden he has the power.”
Miller and her colleagues targeted Governor Brown’s Saturday keynote address, printing up signs that read “Another Democrat Against Fracking” and planning a silent protest, holding up the signs during the speech. Security personnel at the morning session confiscated a number of the signs, but many made their way through to the convention floor. Miller herself was briefly asked to leave the hall but returned without the signs.
Brown, who announced and will likely win a bid for an unprecedented fourth term as governor, began his address amid a smattering of anti-fracking signs in the audience. Still, Brown’s speech was well-received, until he began to discuss the state’s historic drought. Stressing the importance of water conservation, when fracking is incredibly water-intensive, struck some as discordant. “Fracking uses millions of gallons of water and then pollutes that water so it cannot be reused,” Dan Jacobson of Environment California told Salon. “Do we want to start to invest in an industry that uses so much water?”
The expected silent protest suddenly became vocal. Persistent shouts of “No Fracking!” seemed to rattle the normally sure-footed Brown. “All you guys who like to make noise, just listen a moment,” Brown said, trying to steer the audience back around to his points about fighting climate change with a range of solutions. But he had lost the crowd by then, as the slogans and shouts increased. He concluded by saying, “Thanks a lot, and keep protesting, but add a bunch more stuff.” You can watch video of the speech here.
It’s doubtful whether the protest will have a direct impact on Governor Brown during the course of this election year, but the tide of Democratic base opinion, including among major party leaders, has definitely turned hard against fracking–thanks in great part to the work of RL Miller and fellow anti-fracking activists.
On a larger level, this is also a testament to the key value of having a progressive inside-outside strategy. When I go to a local protest against fracking, chanting and holding signs, it’s more meaningful, impactful and newsworthy if I’m doing so as the leader of the county Democratic Party than as a random citizen. Without becoming delegates to the state Democratic Party, those activists would not have been able to be inside the convention hall, but would have been a wholly ineffective presence outside the hall. RL Miller’s activism is far more effective–and newsworthy–because she is not only a fracking and climate activist, but the leader of the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus.
A few hundred key people in the inside of the hall can be–and were–far more effective than potential thousands and thousands marching outside of it.
Getting on the inside is a lot of work, and sometimes requires making compromises. But it’s worth it. RL Miller did the hard work to organize not just outside of the Party but inside of it, and it paid off by delivering one of the year’s most important stories of climate and environmental activism.