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Protest Shines Light On Refusal Of Democrat To Endorse "Green New Deal"

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It was 9 am Friday outside an office tower on Charles Street in downtown Baltimore. Thirteen activists wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with a rising sun emblem and wielding bright yellow and orange cardboard shields gathered to protest at the office of U.S. Senator Ben Cardin.

Evelyn Hammid, a local leader of the group, called the Sunrise Movement, explained what the organization is all about.

“We are a movement of young people across the country mobilizing to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process, and ensure that we have a just transition to renewable energy," Hammid said.

The group’s goal that day was to march into Senator Cardin’s office and demand that he sign a written pledge to support the Green New Deal. It's a resolution that outlines a World War II-scale mobilization to transform the U.S. economy so that it has net zero greenhouse gas emissions within 10 years. 

I ask her:  In this era of the Trump Administration’s outright denial of climate science, is it perhaps politically counter-productive to protest a Democrat like Ben Cardin who has a generally strong record on the environment?

This was her response:

“We need to know that Democrats are on our side," Hammid said. "We know that Republicans are definitely not paying attention to the climate emergency, and Democrats claim that they care about the climate emergency.  But we need to make sure that they actually have a plan that’s going to save our planet. And right now, we are not convinced that Senator Cardin is prepared to actually stop climate change.”

The group filed through a revolving door into the marble and glass lobby of the 100 S. Charles Street office building. They told a receptionist that they want to meet with the Senator.  Security guards in the building informed the protesters that Cardin is in Washington – not here – and that his staff was occupied that day with a student event. 

So the activists started singing, but refused to leave the building.  "When the people rise up, the powers come down," they sang.  “When the people rise up, the powers come down.”

The building manager tried but repeatedly failed to convince the chorus to leave.  So he called the police – and an officer arrived to tell them (politely) to get out.

“Building security has asked you guys to politely vacate their premises, and you have refused and now we’re here," the officer said.

After the protesters left, I called Senator Cardin on the phone.  He said he was a bit puzzled by the demand for a meeting because his environmental policy staff had spent time the day before in a conference call meeting with the same Sunrise volunteers, discussing his climate change positions. 

"Well first, let me make it clear – we had a conference call with the Sunrise people on Thursday," Cardin said. "So we did engage the group on Thursday for considerable time. My staff tells me it was more than an hour.”

Senator Cardin would not commit to the specifics of the Green New Deal, which failed in the Senate in March by a symbolic vote of 0-57 that was staged by Republicans. But Cardin said he is co-sponsoring a measure that would take more moderate action on climate change by demanding the Trump Administration follow the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement, which sets nonbinding goals for countries around the world to reduce their greenhouse gas pollution.

“My urgency is for the United States to stay in the Paris Accords," Cardin said. "I have filed a bipartisan joint resolution to stay in the Paris Climate Agreements. This is an urgent issue.  Climate change is real. We have to deal with it.”

He added that although some might question the tactics of the Sunrise group, he said that he respects the organization's efforts to raise attention to the important issue of climate change.

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.