A new youth-led climate group burst on the scene last April when they organized a blockade of the White House Correspondents Dinner – a black-tie affair where the president and the media that cover him get together for fun and frivolity. The protesters didn’t stop the dinner, but they garnered some media coverage for their demand that those in power take action to address the climate crisis.
The group, Climate Defiance, has gone on to interrupt events like congressional birthday parties and sporting events, the Economic Symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and many speeches by those in power, especially in the Biden administration. One clear victory for the group was calling out Harvard environmental law professor Jody Freeman for collecting a six-figure salary as a board member of fossil fuel giant Conoco Phillips. Freeman resigned from that position a few weeks later.
In recent months, Climate Defiance has received major media coverage from the New York Times and Washington Post, and many of the their social media posts have gone viral. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Betty Moose, a 20-year-old college student from Maryland who has participated in several actions with the group, most recently crashing Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer’s 83rd birthday party to demand an end to fossil fuels.
BETTY MOOSE: I decided to go to my first climate rally on Earth Day of this year, and it was amazing. And I met one of the best communities of people ever and they shared my values more than anybody I had ever spoken to in my life. That made me realize that even if nothing came of my personal participation in the movement, it gave me a sense of joy and purpose and community regardless. So from there, I started by meeting people with Extinction Rebellion and they told me that this new group Climate Defiance was having this huge action at the White House, Correspondents Dinner the following week, and I was like, woo-hoo. Let’s go.
MELINDA TUHUS: Could you describe Climate Defiance strategy?
BETTY MOOSE: Each one of these events is effective to varying degrees, obviously. But they’re all effective in that we find these people that are not using the political and economic power that they have to mitigate this crisis. And we find out where they are going to be and we go into these spaces where they feel that they will not be met with any criticism, that they can just pretend that they’re doing everything they can for the people, for the citizens of the United States.
We show up to let them know that they cannot pretend that anymore. We’re forcing them to reckon with the fact that they are participating in the destruction of everything we know and love. So that’s really what we do at every action, and I think it has been incredibly effective. They have to take the mask that they’ve put on off. They have to sit there and not be able to respond because responding would reveal that they have not taken the action that they could. Or they have to flee because they don’t want to reckon with what they’ve done. So it’s effective because we get footage of it and we let people know what’s going on because these people have been able to hide under this facade they create of them doing everything they can for the greater good, which is just not true.
MELINDA TUHUS: Betty Moose, your group is usually not arrested, but just kicked out of these events. I know there were arrests at least once and more than once. Members of your group have been kind of brutalized.
BETTY MOOSE: With the way the system is set up, you have to, you do have to take great risks if you want this great reward of preserving people in the planet. So when we confronted Jennifer Granholm, who is Biden’s secretary of the Department of Energy in Detroit, Michigan, we were pretty brutalized by the security at the hotel. She was giving her keynote speech and almost everyone who was inside got grabbed and pushed and shoved, and most of us got some pretty bad bruising, nothing too awful.
But again, you are fighting to try to get these people to do what they know is right instead of continuing to comply with the system that is killing us so that they can remain with the status quo and get paid. And it’s difficult when you have to put your body on the line because the status quo is unfortunately so strong. That’s why we have gotten ourselves into this mess.
MELINDA TUHUS: President Biden is in all of the above energy supporter, approving frack gas projects and oil projects. I know that has disgusted many young climate activists, it seems like most of your actions target members of the Biden administration. Do you think doing that would weaken him in the 2024 presidential election? And do you care if it does?
BETTY MOOSE: We don’t get involved in electoral things. We go after Biden because he has this power to make change and he has broken his promises and he says he passed the Inflation Reduction Act and then takes 10 steps backwards with the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Willow Project, Alaska LNG, etc. etc.
But there’s been the need to call him out for that. And then also the awareness that a president who acknowledges the climate crisis is better than one who says it’s not real, and says “Drill, baby drill.”
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