Occupy Biden Protest Encampment Calls on President to ‘Declare a Climate Emergency’

Interview with climate activists Karen Igou and Coby Owens, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Starting on Christmas Day and ending on New Year’s Day, more than 200 people spent part or all of that week at OccupyBiden, a protest encampment on public land less than a mile from President Joe Biden’s private residence in Wilmington, Delaware. The activists who gathered there had two demands: That Biden declare a climate emergency and thereafter, direct his executive departments to reject any more permits for fossil fuel projects.

The week included music, teach-ins, a candlelight ceremony on New Year’s Eve, and the screening of the climate crisis parody film, “Don’t Look Up.” The action ended with a rally, closing ritual and a march as close as they could get to Biden’s house, until they ran into a jersey barrier and the Secret Service.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who supported the action, spoke with Karen Igou, a local shop owner and founder of Extinction Rebellion Delaware and Coby Owens, a local activist and volunteer with the Working Families Party. Together, they spoke about the week’s events and plans for future actions.

COBY OWENS: I got involved because the Working Families Party signed on as a partner to this. I jumped right in just to see what the vibe is, and everyone was talking everything I love doing. I think right now you have a lot of people who are Democrats who will sit back and say, “Hey, we have a Democratic president, we shouldn’t attack a Democratic president. We shouldn’t push them on their agenda.” we shouldn’t push them to keep their campaign agendas, which I think is sad. When you see direct actions like this, and nonviolent direct actions start to form, that is something you want to be a part of because that’s what’s going to bring about the true change that we want to see.

MELINDA TUHUS: Have you gotten any pushback from Biden supporters, Karen?

KAREN IGOE: We’ve gotten a lot of pushback, but it’s just so interesting, people telling us we’re going to divide the Democratic Party more, and I just don’t see how that could be possible to divide it any more, or that we’re going to make it more risky that Trump might be elected, or that we’re going to have more Republicans elected in this year’s election, but this is already happening. We are so close to losing our democracy as it is. We have nothing to lose at this point. We’ve gotten some pushback, but we’ve gotten a lot of support as well.

MELINDA TUHUS: You brought a lot of groups together, and I guess you could say that climate change helped you out, since the week between Christmas and New Year’s was significantly warmer than normal. What did your week look like?

COBY OWENS: Not only were we able to bring a strong coalition of people together, we were able to have it be sustained for over a week. To go out there on Christmas Day and then capping it off on Day 8 with a march and a rally and going to try to deliver a letter to the president is something that I think made this all worthwhile. Yes, the weather was very warm, but we had a little bit of everything. We had sun, we had rain, we had cold weather, warm weather, snow, fog, in that short amount of time. But the one thing that was constant was everyone’s determination and everyone’s energy to bring about change. This coalition was representative of what America looks like. You had people from every background, from every demographic, from Boomers to Zoomers. And you had them all there with one demand, and that was for Biden to be bold and with that to declare a climate emergency and also end our dependence on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the letter was not able to be taken to the president due to the Secret Service turning us away.

MELINDA TUHUS: Karen, please share some of the moments from your march to Biden’s house.

KAREN IGOE: We were talking to the police, trying to get them to take our letter. Of course, they would not. We talked to them for a bit. We knew we weren’t planning an arrestable (action) or anything like that. We knew we weren’t going to escalate our action. We just ended up reading our demands out loud. We walked single file up and placed a flower in front of the barricade. And I asked the participants to try to make eye contact with the service people, because I felt like we were trying to connect with their humanity and feel one with them. Some people did not want to lay down a flower; some of them took a knee instead for a few moments.

MELINDA TUHUS: Coby, What’s next?

COBY OWENS: Yeah, I think we have a lot of momentum here in Delaware. We’ve already planted those seeds, so now we let the roots start to grow, and that’s how we really build this grassroots, people-centered movement. I, for one, will definitely be involved in any future planning of actions, especially when it comes to escalating this to bring more awareness to this issue. As we get closer to the 2022 midterms, you’re going to have people saying this is going to be an issue we can’t touch right now because it’s election season. No! It’s our job to make this one of the hottest topics of the election cycle, because that’s how you’re going to get people to move. When we look at what’s happened with the civil rights movement, what’s happened in 2020 and how people have changed the narrative and changed the political agendas to address certain needs, because it is an election cycle, that’s exactly what we need to do when it comes to addressing climate change. So, it’s going to be a lot of organizing, a lot of planning, but I think the most important part for everyone that was involved is, how can we make sure this grows? We should be able to double or even triple our numbers for our next major action.

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