Environmentalists Should Learn from Gay Rights Activists

Even if you've only been casually following the Republican Presidential race, you may have seen at least one story of a citizen challenging a candidate about the issue of gay rights. And if you're a news junkie like me, you've probably noticed what a trend this has become in recent weeks. From young students like this group challenging Bachmann or this 14-year old bi-sexual girl challenging Rick Perry to 63-year old war vet questioning Mitt Romney or this guy who Newt Gingrich told to vote for Obama, gay and straight supporters of gay rights have been all up in the faces of the Republican candidates with cameras nearby to document the awkward and, at times, contentious interactions. With YouTube and social media, these moments spread throughout the interwebs and eventually make headlines in mainstream publications. And as Dan Savage wrote on Monday, it's working.

VIDEO: If you want a quick recap of these events, Talking Points Memo rounds-up some of the recent examples of this tactic in the video above. I've also posted some of these videos in-full below.

The reason I'm thinking about this and sharing it here on TreeHugger is because every time I see one of these, I can't help but wonder, why is there not a similar video of a passionate teen or war vet or any potential voter challenging these Republicans about climate change? Or clean air? Or water safety? Or high speed rail? Or clean energy? Or anything related to environmental issues?

Do you ever wonder the same thing? I think there have been some similar moments in the past, with environmental activists challenging President Obama on mountain top removal mining or some other issue and it occurs to me that maybe there are more recent videos and I'm just not seeing them. If that is the case, please help me out with some linkage in the comments below. Or let me know on Twitter.

Putting pressure on Obama is a worthwhile goal, but with so much media attention on the Republican campaign trail, it seems we're missing opportunities to get our issue back into the media spotlight.

To be clear, none of this is meant to take away from the people courageously speaking up about gay rights. I think those are important issues. Rather, it is to highlight how effective they have been in keeping their issue in the mix and getting their questions answered. Those of us in the climate and sustainability movements have a lot to learn from the gay rights movement.

While the environmental movement has produced some inspiring examples of courageous activism - Tim DeChristopher's creative auction hijacking and the efforts led by 350.org that helped postpone the Keystone XL pipeline, to name just a few - there's a significant difference between these types of activism and individual citizens speaking face-to-face to the potential candidates for President of the United States. Getting those men and woman on camera defending their opposition to equal rights or struggling to do so, plays an important role.

The environmental movement should learn from this example.

Earlier this Fall, when Republican Congressman, Cliff Stearns (R-FL) said "We can't compete with China" on clean energy, the quote served as a great example of why Republicans can't be trusted to lead the United States into the future, when we desperately need to be investing in new technologies and industries, such as clean tech and renewable energy. It caused headlines in the media and it even led President Obama to address the comment head-on, using it as an opportunity to remind the American people about his vision for the country and how it differs from the Republican's. This is good stuff! Watch Obama's reaction to that comment below:

Multifaceted Activism
Street protests are good in some situations. Petitions can serve a role, too. But individual citizens putting politicians - Republicans and Democrats - on-the-spot in diners or pizza parlors or wherever they can catch them on the campaign trail and making them explain their views on these important issues is a brilliant way to get those views back into the minds of the public and even help determine the future of this country.

It's Not Too Late To Start
If you're reading this and anywhere near one of the early primary states, like Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, please consider trying to track these Republican candidates down when they are touring your area. Grab your iPhone or whatever video camera you have and write down what you'd like to say to them. Practice it with your buddy as you drive to wherever you hope to meet Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul or Mitt Romney or whoever. If you get a chance, take it. Please. And get it on video! And send it to us!

Ask them about climate change and if they believe it's true. Ask them what we should do if they turn out to be wrong and we've waited too long to make crucial change to stop the worst effects. Their answers are important. And the video of your moment with them can help remind the public about what these people think. And by questioning Republicans on these issues you'll also be sending a signal to Obama that these issues matter.

Here are some of the videos of the events I mentioned above:

Tags: Activism | Alternative Energy | Barack Obama | Global Climate Change | longreads | Renewable Energy

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