The environmental movement is getting smarter by the minute, and this morning in Washington, D.C., it passes a major test.
Thousands and thousands of people -- many of them youth gathered for Powershift, the giant climate organizing symposium that has sprawled across the city's convention center -- are rallying in Lafayette Park.
Lafayette Park -- Google Map it -- is right across the street from the White House, and normally rallies there are aimed at the president. There'll surely be some of that today, for the president has done far less than he promised to deal with global warming.
Mostly, though, the protesters will turn the other direction, and target a building that may project as much power as the Oval Office. It's the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which boasts that it's the nation's biggest lobby. Indeed it is -- it outspent the next five combined. And the biggest political player, outspending the Republican and Democratic National Committees. If Washington is polluted by money, the biggest smokestack comes out the top of the U.S. Chamber.
They claim to "represent American business." In fact, more than half their budget came from just 16 companies. They don't say who those companies are, but it's not too hard to figure out, since they spend most of their time fighting any legislation that might help slow climate change. They're radicals: They filed a brief with the EPA urging them not to act on carbon emissions because if the planet warmed humans could "adapt their physiologies" to deal with the change. If someone on a street corner told you that their plan for global warming was changing your anatomy, you'd give them a wide berth -- but if you have a few hundred million in campaign contributions to hand out, it buys you a lot of respectability.
The time to strip away that respectability has come, and it starts today in D.C. But it doesn't end here. Across the nation, a campaign to get businesses to declare "The US Chamber Doesn't Speak for Me" has begun to make real progress -- thousands and thousands of small businesses have already signed up to say they can speak for themselves, thank you -- and that they're nimble enough capitalists to deal with a planet that runs on wind and sun. It's not just small companies either -- Apple Computer has quit the chamber, and local chambers of commerce from Seattle to New York have broken their ties with the US Chamber.
The environmental movement has spent the last 20 years pleading with Congress and the White House. It's like spending 20 years pleading with the cashier at the front of the store to address your complaint. Sooner or later, you have to take your problem to the manager in the back room. That's what's going on today.