I'm honored to be speaking here on the National Mall today, in a place where so many people have made their voices heard over the years. Their words called out to the people in the Capitol building over there, to the occupant of that big white mansion down the street, to crowds like us, and to generations who came later.
The importance of "speaking truth to power" has almost become clichéd, but here we are with the Rio Earth Summit just two months away and those with power are showing precious few signs of having heard the truth spoken by so many of us, especially by the young people who will have to live with the consequences of what does -- or doesn't -- happen in Rio.
I'm thinking in particular of climate change. If we don't get to grips with this problem, the world we hand over to them is guaranteed to be a far less pleasant place than the one my generation inherited. And they know it. The youth delegations attending the annual UN climate conferences are the most passionate and outspoken -- brave, even -- of anyone there. They never fail to move me, because this is where it hits home -- like all parents, I am fiercely protective of my children and their future.
Sometimes I get to thinking. What if I were to get stuck in an elevator with President Obama? And maybe the key Congressional leaders of both parties. And no advisers. (Okay, like that's ever going to happen, but hey it's my fantasy). What would I actually say to convince them to start fighting for our children's future, rather than the profits of the fossil fuel companies? What would it take to penetrate that armor of business and politics as usual, and wake them up? I don't know; I write and rewrite that elevator speech over and over again in my head, but one thing is for certain -- I always whip out photos of my two kids to drive it home.
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons: Earth Day Network
But let's face it. Very few of us will ever have a chance to take that elevator ride, to have that quiet word with those in power. And maybe that's okay, because we can find our strength in being the opposite of quiet, and redefining what it means to be "in power." We need to make ourselves heard not just today, on Earth Day, but every day. And we need to leverage our voices into millions.
We must also translate our words more effectively into action. We need all hands on deck to fight against our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels. To get involved in campaigns against coal, tar sands, deep-sea drilling and the insanity that our taxpayer dollars continue to subsidize these harmful activities. Everyone must play their part, not only by clicking "Like" on a Facebook page, or signing a petition, or even attending a demonstration -- these are all important. But also by letting our elected officials know that we've done these things and that come Election Day, we'll be voting for our children's future. Our votes are power!
Twenty years ago, the first President Bush went to Rio and declared "the American way of life is not negotiable." We need to make sure that President Obama goes to Rio this time around and acknowledges that the real threat to our way of life is climate change -- not the actions we need to take to solve it. Because at the end of the day, there's only one thing that is truly non-negotiable, and that's our children's future.
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