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Matt Petersen

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Green Occupation of Wall Street

Posted: 10/10/11 10:40 PM ET

If you haven't read yet, maybe you're living under a rock. Thousands of citizens have taken to the streets in NYC -- and now across the country in dozens of other cities -- for Occupy Wall Street protests.

Beginning as a protest against corporate greed and the actions of banks and other financial institutions, it has now begun to represent so much more. The "other 99 percent" is the majority by a long shot -- representing a lot of voices trying to be heard and trying to make a difference.

At a time when I began to fear complacency and comfort was dissuading individuals from speaking out or at least taking action in their neighborhoods, OWS is reminding us that it is our duty as citizens to honor our beliefs, speak out, and take a stand. For those occupying Wall Street, that means holding those accountable for actions that affect all of us.

During the beginning of the economic crisis, we also saw the surging of the environmental crisis. I spoke often about the need to meet these two crises. Head on. And together.

We missed that opportunity to address both with the stimulus package, economic reforms, and climate legislation. The economic stimulus left much of the green opportunity on the table. With economic reforms, we failed to address many critical, core problems, not the least of which was the under-water mortgages on the books of nearly every bank in the U.S. The environmental movement -- myself and Global Green included -- did not weigh in significantly on either.

I appealed to a couple of leaders of large environmental groups to step in on the economic crisis and reform at the time, as I felt it was critical to our own success with the green agenda and a unique opportunity to hold our financial institutions accountable for the impacts of their economic policies, as well as the environmental consequences of their malfeasance. We know all too well what happened to climate legislation. Oil and coal industries funded an opposition in Washington, on the air waves, and against the science. Washington paralysis, and a political decision to put health care reform first, took care of the rest.

What is heartening about OWS is we are beginning to see the environmental movement join in, but it still seems to remain truly grass-roots. Our friends Bill McKibben and May Boeve at 350.org, who lead a global grassroots movement to fight climate change, have been at the forefront. McKibben conducted a climate teach-in this weekend for the protesters.

For a long time, I have had a growing sensation that increasing shareholder value has taken priority over protecting the public good. Corporate and political decisions -- which have caused loss of jobs in U.S. communities and cuts to regulations that protect the environment -- seem to always be justified by increasing shareholder value. And for a while Americans seemed to agree, as their 401Ks benefitted.

We need a balance: we need to support innovation and the creation of wealth while also protecting the public good and ensuring we provide opportunity for all. We need to invest in the long-term future of our nation and not be driven by short-term gains. We need Wall Street to see beyond quick quarterly profits and look to long-term investments in clean energy. Global warming is an environmental crisis we face today and every day and we need to lead the fight against it now.

As part of that fight, I hope Americans will become inspired by those already doing great things and choose to become citizen entrepreneurs -- to help take responsibility for their green corners of the world. As citizens, we have power. We can take actions that make a difference. Right now, you can join our I AM campaign and make a commitment to do something to green your neighborhood or city and help combat climate change.

We can also vote for those we believe will best represent our interests. And we can vote with our wallets as well, in making careful consumer choices (including the choices of banks and financial institutions that manage our money). Finally, we have a voice and we must use it. In this spirit, you can join us in urging our leaders to fight for what we need; start by asking President Obama to fulfill the promises he made when he took office -- to invest in clean energy and build a green economy.

 

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