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I Interrupted Our EPA Administrator’s Speech. Here is why.

Last week, I stood up during a talk by Scott Pruitt, our Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, and called out his climate change denial until I was escorted out by security. I did this because my generation cannot afford to stay silent while he undermines our futures.

Pruitt, who built his career suing the agency Trump tasked him with running, was speaking at an event running in parallel with the United Nations General Assembly. While being interviewed by Dana Perino, a Fox news host who has a history of helping censor climate scientists for the Bush administration, he tried distancing himself from his attempts to block critical protections for our air, water, and health and started ‘talking the talk’ about reducing our carbon emissions. The truth is that he aims to dismantle the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases – the carbon dioxide, methane, and other pollutants emitted by burning fossil fuels that trap heat in our atmosphere and cause increasingly extreme weather patterns.

Recently, it has come out that Pruitt had a string of meetings with corporate executives – and then made decisions in their favor. The EPA is providing up to 18 round-the-clock bodyguards for Pruitt by pulling staff from other duties (such as investigating environmental crimes). And most disgusting of all – he wants to set up a “red-team, blue-team” debate about climate science. That’s right, he is finding climate change deniers to argue with climate scientists about a settled issue – to stoke more doubt and tamper action on the most urgent crisis of our time.

Reminder: this is not normal.

This administration is several layers of awful: not only doing awful things, but also having the audacity to flat out lie about them. I couldn’t sit there while he lied (again) so I stood up and yelled and reminded him and his audience that they were betraying young people’s futures: “If you really cared about the people of Florida, Houston and the Caribbean, why are you not talking about how climate change is making storms worse? You’re talking the talk today but you’re fighting to dismantle EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas. Pruitt is a puppet for corporate polluters! You’re betraying our futures!” (You can watch the video here). 

It didn’t all come out so eloquently – I was practically screaming, getting words out in bits and pieces. After I got my first sentence in, a Secret Service agent came to pull me away. As he was leading me out, he said:“You know, you put yourself in a really dangerous situation there. There were a bunch of Secret Service agents in there, and we’re all armed. If someone had perceived you as a threat, you could have put your whole life in danger.” 

This, among many other things, is ridiculous. Chances are this agent was trying to discourage me from doing a similar disruption in the future, but even the insinuation that a person standing in the audience and shouting would constitute a threat to anyone else’s safety is absurd. This is obviously one tiny example of a much larger problem going on in this country.

I am a young, white woman. I was wearing my best business formal. I am lucky no one perceived me as a threat, and I know that many black and brown people have been seen as “threatening” and “dangerous” for doing much less.

That’s part of why I take action like this.

I interrupted Scott Pruitt because I am part of a movement of young people, who have challenged me to join them in standing up to fossil fuel executives and their cronies and fighting for a just future powered by clean energy. Second, I personally took that stand because it is on us as white folks, as people who are not grossly labeled (and attacked) as “threats,” to leverage our privilege to disrupt spaces.

To win this fight, we need to send a clear message to the public that climate change is a moral crisis, that there is in fact someone at fault, and that we have the solutions within our reach. Disrupting an event by a fossil fuel industry crony like Pruitt is a tactic to do exactly that. That’s why movement groups encourage dramatic, visually powerful protests – whether they look like one-person disruptions or thousands in the streets. Such actions grab public attention and force people to choose a side, eventually inspiring many who were on the sidelines to finally get involved.

To win the kind of future we want, we’re going to need everyone to use every tactic in the book, in addition to protest. We need people who care to talk to their communities about climate change, because research from Yale has shown that fewer than half of Americans hear about it even once a month. We need politicians who share our values in the halls of power, especially ones who refuse to take fossil fuel industry contributions. We need amazing legal minds to protect the environmental and climate protections we already have and innovate new ones. We need organizations led by and for communities of color that are most vulnerable to storms and the toxic pollution of industrial sites, fighting back and creating resiliency plans. We need engineers to build fields of solar panels and efficient wind turbines.

I’m 23 years old. I’m a New York transplant from California. I’m Russian-American. My parents are supportive of my values but not exactly huge fans of all of the things I do to stand up for them. When I told my roommates that I interrupted Scott Pruitt’s speech, they said they could barely imagine me yelling. I watch The Bachelorette. I’m obsessed with cats. I don’t see myself as particularly radical. 

And I am part of this movement because no one should have to live in fear of the next big storm. We all deserve a climate-stable future, and we can all do something to fight for it.

Header image credit: The Daily Beast. Sue Ogrocki/AP. 

Daniela Lapidous is a writer, researcher, and climate organizer at heart. She currently lives in New York City researching decentralized social movements and organizing with Sunrise, a new movement of young people committed to stopping climate change, transitioning our country to a renewable energy economy, and creating thousands of good jobs in the process. She is a Columbia University alum and Bay Area native.

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