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Citing the failure of the Biden administration and U.S. Congress to take meaningful action to combat the climate emergency, a group of congressional staff members on Monday staged a sit-in at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Washington, D.C. office that ended in some of their arrests.
“Our house is on fire, and Manchin burned the stairs. Democratic leaders are walking away. We cannot.”
“Guess Chuck really didn’t want to talk about climate today,” one of the arrestees said, according to New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz.
During their demonstration, the 17 protesters held up signs reading “Climate Action Now, Chuck” and “Our Farms Are Flooding,” and sang “Solidarity Forever.”
Before his arrest, protester Saul Levin—who works on climate justice, labor, and transit policy for Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and is coordinator of the Congressional Progressive Staff Association Climate Working Group—tweeted that the staffers “are peacefully sitting in on Sen. Schumer’s office to demand Dems pass climate justice policy this year.”
“We are putting our bodies on the line because we have no other choice,” he added.
After his arrest, Levin told NBC News that he wants Schumer “to reopen negotiations on [the] climate reconciliation package and to actually pass climate legislation.”
In a Monday letter to President Joe Biden and Schumer (D-N.Y.), 165 congressional and executive agency staffers “demand that you take ambitious, assertive action before the end of July to address the climate crisis.”
“We have worked tirelessly to achieve a safe and livable future,” the staffers wrote. “Meanwhile, you have refused to declare a climate emergency.”
The letter continues:
Every day that you do not act the climate crisis spirals further out of control… In the coming days you must execute a multi-pronged approach at the executive and legislative levels to secure our future and cement your legacy. First, it is imperative that you immediately declare a climate emergency and end fossil fuel extraction on federal lands. Then, and most importantly, you must intervene in stalled Senate negotiations.
The signers lamented that Schumer “has gone to some lengths” to secure Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) support for “compromised climate policy,” including by “offering pipelines and other problematic trades to secure his vote” and identifying “key policies you could water down as a negotiation tactic.”
The letter argues it is imperative that Manchin votes for the Build Back Better Act’s climate justice provisions “by the end of July as part of a reconciliation package.”
“As political strategists, policy writers, and communication experts, we urge you to take a new approach that meets the urgency of this crisis,” the staffers wrote. They suggest options to secure Manchin’s critical vote, including stripping him of his Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairmanship, shutting down the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, banning mountaintop coal removal, and strengthening air and water pollution standards.
“This is an absolute emergency, and we want to work together,” the protesters asserted, “but since action to meet the scale of the crisis has yet to be delivered, we have no choice but to take matters into our own hands through nonviolent direct action.”
In an interview with The Lever, Levin, the Cori Bush staffer, said that “our house is on fire, and Manchin burned the stairs. Democratic leaders are walking away. We cannot. We must test the fire escape, find the fire extinguisher, tie some sheets together if we have to: Our lives depend on it.”