Climate Protest

Bread and Puppet Theater performs at the conclusion of Wednesday’s protest action organized by 350VT at the State House. The action called attention to Montpelier lobbying firm MMR and the clients it represents, including CoreCivic, Vermont Gas, ExxonMobil and Johnson & Johnson.

MONTPELIER — Activists staged a rally on the State House lawn Wednesday to protest a Capital City lobbying firm that represents fossil fuel companies and other corporations blamed for climate change and the incarceration of migrants.

About 40 people gathered on the State House lawn to challenge McLean, Meehan and Rice, which represents local, national and multinational companies.

The event included speeches and a performance by Bread and Puppet Theater. Protesters then marched to MMR’s offices on Court Street to deliver demands for the lobbyists to stop working for companies that hurt the planet and people.

A statement from MMR stated the firm worked on behalf of its clients to develop “non-partisan solutions” to difficult challenges locally, nationally and globally.

“We absolutely support the right to speech and assembly and believe that in this polarized political environment, we must listen to each other and work together on solutions. MMR remains steadfastly committed to progress over protest,” according to the statement.

Wednesday’s event followed the start of Climate Strike Week, which began Friday with a call to action for students to skip school to march, protest and commit acts of civil disobedience, and to demand political and civic leaders respond and act to combat climate change.

The school strike for climate movement — also known as Fridays for Future, Youth For Climate and Youth Strike 4 Climate — was sparked by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish student who left school in August last year to protest outside the Swedish parliament. Thunberg testified before Congress last week and the United National General Assembly this week. She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Wednesday’s event at the State House was organized by 350Vermont, one of several climate activist groups involved in Climate Strike Week.

Julie Macuga, Extreme Energy field organizer for 350VT, welcomed the crowd by noting that participants were standing in the original homeland of the Abenaki people for 10,000 years, and called for a moment’s silence to recognize them.

“So why are we here today?” she asked. “We’re demanding that the lobbying firm MMR drop many of their reprehensible clients.

She said MMR’s clients include Vermont Gas, whose pipeline is currently under investigation; ExxonMobil, which she said has spent $33 million on promoting climate denial; CoreCivic, the private prison company operating border detainment centers; Johnson and Johnson, recently found guilty of “false, misleading and dangerous marketing campaigns” contributing to the opioid crisis; Walmart, where many employees earn below the poverty line; and more.

Theora Ward, of Hinesburg, and a representative of Protect Geprags Park which has protested the site of a Vermont Gas pipeline in her hometown, said VGS is under investigation for numerous alleged safety violations, and warned of the dangers of fracked natural gas it supplies.

“I’m here to tell you that natural gas is not clean, natural gas is not cheap,” Ward said, noting that the methane released in the extraction, processing, storage and transportation was 86 times more harmful than carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as a heat-trapping gas.

Ward urged climate protesters to contact local and national leaders to voice concerns about climate change. “Never doubt the power of your voice — use it and be heard,” she said.

350VT board member K.C. Whitely urged activists to join a protest at the Public Utilities Commission in Montpelier on Thursday after the PUC’s decision last week to allow a Canadian company to buy the public shares of VGS. Interveners in the case will appeal the PUC’s decision at a meeting in Montpelier at 9 a.m.

Tanya Vyhovsky, a social worker from Essex, said she had a job and a master’s degree but could not afford the medication for her life-threatening medical condition, anaphylaxis, because the epinephrine she needs has increased in price by 400%

“I know I’m not alone. Every year, over 530,000 Americans file for bankruptcy due to medical costs,” she said, adding that MMR represent PhRMA, “the lobbying firm that has spent billions to ensure millions of Americans can’t afford the health care they need.”

Jaiel Puskamp, a 350VT organizer, read a statement from Migrant Justice in Burlington, urging citizens to join in supporting migrant farm workers that support Vermont agriculture.

David Van Deusen, the newly elected president of the AFL-CIO in Vermont, accused MMR of “making money off of other people’s misery,” adding, “Private pharma doesn’t want you to be healthy unless you have the money; private prisons — concentration camps on our southern border — this is what they’re profiting from.”

Deusen also criticized Vermont lawmakers for what he called broken promises to address the needs of workers and climate change.

“What if we took power out of their hands and put it in your hands?” Deusen said. “We can’t forget that working people in this state are the 99%.”

Following speeches, Bread and Puppet Theater staged a re-enactment of the birth, growth and near-death of the human race before fighting back for its survival.

Afterward, protesters marched to MMR’s offices and left a banner with names of companies they represent and asked the company to stop lobbying for them.

There was no interaction between MMR employees and the protesters.

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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