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Sunrise RI confronts Senator Whitehouse at Environmental Business Council event

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“This event is supposed to tackle the issue of climate change in this region, but the event is being hosted Fidelity Investments, who have put $94B into fossil fuels and is an organization that National Grid is a member of.”

“Which side are you on now? Which side are you on?” sang seven Sunrise RI activists, interrupting Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island) as he spoke to a crowd of around 100 people Friday morning. “Storms surge and fires burn but you don’t hear the call. Because fossil fuels keep paying you, does it weigh on you at all? Does it weigh on you at all? Does it weigh on you at all?”

The Environmental Business Council (EBC) of New England wad holding their first annual Climate Change, Resilience and Adaptation Summit at the corporate headquarters of Fidelity Investments in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Senator Whitehouse was the keynote speaker.

Janet Coit, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), introduced Whitehouse as a foremost leader, nationally and internationally, on climate change, and the “leading voice in the United States Congress.” This week, noted Coit, Senator Whitehouse “gave his 250th speech on the Senate floor educating people and urging them to act on climate change.”

Senator Whitehouse had just started his powerpoint, “The Economic Risks of Climate Change” a presentation geared towards convincing business leaders and technocrats that climate change is a real risk and needs to be taken seriously., when the activists from Sunrise RI interrupted him.

“This is a climate emergency and we aren’t acting like it. You aren’t acting like it,” said Sunrise activist Yesenia Puebla. “This event is supposed to tackle the issue of climate change in this region, but the event is being hosted Fidelity Investments, who have put $94B into fossil fuels and is an organization that National Grid is a member of.


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“Senator Whitehouse, as long as you don’t sign the ‘No Fossil Fuel Money‘ pledge, you should not be given a platform as a ‘climate leader.’ It’s clear that you’ve chosen corporations over the people and our survival, and it’s disgusting that you have the audacity to that,” continued Puebla.

“What we need is bold and urgent action, and instead, we’re here at this event. We’re celebrating the incremental successes of the corporations that are profiting most from this crisis,” conclude Puebla. “We need you to finally step up and support the Green New Deal, and sign the ‘No Fossil Fuel Money’ pledge.”

The activists then folded up their banner and left the room singing, “We gonna rise up, rise up til it’s won. We gonna rise up, rise up til it’s won. When the people rise up, the powers come down. When the people rise up, the powers come down…”

The room erupted into applause. Even Senator Whitehouse applauded.

“There’s an example of the next generation, taking this damn seriously,” said Whitehouse after the activists had left. “So I think that’s actually kind of appropriate for this moment. Just to clarify, not only do I not take fossil fuel money, I don’t take corporate money.”

As Whitehouse went back to his presentation, a man in the audience asked, “How come they [the Sunrise RI activists] didn’t know that?”

To answer that question, note that Whitehouse answered a different question. The students asked him to sign a “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge, which Whitehouse refuses to do. Whitehouse currently takes no corporate money now, but he has in the past, and he has made no real commitment to not take such contributions in the future, such as signing the “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge.

Whitehouse has also refused to publicly support the Green New Deal.

See:

Here’s the video of Whitehouse’s full presentation to the EBC:

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com