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Top five Friends of the Earth moments in 2011

Posted Dec. 30, 2011 / Posted by: Becca Connors

At the end of every year, we tend to pause and reflect about the past 12 months, stopping to examine trends and to remember important events -- usually in list form. And with all the year in, worst of, best of, top five and top ten lists appearing throughout the internet and in newspapers, I couldn’t help but think of what my favorite moments were as a staffer at Friends of the Earth. So, with just a few days remaining in 2011, I would like to take a moment and toast to Friends of the Earth staff, members and activists with my own top five list.

1. The Keystone XL pipeline

I can’t talk about 2011 without talking about Keystone XL. It was a massive effort by Friends of the Earth. I may be cheating to start this list with so many items under this top moment, but great work deserves it.

My faves include standing in solidarity with the 1253 people who were arrested to protest the Keystone XL pipeline (including our coworkers). I also enjoyed the behind the scenes work that we did for all our Freedom of Information Act documents regarding the pipeline. (For those unfamiliar, Friends of the Earth, using FOIA, sought documents that could reveal the extent of the cozy relationship between Paul Elliott, a TransCanada lobbyist, and Secretary Hillary Clinton's State Department, the agency in charge of the impartial review of the pipeline. Elliott was a campaign manager for Clinton's presidential bid.) Late on Sunday night before our release of the second batch of documents, I held the pdf in which State Department official Marja Verloop exclaims, “Go Paul!” which made me feel that we just might have a shot at stopping this project. I also enjoyed the many, many times TransCanda was forced to respond to questions by the media about its project -- referring to us as “professional activists.” While TransCanada may consider that name an insult, I think it only served to show the public how we were getting under TransCanada's skin.

Keystone XL protest

And then, the best moment of this best moment was the November 10 announcement that President Obama would delay the project to seek another environmental review. Tied to that is the Republican response: insisting that President Obama complete the new review in 60 days. Considering his State Department has said again and again that this timeline would most certainly kill the project, if President Obama holds his word, we could be on the way to victory.

2. The rise of the Occupy movement

Many of Friends of the Earth staff have a connection with Occupy. As an institution, we find that many of the demands put forth by the movement are akin to what we feel are tantamount for a fair and just society. All of us deserve to live in a healthy environment -- and we feel that our air and water have been used and abused by the 1 percent. Sensible solutions to climate change, ending oil subsidies to the oil and gas companies and the emancipation of our food systems have all been stymied by a Congress that is bought by the wealthiest corporations. We share the desire to get the money out of politics, to find a way to hold Wall Street accountable and to work together to build a better tomorrow.

Friends of the Earth has been in close contact with the local movements. In DC, we worked with the New America Foundation to provide wireless internet for the members of Occupy K Street. Our office is a block away from the encampment and we're proud to be able to provide this resource. You can read our statement of solidarity with Occupy here.

3. Favorite email: Captain Cantor

I think my favorite email we sent to activists this year (and there have been many many e-alerts and so there is a distinct possibility that I may have overlooked one or two) was to ask folks to sign our petition to tell House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to not sink our economy and the environment!

The alert was written by our communications intern at the time, Matthew Cain, who is now at the Working Families Party in New York. Some people may think the boating metaphor a bit much, but I really enjoyed the humorous attack on "Captain Cantor." I have excerpted a piece for your enjoyment:

Imagine this for a moment. You’re on a boat in the middle of the ocean, and you notice a hole in the hull where water is pouring in. The boat is starting to sink. You have two choices: you could either throw your provisions overboard or you could fix the hole. What do you do?

You’d better hope that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) isn’t your captain. Fixing the hole, he would argue, is difficult. You might have to sacrifice your seat cushion or your tailored shirt to fill the gap. You might lose that cushy luxury or be forced to wear a mismatched tie.

It would be much better, according to Captain Cantor, to throw everything else overboard. The oars, your life jackets, the cooler full of food, and heck, even some expendable children and elderly sailors. But you could keep sitting on your cushions. Without all the extra weight, the boat will stay afloat -- at least for a couple more minutes.

This alert alluded to our Earth Budget campaign, in which thousands of Friends of the Earth activists over the summer challenged Congress to find equitable and sensible solutions to the budgetary woes in order to keep our boat afloat.

4. Favorite action: Ask Senator Kerry to lead

I think my favorite successful action this year was suggested by our communications manager, Kelly Trout. She noticed in an article that Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations committee and has oversight of the State Department, had responded to questions about the Keystone XL pipeline by saying that his schedule was too busy to look into our concerns. We know that Kerry is a strong ally for the environment and so we wanted to draw his attention to the State Department’s corruption around the Keystone XL pipeline review process.

We sent the alert to our Massachusetts activists, asking them to call the senator's office and to urge him to lead on the Keystone XL. We heard from folks reporting their calls that Kerry’s phones were ringing off the hook. By the end of the day, Kerry had released a statement saying: “I'll do my best to leave no question unanswered.

At the time, the Keystone XL fight was at a very important crossroads. We knew that it was imperative to secure more senators to support us in the anti-pipeline fight. With the news article and Kerry’s comment, we identified a key opportunity and exerted the right amount of pressure. So thanks to our Massachusetts activists for taking the 60 seconds to make a call. You had a great impact!

5. New website, blog and our online community

Personally, this ranks as my best moment of 2011 -- launching our new website. I think our new website and the blog contained within will become a huge asset to our advocacy work in 2012. We are excited to have a professionally designed site -- one that wasn’t cobbled together by yours truly -- and a blog that will allow our staff to connect more closely with our members, activists, reporters, Hill staff, and the person who happened to click on a link in one of our tweets.

Speaking of Twitter, we have more folks tweeting for Friends of the Earth (@foe_us). You can follow our president, Erich Pica (@erichpica) or policy analyst Kate Horner (@KateFoe). You can keep an eye on our biofuels and tar sands campaigns here and here. Or, you can follow my tweets for actions, news and blog posts.

Speaking of blog posts, I want to highlight a few of my favorite posts from our new blog: Karen's post on the silver lining of the climate talks in Durban, Eric's post on genetically engineered mosquitoes, and Kim's post on the new politics around the Keystone XL pipeline. Make sure to check them out!

What was your favorite moment of 2011?

Now, I want to hear what you have to say. What was your favorite moment of 2011? Worst moment? What do you hope we accomplish together next year? Use the comment section and let me know. 

And with that, happy New Year to all you and your friends and family!

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