Protesters Ask Clinton to Step Away from Fossil Fuels

Greenpeace and others contend that oil money for politicians could block progress on climate change

Standing in a chilling wind and right next to The Dakota—the extravagant New York apartment building where John Lennon was shot to death—about three dozen protesters waited for the arrival of Hillary Clinton on Wednesday afternoon. It was 5 p.m. on March 30, and the presidential candidate was scheduled to arrive at 1 W. 72nd St., Apt. 26, for a fundraiser, at $2,700 ticket. Heavy NYPD presence occupied both sides of the streets, and private bodyguards escorted some invitees inside, against a backdrop of chants: “Hillary, take the pledge” and “Hillary, talk to us.”

The message? Step away from fossil fuels. The protest was organized by Greenpeace as part of the non-profit environmental organization’s Democracy Initiative—launched by labor, civil rights, voting rights, environmental, good-government, and other like-minded organizations across the country to try to get corporate money out of politics.

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Protesters gather outside a fundraiser at The Dakota to push Hillary Clinton on contributions from the fossil fuel industry. (Vicky Ge Huang)

The organization has been following Clinton’s campaign around the country, asking her to reject fossil fuel money, and this was the second Clinton fundraiser they had visited in New York. “We want to know she’s listening to her people and not to her funders,” said Molly Dorozenski, Democracy Campaign leader and communications director at Greenpeace.

According to Dorozenski, Clinton has taken some four and a half million dollars for her campaign from individuals and super PACs associated with the fossil fuel industry. Although Greenpeace is a non-endorsing organization and Clinton has repeatedly said that money doesn’t influence her policies, Dorozenski said, “We would like her climate plan to be stronger.”

Clinton herself seems to strongly disagree with these figures—and with the notion that such money affects her policies. When confronted by Eva Resnick-Day, 26, an organizer for the Greenpeace campaign following another campaign event in New York on Wednesday, Clinton vehemently denied fossil fuel-industry influence over her and connected that line of criticism to her Democratic Party rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. “I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me,” she said.

For many of the protesters, meanwhile, Clinton is just one target. Environmental organizations such as Next Generation are also tracking how much money Republican candidates have taken from the fossil fuel industry. The leader is Senator Ted Cruz. Greenpeace found that while 57% of Cruz’s money (about $25 million) comes from fossil fuel-related donors, only 7% of Clinton’s does.

Greenpeace had asked all presidential candidates to sign on to reject donations from the fossil fuel industry. Only one has taken the pledge—Sanders. Clinton refused to sign the pledge. “She responded saying that she will fight for campaign finance reforms and also for voters’ rights while she is in office, but she would not sign the pledge,” explained Resnick-Day. “We don’t really think there will be a reception from the Republican Party. We know that we have a chance with Hillary.”

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Elliot Crown and Marni Halasa, activists and artists, dressed up as political characters while demonstrating on Tuesday. (Vicky Ge Huang)

The ticket price for her fundraiser—$2,700, according to Resnick-Day, who said that you could buy tickets online and $2,700 was the only option—is also the maximum that an individual can donate to a candidate.

Yongjung Cho, 25, works at 350.org and 350 Action, an environmental organization working to push candidates to keep fossil fuels in the ground and to support policies that will allow for a just transition to renewable energy. Cho hopes that Clinton will become a strong climate leader and believes that the fossil fuel industry has blocked progress on fighting climate change, citing examples such as the recent investigation into Exxon Mobil Corp’s suppression of its own scientists’ research on climate change. Climate change, she said, strongly impacts people in poverty and people who live in the global South, who have the least responsibility for it.

According to Beia Spiller, an economist and climate change scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, climate change has already affected the northeastern coast of the United States in multiple ways. Its effects can be especially seen across industries such as “fishing, tourism, maritime transportation, waterfront use, coastal development, and insurance,” wrote Spiller in an e-mail response.

For some at the protest, the issue is simply about the chance to lead a normal life in the future. Reggie Williams, a 29-year-old filmmaker from Brooklyn, said that this was his first protest. Williams said he wishes that Clinton would listen to his message: “I want to have children at some point in my life,” he said, “and I feel like the fossil fuel industry is holding back any progress we’ve made with climate change. I want to ask her to stop taking money from fossil fuel companies.”

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