“Now or Never.” Climate advocates vow nonviolent disobedience to shut down Congressional Baseball Game

“We refuse to watch politicians literally play games while the world is burning,” says one 19-year-old organizer.

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UPDATE (July 27, 5:54 PM): On Wednesday afternoon, Senator Joe Manchin announced a deal with Senate Democrats on a reconciliation package that includes climate spending. A Now or Never organizer tells the Independent that the deal “shouldn’t change any logistics” for Thursday’s planned shutdown of the Congressional Baseball Game. There may be a small shift in messaging.

As thousands die in unprecedented heat waves that show no sign of abating, Congress plays ball. The annual Congressional Baseball Game is scheduled for Thursday at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., funded by enough corporate sponsors to deck out a NASCAR jacket, including BP and Chevron.

Now or Never, a coalition of climate and environmental justice advocacy groups, vows to shut it down.

“The Democrats need to go all-out on climate or they’re going to lose our generation, whether that be to apathy and despair, or to heatwaves and wildfires,” says organizer Vincent Vertuccio, 19, a freshman at George Washington University. “It’s depraved and dangerous to block climate action. And it is really one of those things where you have to do everything you can to fight for it.”

Meaningful climate reform is stalled in Congress. The Senate is just one vote away from passing a reconciliation bill. All Republican senators are in opposition, as well as one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. 

By most accountings, Manchin’s opposition means significant climate legislation will not pass Congress this year. Biden’s Build Back Better proposal, touted by supporters as a way to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels in 2030, earmarks $555 billion toward climate efforts.

Organizers aren’t ready to give up. They’re going to pull out all the stops, hoping that, in turn, Biden will pull out the stops, on a life and death issue.

Organizers are not releasing specifics of the action other than to say it will be nonviolent, and that it will “shut down” the game. They demand that President Biden declare a climate emergency and that Democratic leaders break out the party whip to get climate legislation through during the reconciliation period, which ends Sept. 30. 

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The Now or Never coalition includes Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Beyond Extreme Energy, and West Virginia Rising, among others. It will conduct nonviolent civil disobedience across the country through September, unless Congress passes meaningful climate legislation.

West Virginia Rising led an April action to disrupt operations at Grant Town Power Plant in Marion County. The plant receives low-grade coal waste from Enersystems, which is owned by Manchin’s son. According to CNN, Senator Manchin profited over $500 thousand from Enersystem last year.

As of Tuesday, organizers declared some 250 people have committed to taking action. 

“We’re a democratic group and we organize in the open for a reason,” says Vertuccio. “We certainly screen out anybody who’s a risk or who’s unsafe. And, you know, we’re not advertising or telegraphing our precise plans in advance for a reason. But I think open organizing allows us to have the most diverse, large, and inclusive coalition we possibly can.”

Vertuccio is also an organizer with Shutdown D.C. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, the organization offered money to service workers for sightings of conservative Supreme Court justices. This manifested most notably earlier this month when abortion rights advocates interrupted Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s dinner at a Morton’s Steakhouse. 

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Local Congressman Mike Doyle, retiring at the end of this term, is one of two Democratic coaches for Thursday night’s game. In a statement provided to Kim Lyons for the Pittsburgh City Paper, Doyle said that he believes it would be more productive for organizers to “organize in these Congressional districts and states, where we have these Republicans that refuse to give us even a single vote — which is all we need, at least one more vote — in the Senate to do reconciliation.”

Organizers argue that Biden still has leverage over Manchin that hasn’t been pursued. Why not strip him of committee assignments, they argue, or exert pressure on the construction certificate for the over $6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline?

Vertuccio says he takes inspiration from past climate and pipeline actions, including a sit-in Monday at Senator Chuck Schumer’s office, in which six staff members were arrested. Beyond Extreme Energy will also undertake a separate action Thursday morning at a public meeting to extend construction permitting for the Mountain Valley Pipeline

If Biden doesn’t take meaningful action, organizers are prepared to take more dramatic, non-violent actions in the months to come, including a citywide action in Washington, D.C. on September 30th.

“I think it’s unlikely I get arrested [Thursday],” says Vertuccio, “but it wouldn’t be the first time. And I’m excited to do whatever it takes to put my body on the line, to demand climate action and make sure that my generation has a livable future.”