This past summer, I had the opportunity to work with 350 Action to work on a couple historic ballot initiatives to restrict fracking in Colorado for the health and safety of our communities and our climate. It was a noble effort led by local Coloradans to take back their power and democratize our energy future. To no surprise, the climate movement was against all odds, as the oil and gas industry spent upwards of about $15 million to defeat the ballot initiatives. Alongside this, they ran an intense and aggressive voter suppression campaign, targeting voters through a paid harassment firm called Black Diamond, and through road signs and other mediums to get their message across. Female and elderly canvassers were specifically targeted, as they would often come up to these canvassers with filming and recording technologies as an intimidation tactic. Yet this upsurge of intense confrontation from the oil and gas industry helped me see the power of unified people standing together for a cause and the threat the industry felt from us gives me hope that we have come one step closer to defeating this corrupt industry in Colorado.
Having the Secretary of State rule that there were not enough valid signatures only provides the Colorado climate justice movement with a key insight that it needs to continue to build more power through this election cycle. Besides the fact that the youth climate justice movement has an ability to build power through showing up this election cycle, it’s estimated that the Colorado Oil and Gas industry is gearing up to successfully pass initiative 71, a ballot issue that will make it virtually impossible to pass constitutional amendments unless the ballot campaign has a whole lot of cash. Initiative 71 would make it so that a Constitutional amendment could only get on the ballot if signatures were collected from 2% of registered voters in each of the state’s 35 senate districts to place the initiative on the ballot. Once on the ballot, the bar would be set higher to pass a Constitutional amendment compared to a law change. In order to amend the state Constitution, ballot issues would need 55% (instead of 50%) of votes to pass. Amendment 71 rigs the initiative process for the rich, by raising the price tag significantly to successfully reach the ballot and makes it extremely difficult for volunteer-led efforts. It’s already challenging enough to make the ballot in Colorado with the average price tag for reaching the ballot to be around $3 million. Less than a quarter of the signature campaigns reach the required amount to make it on the ballot.
Colorado residents and elected officials are beginning to respond. Colorado Representatives Joe Salazar and Mike Foote have already come out against 71, as well as Regent at Large candidate Alice Madden and Longmont City Council member Joan Peck. Colorado residents are discussing organized efforts to defeat 71 in order to not allow the flood of fossil fuel money in politics to drown out the voices of everyday Coloradans. The ballot initiative process is one of the last avenues available to everyday Coloradans for true democratic reform.
This is why I think it’s so important that every Coloradan, especially the youth, come out to vote this election season. As a fairly cynical and disillusioned young person who believes systematic change is what is required for a just transition away from fossil fuels, I never thought I’d find myself committed to getting out the vote this Fall. Yet I am excited to dive deep into this work this election cycle because not only do I need the climate justice movement to wield power to defeat every candidate and issue that opposes our vision, but the youth climate justice movement has an opportunity to show that we will not disengage from this political moment and leave power on the table.
Our generation must fight for ourselves and for future generations because the reality of the situation is that we live in dire times where all our dreams of a livable future are at stake. This election is more than about endorsing candidates, it’s about coming together as a unified movement to straddle the nuance between the world we desire and the world as it is. This place of nuance is a window of opportunity to build an even larger base of support for an intersectional climate justice movement, endorsing the political power our movements have already built. We need to continue to push officials to be accountable to our movements, and ensure that candidates like Trump, and initiatives like 71, never have a shot of becoming our new political playing ground. Movements are built to change the weather, push the envelope of what’s possible, but that will be incredibly difficult if Trump gets elected or 71 passes. I’m ready to embrace the gray of this political moment.
Michaela Mujica-Steiner is a native Coloradan and state-wide organizer for 350 Action. Join her on September 29th at 7:30 EST to hear about how the fossil fuel divestment movement is getting political this election.