Parents Power Past Coal at Whitman College

Parents Power Past Coal at Whitman College

CCN affiliate school Whitman College participated in Power Shift’s 100 Actions for 100% Clean Energy last month. Here’s a write-up of the event, originally featured on

On October 23, Whitman College students called into question two kinds of power: the dirty electricity derived from oil and coal that is shamefully prevalant across America today, and the power wielded by big business to keep that coal and oil at the forefront of the nation’s energy landscape. The Parents Power Past Coal rally brought three speakers–two members of the Whitman Campus Climate Challenge (CCC) and one representative of the Sierra Student Coalition–to whip a crowd of students and their parents into action against Washington State coal exports and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The centerpiece of the event was a “human map” or “walk of shame” in which 50 participants, each holding signs representing one of the fifty states, stepped across a model pipeline in response to questions about dirty energy: “Cross if there is a coal plant in your state. If there has been a hydraulic fracking accident in your state. If Keystone XL will pass through your state,” etc. Participants from three generations were shocked and appalled by facts they did not know before–statistics that drove home America’s continued use of coal as a crutch, and the sheer number of lives that would be devastated if the pipeline spilled into the Ogallala aquifer. However, the students, the parents, and their parents were ultimately uplifted, as the human map began to show the rise of wind, solar, and nuclear energy, and the wide breadth of the anti-dirty energy movement.

The event’s organizers designed it not only for information and motivation but for real, palpable impact. Parents Power Past Coal resulted in 43 signatures on a petition to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, to be sent directly to President Barack Obama; and 40 signatures on a petition to end coal exports in Washington, to be sent directly to Washington State Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark. The CCC easily found 50 participants for the Walk of Shame, who then surged to write letters to both Obama and Goldmark, exhorting them to keep their promises and take the steps necessary to save America and the Earth from coal and oil.

Whitman’s event was the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, and the Climate Challenge is already taking steps to keep the momentum going. Along with the petitions and letters to Obama and Goldmark, members have mailed a press release to local newspapers and TV and radio stations, and are beginning an effort to have the college’s president and faculty make a statement against coal exports in Washington. With the Parents Power Past Coal rally, Whitman students and parents took the first step towards turning the tide against the money and influence of big coal and oil.

–Sam Chapman

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