For A Climate Activist, Rootscamp's Jarrett Appearance Was Chance To Change The Conversation
BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, November 30 2012
If anyone was wondering whether President Obama now has the unqualified support of the digitally-enabled organizers who helped get him re-elected, Brad Johnson demonstrated for some Friday that the answer would be no.
President Obama's Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, a keynote speaker at the New Organizing Institute's semi-annual Rootscamp get-together, was just launching into a bit about the fiscal cliff, and appealing for help from the assembled group of 2,000 when Johnson, a climate change activist, shot up from his chair in the front row of the cavernous ballroom, and shouted: "We need you fight climate change!"
Jarrett tried to ignore him, but Johnson, Campaign Director for Forecast the Facts, kept going.
"We need you to fight climate pollution! You're opening more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico!"
There were a few moments of uncertain silence. Some in the audience shouted that Johnson should show Jarrett some "respect." Some started booing.
"I have something in here just for you Let me finish my remarks, and then if you want to talk about climate change afterwards ..." Jarrett responded.
Johnson kept going.
"I want the President of the United States to talk about climate change! I want the president of the United States to talk about global warming, and about climate pollution that's killing New York City, that's killing America!"
The other half of the room, it seemed, started clapping, amidst some ongoing boos.
Johnson finished and thanked the audience. Jarrett carried on with her remarks as if nothing had happened, after she told Johnson that she didn't think he would get very far by shouting. After she finished and got off the podium, she beckoned Johnson, told him that he needn't have shouted, and invited him to come and talk to her in the White House.
Johnson came back to the front-row seat, where friends and others came to talk to him. He talked about the urgency of the issue, and started crying.
Johnson's outburst highlights a fascinating question that haunts Obama's administration in its second term: Will he and his top lieutenants do more to listen to some of the more passionately-progressive wing of his party, many of whom worked to get him re-elected?
Obama officials talk a lot about "micro-listening" and figuring out what moves voters, and they did a lot of that at Rootscamp on Friday, but as has been noted by Van Jones (who served within the administration for nine months himself) and Daniel Kreiss, there was a feeling after he was elected that his supporter base was converted into just another lobbying arm for the White House' policies, instead of being truly empowered in the process of setting an agenda. To be clear, Johnson himself had spent the election challenging both presidential candidates to re-emphasize climate change and make it a top policy priority rather than being part of his activist army. But in a way that's the point: Johnson charges that climate change has essentially dropped off the policy radar for Obama, and he wants the President to make a much bigger effort to reverse the process.
His outburst, he said in an interview, was an effort to change the conversation.
He's achieved the first step of the process: He said that he fully intends to take Jarrett up on her offer. He said he'll be speaking on behalf of the 50,000 members of his e-mail list.