The “Vote Your Future: Vote Climate” drive focuses on young people. Gore’s rally at historically black Texas Southern University showed Texas is seen as an electoral battleground and site for environmental justice appeals.
Texas Climate News will be reporting throughout 2020 on events and trends at the nexus of climate change, citizen activism and electoral politics. This is the first in that occasional series of articles.
It was cool and cloudy with a little drizzle now and then, but the weather didn’t dampen the spirits at a combination voter-registration and climate-action rally last month at historically black Texas Southern University in Houston.
Al Gore, the former vice president and a world-famous climate-action campaigner, had come to TSU to kick off a national campaign to register voters concerned about climate change and then inspire them to vote in November.
Gore was introduced by Robert Bullard, a professor at TSU whose sociological research and activism, dating to the 1970s, is credited with catalyzing the environmental justice movement.
The event exemplified several intersecting political currents in this national election year:
- Texas is recognized as an emerging battleground state, no longer always reliably Republican.
- Climate change has risen to the top tier of concern for many voters – especially Democrats.
- Young people are increasingly driving the activism and public discourse aimed at mobilizing those concerns for political action.
- After decades of discussion about the need for such coalitions, environmental groups are commonly partnering with other reform organizations focused on issues such as social and racial justice.
“Vote Your Future: Vote Climate,” the campaign launched at TSU by the Gore-founded Climate Reality Action Fund, will target six states and include his visits to other college campuses. Besides Texas, the project will concentrate on five states more commonly regarded as battlegrounds in presidential elections – Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida and Nevada.
With his revved-up delivery of a campaign-style speech at the TSU rally, Gore seemed at times like he was trying to match the booming projection of a DJ’s preceding tunes. The address melded several themes.
He linked environmental justice – “not only in the United States but everywhere in the world” – and climate change. He explained climate-science basics. He highlighted Houston’s vulnerability to extreme weather spinning off from the disrupted climate, including “rain bombs” from “the Gulf of Mexico, one of the fastest-warming bodies of water in the entire world.” He stressed Texas’ important roles as climate-change cause and cure, decrying the oil industry’s “propaganda campaigns” but praising the state’s national leadership in wind energy and growth in solar power. And he urged his audience to register and vote.
“Environmental justice has to be at the center of how we understand the climate crisis that’s unfolding,” Gore told the rally. “The basic facts are not that complicated, and neither is the remedy. The remedy is to have a dramatic increase in voter participation.”
Gore hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but he made clear that he sees defeating Donald Trump, his opposite on climate issues, as crucial.
“Democracy has never been more at risk in the modern history of the United States of America than it is today. We have an attorney general who’s the gravedigger for the rule of law. We have a neo-monarchist. We have a threat to the survival of representative democracy that calls for a response.”
The national voter campaign is going to be a partnership project, he said. “This isn’t a branding exercise for the Climate Reality Action Fund. This is a team sport.”
After his talk, Gore mingled with the attendees, greeting and praising and posing for photos with representatives of different groups that had set up voter-registration and literature tables. They included the NAACP, Sunrise Movement, MOVE Texas and Citizens’ Environmental Coalition of Houston.
Bill Dawson is the founder and editor of Texas Climate News.