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    A Blue-Green Wave

    By Peter Gallotta–

    The Golden State is on fire. Just a few hours north of San Francisco, the Mendocino Complex Fire has been raging since late July. It is now considered the largest in California’s history and has burned 300,000 acres—an area roughly the size of Los Angeles.

    As someone who’s lived in California for only ten years, I’ve learned that wildfires have long been a part of this state’s history. But even a relative newcomer can recognize that the frequency and intensity of these recent fires are not normal. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, four of the five largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the past six years alone.

    The scientific community all but agrees—global temperatures are rising and the effects are wreaking havoc on our planet. Climate change is showing up across the United States in rising sea levels, category four hurricanes, unbearable heat waves and other extreme weather events.

    But there’s one place it often doesn’t show up: the voting booth.

    Recently I was invited to hear a presentation by a non-partisan, non-profit organization called the Environmental Voter Project. As someone who spends my days working on environmental policy for the City of San Francisco and my nights moonlighting as a progressive political organizer and activist, it was a melding of my two worlds. And what I learned was startling: environmentalists don’t vote.

    Over 20 million registered voters in the United States list climate as their first or second priority issue. But only half of them turn out to vote. In the 2016 presidential election alone, roughly 10 million environmentalists did not make it to the polls. This is frustrating, not only because these voters could have tipped the scale of the election, but also because they could have actually helped to change national discourse and policy actions on climate.

    According to the Environmental Voter Project, voters consistently rank climate change and other environmental issues among their lowest priorities in each election. The results of a poll of likely voters in August 2016 saw “Climate Change & the Environment” ranked 15th out of 19 issues. But who’s missing here? Those 10 million environmentalists who didn’t vote.

    When it comes to American elections, no one spends precious campaign resources polling or talking to non-voters to see what they care about. The world is run by those who show up. When environmentalists don’t vote, they can’t demand environmental leadership, and politicians have no reason to supply it. As wildfires burn and heatwaves scorch, climate change will continue to stagnate at 15th on the to do list.  

    Yet there remains a sleeping green giant in this country and groups like the Environmental Voter Project (EVP) are trying to awaken it. There are 21 states with enormous populations of non-voting environmentalists. Right now, EVP has specifically identified 2.4 million “super” environmentalists across six states, and their goal is to shift 100,000 of them into voters this November. In states with key swing Congressional districts, this green wave of additional voters may make all the difference.

    But it’s not just environmentalists who need to be mobilized. Last week, the Pew Research Center released a new report on the 2016 election revealing roughly 30 percent of eligible voters did not turn out. Pew’s data also shows that almost half of non-voters were people of color and two-thirds were under the age of 50. More than half of those who didn’t vote earned less than $30,000 a year.

    The sleeping giant just got a whole lot bigger. If we’re going to fight back against this climate denying, anti-immigrant and racist President, we’ll need to connect the dots and bring environmentalists, young people, low-income people and communities of color together.

    On September 8th, we will. Here in San Francisco, and in cities throughout the country, people will take to the streets and march for climate, jobs and justice. While we can’t undo the damage that has already been done, we can—and must—awaken the sleeping giant and fight fire with people power. We must let our nation’s elected leaders know that climate justice is a top priority.

    In 2018, the easiest, greenest and most sustainable action that you can take is not just remembering to bring your reusable bag. It’s your vote.

    Peter Gallotta is a 30-something LGBT political activist holding on to the city that he loves thanks to rent control and two-for-one happy hour specials. He is a former President of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club and currently serves as an appointed member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and an elected delegate to the California Democratic Party.