Grassroots Climate Organizers Led the Way to Scrapping Manchin’s Dirty Deal

Frontline climate leaders just secured a huge win by stopping West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s pipeline bill from weaseling into the Senate’s key funding bill. In the face of fierce opposition, conservative Democrat Manchin asked Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) to remove this “permitting reform” bill from the continuing resolution just hours before they voted on its fate.

It is hard to overstate the importance of frontline organizers achieving this national victory. Frontline leaders joined forces together to lobby and call their representatives, tell their stories, and rally in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, with the support of “Big Green” environmentalists. This was possible through years of relationship building between frontline organisations and, notably efforts to repair the relationships amongst grassroots organizations and Big Greens. While there is still much to be done on the latter, this was a significant step in which big organizations followed the lead and lifted their voices even though grassroots voices were not included in discussions about the Inflation Reduction Act, which many of these Big Greens proclaimed a victory.

Manchin’s bill threatened to fast-track the pipeline I spent my days fighting to stop. Before I started fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, I was a national climate organizer for, and before that I was a global climate advocate for the World Resources Institute. I have seen many wins as well as losses in the climate movements, but this one struck me as special.

I tried to ignore the possibility that Manchin would side-swap his side deal. It threatened to undermine the core purpose of my work, which was to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline. After a long day at work, I fell asleep in my living room one night and began to consider what was at stake. What came to my mind as I watched the MVP fight was the nearly a decade-long battle to stop the pipeline’s steamrolling through Appalachia. I was able to see the faces of the people I fight alongside, who have been involved from the beginning and have dedicated their lives to stopping this pipeline. These people have given up their lives as outdoor adventurers and farmers to stop the pipeline from destroying their mountain and people. It was at that moment that I felt angry at Sen. Joe Manchin’s willingness to sacrifice his constituents in order to fast-track a pipeline during a climate emergency to make more money from an industry that was dying. Then despair — and I broke down into tears.

My partner, who was sitting next to me, was shocked. “You’re usually so realistic. You usually say, ‘I don’t know if we’ll win but the one thing I can do is try.’” And it’s true. As a queer person of color from the Global South, I’m used to seeing communities like mine put in losing positions, so I stay prepared for that. But I felt like I had been carrying an insurmountable weight for weeks that I hadn’t let myself acknowledge, and acknowledging it felt earth-shattering.

I joined the Mountain Valley Pipeline campaign in part because the people of West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina that this pipeline targets are constantly sacrificed for political or financial gain. I have witnessed the same thing happen to my communities over many centuries. I have formed lifelong friendships with this moment and the land that the pipeline threatens. The moment I broke down in tears in my living area was also the moment that I realized how important this frontline fight meant for me.

My reason for being in the climate movement, is to make sure voices like mine, from communities like mine, are heard. This fight against Manchin’s dirty deal felt like a moment where they finally were. In September, I was involved in organizing a rally in D.C. to stop this dealThis rally featured Appalachian and Indigenous, Black, and working-class organizers who are on the frontlines of fighting environmental injustice. It was historic to see them on the stage, along with 600 others and representing hundreds of thousand of people from across the nation. It’s not often that people like me and the folks I work with get to see ourselves and our power represented in Washington, D.C., but those leaders traveled across the country to make sure we were heard, and many Congresspeople joined our opposition, helping us secure this win.

This win has made climate activism stronger. This is because we have followed the lead of those on the frontlines. We must continue to do so in order to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis and ensure a sustainable future.