In a win for climate justice, the Biden administration announced a pause last week on the approval of new liquefied natural gas, or LNG, terminals in the United States. Long touted as a climate solution by the fossil fuel industry, LNG is better known among activists as “fossil gas,” given its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Although existing LNG facilities remain in operation, most new gas terminals were slated to be built in the Gulf region, where communities of color already bear the costs of environmental racism. While the decision has been listed as one of the Biden administration’s climate accomplishments, it is a huge win for the activists, communities and grassroots organizations that have been organizing and agitating for such an outcome with the #StopLNG campaign.
Among those organizations is Third Act. Founded in 2021 by journalist and environmental activist Bill McKibben, Third Act organizes Americans over 60 years of age in climate and democracy actions. There are 24 location-specific working groups across the U.S. with more in formation — and five affinity groups to harness the talents of lawyers or creatives, for example. For the past several months, Third Act has been involved in the #StopLNG campaign, and were scheduled to undertake three days of nonviolent civil disobedience at the Department of Energy in early February. In light of the Biden administration’s decision, the action has been canceled, but their organizing — especially for the upcoming election — continues.
I spoke with B Fulkerson, Third Act’s national organizer. A fifth-generation Nevadan and a lifelong activist, Fulkerson — now 63-years-old — began volunteering with Third Act in the wake of the Caldor and Dixie fires in 2021. We discussed the organizing that led to this decision, the power of nonviolent direct action, and why it’s important to stop and celebrate success.
As an organization, how did Third Act react to the Biden administration’s recent decision on new LNG terminals?
Our reaction went from shock to elation. Third Act — alongside frontline leaders such as Roishetta Sibley Ozane, Gwen Jones and a number of groups from throughout the country — took on some of the biggest, nastiest, richest, most powerful forces in the world and did an amazing job. It is a beautiful example of people and various sectors of the climate movement coming together and taking something that was really arcane and somewhat disconnected from the conversation five months ago, and kicking their asses and leaving them crying in the gutter. It feels really good. We all feel empowered.
How did you plan for the #StopLNG campaign over the past five months?
Five months ago, Bill McKibben brought it up at one of our team meetings. He said that the Biden administration was getting ready to take a look at these massive fossil gas terminals that were going to be built, and it was probably something Third Act could weigh in on. Also, if we went deep and hard and fast — we might win. So we talked about it. We were in the middle of our Costco campaign, a Citibank campaign, and we were starting to get our work together for the 2024 elections, but we decided this could be a moment for us. We usually have a saying at Third Act: Because we’re all a bunch of geezers, we go slow to go fast. Well, this was one of those moments where we had to go fast to go fast. People across our team really stepped up as other organizations throughout the country did as well.
In terms of planning, I think this was a really great example of an inside-outside strategy. Bill, because of who he is, has the ability to have conversations with Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and other people in the White House in order to gather intelligence to inform our strategy. We also have people who have been involved with the Mountain Valley Pipeline fight and involved very deeply in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience. Because of that, we started a nonviolent direct action training series in November, which was in the works for months before that. We knew that looking back at nonviolent history that big things don’t really happen without the serious threat of mass civil disobedience, so we knew that had to be a part of it, as well. The Climate Disobedience Center was involved in helping us with these trainings and getting hundreds of folks mobilized and ready to risk arrest during a three-day sit-in at the Department of Energy. I was really thrilled at the level of support we got from people who were willing to do that.
Do you think the three days of nonviolent civil disobedience planned as part of the #StopLNG campaign was the tipping point that led to the Biden administration’s decision?
Absolutely. Definitely. We were quite clear to the administration that we were going to be out there for three days with 500 people getting arrested and more in support. They did not want that to happen. Absent the threat of mass civil disobedience, I don’t think the administration would have gone this way. You could also say that absent the leadership of the Gulf Coast folks who are on the front lines it would not have happened, and absent some of the great communications work other groups did it also would not have happened. It’s a great example of the whole being much greater than the sum of the parts and really being able to accomplish big things together.
Given that the decision arrived before the planned actions in D.C., how has that impacted Third Act’s #StopLNG campaign?
Well, what we’re going to do now is pivot. Our nonviolent direct action trainers are still going to do a deep nonviolent civil disobedience training for our Third Act community in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas, where there is some really strong interest. Then we’re going to hold two additional trainings across the country. The idea is to use nonviolent direct action as a key strategy and a tactic in the fight to reduce carbon emissions — and to take on the fossil fuel industry whether that’s Citi Bank or other enemies. Frankly, I’m a little bit disappointed, as it would have been my third time getting arrested in D.C. But you know, what? It’s a good problem to have. Sometimes, as Bill says, the best actions are the ones you don’t have to have.
Prior to the #StopLNG campaign, was civil disobedience part of Third Act’s strategy?
I wouldn’t have come to Third Act if nonviolent direct action was not part of our DNA, and it’s something that we’ve been talking about and knowing we need to have in our quiver for a long time. However, we’re only two and a half years old, so this was going to be the first time we were going to do it as an organization. We also don’t want to suggest that unless you’re getting arrested, you’re not really a climate activist — making phone calls and knocking on doors is just as important. But we know that this is an essential tactic and strategy that we’ll have to employ going forward.
How does Third Act take time to celebrate, reflect or learn from a win like this?
Last night, we had a call with hundreds of our Third Actors and Gulf region frontline leaders. It was pretty emotional and pretty telling about how this is a moment for the Third Act to be in service. There was celebration and there was some debrief involved. On Tuesday, we had our first team meeting since the decision came down and we spent a long time going around talking about what this means and celebrating. We’ve all been part of those groups where it’s like, “okay, we did the thing, let’s move on.” We don’t stop to take a breath, let alone, say “hey, what was the meaning of that experience we had together? Let’s harvest that.” But again, we’re old, we have to stop, we have to rest, we have to look back. At Third Act, we slow down.
What other organizing has been happening alongside the #StopLNG campaign?
Citibank is our number one target. They’re the biggest funder of fossil fuel expansion, so we’d like to take them down. Part of it has been going through Costco because a lot of Third Actors have Costco credit cards. So we got 30,000 signatures and did an action at the Costco shareholders [meeting] a couple of weeks ago. Costco is famous for its sheet cakes, so we got a whole bunch of Third Actors to dress up in the Costco aprons and uniforms, the name tags, and delivered a sheet cake and the 30,000 signatures to the Costco headquarters in Kirkland [Washington]. Outside the headquarters, there were songs and a mobile billboard — so that when the shareholders went in, they saw the campaign in bright colors and letters. Meanwhile, across the country, Third Act working groups met with the branch managers at their local Costcos and delivered mock signatures.
Following that, the Costco CEO said at a board meeting, “We hear you and we’re in conversations with Citibank about these concerns.” Now, I don’t know what that means, but for the third largest retail store in the country to acknowledge our campaign is pretty big. We’ve talked about what this means in view of that campaign, in view of Citibank and where we’re going to go next. We haven’t made any big decisions yet, but we have to decide as we’ve got a lot of eager people out there. It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that our strategy is sound and that our targets have a reasonable chance of folding if we employ those tactics and strategies.
You mentioned that there are local working groups across the country. How do the working groups operate in relation to the national organization?
We have 35 working groups right now and about eight more in formation in key states across the country. They are all volunteers, so we’re getting hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours from people all over the country. We ask that the groups do 60 percent of their work on our campaigns — climate and democracy — and then a working group can spend 40 percent or less of their time on a local campaign that they’re interested in, say a community garden or something that’s related to climate or democracy.
There are also five affinity based groups for lawyers, educators, trade unionists, creatives and people of faith. In these groups people come together and lean into their profession to get Third Act strategies and campaigns implemented within their sector. For example, the retired trade unionists bring a real union organizing mentality to us about rigor, discipline and research.
Could you elaborate on how trade union organizing informs Third Act’s work?
One of the main things we can learn from trade unions is the approach to research. In Nevada, the reason the culinary union is the biggest, baddest outfit in the state — and brings the biggest gaming companies to their heels — is because they have a research department that’s working to find out the vulnerabilities of each of those companies. When it comes time for negotiations, they hit them and they hit them hard. So research is key. They also bring relational organizing to Third Act. The one-on-one is absolutely essential to organizing as change happens through relationships and undergirds the work that we do. A lot of that comes out of a union background.
Third Act collaborates, backs-up and supports youth-led climate initiatives. How is organizing alongside youth different from organizing those over 60 years of age?
One of our working principles is to be humble and that’s really essential when geezers and boomers come into spaces with youth, especially Gen Z, who are primarily Black, Indigenous and people of color. We carry all our power, privilege, unconscious biases and our unearned advantage of those spaces and want to run the show, but it just does not work. You do a lot more listening when you work with youth, a hell of a lot more listening.
With our Third Actors, people are dying and they’re taking care of their loved ones who are dying. I have hundreds of calls a month, several of them canceled because a loved one has died, or they have to take care of a loved one or go to hospital. It’s a really tender moment in our lives. We don’t have time to waste. There’s a volunteer from Texas who encapsulated it really well. He said, “I just want to go out right.” We know that we’re closer to the exit than the entrance — and not that that makes us any more virtuous than young people, no way, but we don’t want to make any more mistakes. We want to get this shit right before we go.
Why is offering training such an integral part of Third Act?
Training is a huge part of what we do especially with so many new activists. We have people who have been teachers for 30 years, for example, and they’ve never been an activist before. Now they want to do something. Our culture says, shut up, you’ve got wrinkles (especially if they’re women). We don’t want to look at you, you know, disappear. But we’re saying, this is the best time of your life. Come on out and we’ll build community, we’ll build relationships. This will be great for your health, the health of the community, our country and our planet. We’re going to provide these trainings on how to do it, we’re not just going to say go forth and conquer.
We have a racial justice program that teaches our leaders how to build strategic collaborations with youth and Black, Indigenous and people of color communities, and how to recognize our unconscious biases, how to have authentic dialogue, how to check our privilege, our power and the unearned advantages that we have. We do “how to lobby” trainings, “how to organize” trainings, and “how to do one-on-one” trainings. Most of our stuff is available online on our Vimeo page.
There’s also a lot of peer learning that takes place within our working groups. One of our greatest volunteers is a woman named Lonnie Ritter Hall who was a school teacher for 35 years. With Roe v. Wade overturned, she wanted to do something, and two years ago she went to her very first protest. She is now our lead national volunteer and does training sessions along with a whole team of other elders to teach people how to run a Zoom call. Another team she runs is “how to work Google Docs.” But we also know there are some outstanding training sessions offered by groups like People’s Action or the Climate Disobedience Center and we send our people to those places as well. We have a real generous spirit and want to share our love and take theirs in.
There’s an upcoming training about hope and joy. Why is this important to activism and organizing?
These are times of deep despair and we don’t want to sugarcoat everything because things are bleak. There’s no doubt about it, but it doesn’t do our bodies — let alone the movement — any good to go around looking like Eeyore all the time. Bill also says that the key to getting people to work together is having fun while doing it and putting some joy into that work. We want to build organizing homes where people do feel that joy, so why not tackle that head on? Why not talk about the grief and the despair that is absolutely part of this, but at the same time acknowledge the joy in the connections that we’re making with each other. There’s joy in knowing that there’s still beauty out there on this big, beautiful planet, and there’s joy knowing that people are still going to be able to love each other no matter what.
What are the next steps for Third Act?
The next thing is to stop a goddamn fascist from getting elected in this country. We’ve been leaning hard into the elections and getting all of our Third Actors involved and engaged in key ways: making phone calls, knocking on doors, getting out the vote, doing whatever we need to do to ensure Biden wins. We also have a campaign called “Power Up Communities,” and it’s geared towards getting our Third Actors engaged with other efforts in their state to influence the public utilities commissions.
They are the ones that are going to be leading the renewable energy transition at the state level and implementing the Inflation Reduction Act, but have been mostly insulated from public scrutiny. We want to piggyback on the work other groups are doing and get our Third Actors involved.
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