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Scrapbook: Connecting the Climate Dots at the Kentucky Derby

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Sierra Club Scrapbook

May 18, 2012

Connecting the Climate Dots at the Kentucky Derby


Louisville is famously the home of the Kentucky Derby. It is also home to the Louisville Gas and Electric Company, which operates three coal plants in the city proper and one in nearby Trimble County. All three have been pumping carbon and mercury pollution into the air and water for decades.

Nearly 200,000 people attend the Derby at Churchill Downs, and more than 100,000 customarily attend the prequel to the main event the day before. So the Sierra Club and took their "Connect the Dots" message about carbon pollution and greenhouse gases to Churchill Downs.


"We decided that while hundreds of thousands of people were in Louisville to enjoy our beautiful city and state, we'd take the opportunity to educate visitors about the threats dirty coal-burning power plants, mountaintop removal mining, and coal ash present to our quality of life and our environment," says Sierra Club organizer Thomas Pearce, below at right.


With giant puppets named Fossil Fool and Queen Green, hats made to look like smokestacks, T-shirts reading "Join the Race to Protect the Race," and the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal banner, activists engaged thousands of Derby-goers in conversation, handing out literature and giving them stickers to wear inside the racetrack.


Drew Foley, Chair of the Greater Louisville Sierra Club, and Louisville-based actor/director Ben Evans, collaborated with organizers to host the action. Tom Pearce, who worked the crowd on Derby Day and at the prequel, describes how it all came together:

On Saturday,, the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign, Occupy Louisville, and Sierra Club volunteers including Ben Evans gathered at Jackie Green's bicycle shop on 4th and Iowa, a short distance from Churchill Downs, and donned large puppets, crazy hats with smoke stacks and wind turbines on them, signs and banners, "Save the Race" stickers with horse names on them, and postcards—created by Kentucky Sierra Club organizer Alex Desha and longtime Cumberland Chapter volunteer and Club director Lane Boldman—to gather comments to the EPA supporting clean water regulations pertaining to mountaintop removal mining.

We marched to the Derby and took the message straight to the main entrance for VIPs outside Churchill Downs. It was a powerful action. Volunteers engaged attendees to wear stickers containing facts about global warming with the "Connect the Dots" theme. Hundreds of people took and wore them, and volunteers engaged thousands of Derby-goers on the issues of climate change and carbon pollution.


Alex and I gathered about 200 postcard comments to the EPA asking that the EPA continue to deny mountaintop removal mine permits that threaten streams and rivers. We positioned ourselves along the quarter-mile line to get into the infield for several hours, talked to people about the destruction that is occurring in eastern Kentucky as a result of MTR mining, and gave out climate change dots to people who signed the petition. We got a lot of great responses, and some negative. All in all it was great.

When we first arrived, we marched to the main gate of Churchill Downs next to the famous statue of the Kentucky Derby legend Barbaro and engaged the crowd for as long as we could, handing out dots and getting petitions signed. Then Churchill Downs staff told us we had to leave the property, unlike the day before at the prequel. Maybe Louisville Gas and Electric asked them to get rid of us? Altogether we were there for five hours.


Afterward, Drew Foley and about 10 other volunteers went into the infield as paying Derby-goers and unfurled a banner that read "Stop Horsin' Around With Climate" in the infield that could be viewed from the air. We don't know if it made it on TV but folks in the stands saw it. (That's the banner spread out in the infield, below.)


Then Sierra Club member and local filmmaker Ben Evans, creator of the environmental documentary YERT (Your Environmental Road Trip) went into the paddock with hats that had smokestacks and wind turbines on them and actually garnered press attention. James Bruggers of the Louisville Courier Journal posted a video interview of Ben and Bob engaging Derby-goers on his blog, and numerous media outlets covered them in pictures of "bizarre hats" as far away as Kansas and the Kentucky news wire.

That's Ben on the left and Sierra Club member Bob Bush on the right, below.


As the day wore on I wore the Beyond Coal banner as a cape and got lots of fun comments. It was a hot, humid, but very fun day. No mishaps and tens of thousands got our message.


Watch this 350.og video of the Kentucky Derby Connect the Dots rally.


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