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Potsdam protest links money in politics with climate change

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POTSDAM — A group of north country residents and students are connecting the dots between climate change and corporate influence on politics in a Saturday rally.

The rally, appropriately named “Connect the Dots,” is part of an international series of protests meant to link changing regional weather patterns to global climate change, but Heather Sullivan-Catlin, a SUNY Potsdam professor involved in organizing the event, is focused on the problem’s source.

“The central link is a lack of real democracy, if you look at public opinion, people want health care, people want something done about climate change, people want protections for workers, people want us out of wars where we don’t belong,” she said. “The reason people are not getting what we want is that we are not well-represented in Washington and in the state houses around the country.”

Ms. Sullivan-Catlin said the proliferation of corporate money in American political campaigns has reduced the value of an individual vote.

“Look at the amount of money that is being spent on campaigns,” she said. “If corporations are able to make larger contributions than private individuals, than how do we have democracy? It is not a real democracy if you have to be a millionaire to be in the (United States) Senate, which is the case.”

The same corporations able to funnel money into political campaigns derive benefit from government spending and tax incentives, said Ms. Sullivan-Catlin.

“We know that the activities of the fossil fuel industries are hastening the global climate change problem, but we are still handing them between $10 billion and $40 billion a year in subsidies — and they are an industry that is already making historic profits,” she said.

The event is a collaboration between two movements that might not seem related: 350.org, a movement by environmentalist William E. McKibbens to raise awareness on climate issues, and the 99 Percent Spring, a protest movement organized by liberal nonprofit group MoveOn.org and based on the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011.

Ms. Sullivan-Catlin said north country residents can see the progress of climate change first hand.

“Entire industries that our economy depends on, everything from maple syrup to ice fishing and snowmobiling, those will be things of the past,” she said. “If you talk to the people who run ski resorts, I recall hearing late openings and early-season closings. It is affecting us dramatically.”

Climate scientists expect these changes to accelerate over the coming decades, she said.

“One of the things that puts it in perspective, the way that climate change is progressing, it is predicted by scientists in the north country that by the end of this century, the climate in the Adirondacks will more closely resemble that of current-day Georgia,” she said.

The event will begin with a meet-up at 11 a.m. in front of the Potsdam post office on Elm Street.

“It is going to start with a gathering in solidarity with the ongoing peace vigil that has been going on there for years and years for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” she said.

At noon, the group will march to Fall Island Park.

“We’re going to have a rally there, we have a number of speakers and informational tables,” she said. “We are going to have labor, environment, peace, veterans groups, human rights groups — all of these 99 percent groups coming together.”

Ms. Sullivan-Catlin said she did not believe the diverse number of movements and interests represented would water down the protest’s power.

“When Louis Brandeis was on the Supreme Court, he said ‘We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few,’” she said. “That is what we have now. The few dominate the decision-making processes.”

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