For South Jersey activists, DNC is a chance to be noticed

Devon Braunstein (right) paints a red flower banner that will be carried during the “Clean Energy March” from Philadelphia City Hall to Independence Mall. Her group is part of the “Solutions Brigade” during the march.

The paper cutouts of smiling sunflower faces on Ed and Karen Cohen's kitchen table will soon be calling for a revolution.

"Isn't that what we need?" Karen asked as South Jersey environmentalists gathered Sunday to paint, decorate, and otherwise prepare placards and other materials for the Clean Energy March in Philadelphia on Sunday.

The Center City demonstration on the eve of the Democratic National Convention aims to bolster opposition to fracking and galvanize support for renewable energy.

"It's a 'We have a solution for you' message," Ed Cohen said. "The solution is renewables. And using fewer resources."

The Cohens, who live in Mount Laurel and are active with their township's Green Team, hosted one of several South Jersey sign-painting parties in advance of the march.

Similar events were held last week at the Pinelands Preservation Alliance in Burlington County and at the Camden FireWorks art center.

"The goal is to create an interesting visual - a striking, creative image - that gets the idea across," said Cherry Hill activist Lori Braunstein. "That's what people take pictures of. That's what gets passed around on social media."

Convened by Americans Against Fracking and Pennsylvanians Against Fracking, the Market Street march is set to begin at noon Sunday on the south side of City Hall and conclude eight blocks east at Independence Mall.

Organizers said members of Sustainable Cherry Hill and 30 other municipal sustainability groups are among the South Jersey organizations expected to participate.

More than 600 environmental, faith-based, indigenous, and social justice entities from across the United States have endorsed the march.

Replete with names such as "NJ Highlands Coalition" and "We Are Seneca Lake," the march participant list suggests fewer dramatic moments than some of the demonstrations planned during the DNC itself. Those include a "Candlelight Vigil to Commemorate the Death of Democracy" and an appearance by a famously and ferociously anti-LGBT cult.

Nonetheless, "there are a lot of moving parts" to the clean energy march, said Lena Smith, the New Jersey organizer for Food and Water Watch, a national nonprofit participating in the effort.

I chat with Smith, who handles her organization's South Jersey outreach at the gathering, as phones chirp and the doorbell frequently rings.

People, several of whom brought their children, crowd around any available flat surface, working eagerly on poster messages such as "Wake Up!"

Offering an occasional tip and adding strokes of glitter here and there is the artist Suzy Sherbine of Voorhees.

"Make it shine," she advises. "Really get people's attention."

While the atmosphere at the painting party is festive - and the task a bit like a classroom coloring project - participants are fiercely committed to green causes.

"We have been playing a critical role in the fight against two proposed natural gas pipelines" that would negatively impact the Pinelands, said Geoff Richter, outreach manager for the Preservation Alliance.

Others said they hope the march will show DNC-goers and others that renewable energy is not a pipe dream.

"These progressive messages should be included" in the Democratic Party platform, said Voorhees resident June Hament.

"We're asking our [political] leaders to incentivize implementation of innovative technologies that already exist," said Jessica Franzini of the Tri-County Sustainability Alliance.

"We hope the Democrats see the march and say, 'Renewables are important,'" Ed Cohen says. "But the Democrats . . . "

". . . also are beholden to special interests," interjected Braunstein. "It's not just the Republicans."

Several veterans of earlier marches for environmental and other causes said Sunday's event also can strengthen participants themselves.

Particularly given what Hament described as the current "state of fear" in America.

"We can't operate out of fear," she said. "We can't hide away."

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