A crowd of people rallied outside Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction today to protest Energy Expo speaker John L. Casey, who lectures on climate change but does not have any qualifying degrees or peer-reviewed publications on the subject. Casey is known for pandering to the belief popular among the tea party fringe that global warming is a massive scientific fraud perpetrated by the U.S. government and the United Nations. YouTube videos of Casey speaking before tea party groups in Florida show him to be a fear monger whose talks devolve into race-baiting and instilling fear in his audiences. He warns people to lay in a year’s supply of food to deal with food shortages he predicts will occur in a coming ice age, and tells them to be ready to defend their stored food supplies from urban minorities whom, he says, will try to beat them up and kill them to get it.
In addition to castigating Expo organizers over their choice of such a wild fringe speaker, the crowd criticized them for showcasing fossil fuel development while putting too little emphasis on clean, sustainable energy sources.
A rented security guard hired for the Expo pushed protesters off the sidewalk in front of Two Rivers Convention Center saying the sidewalk “had been rented by a private party,” which effectively turned property owned by taxpayers into “private property.” He instructed them to move onto the traffic circle in the middle of Second Street instead. Protesters duly moved onto to the traffic circle, which caused traffic to back up down Colorado Avenue as drivers pulling into the Two Rivers parking lot slowed down to read the protest signs and even stopped their cars to talk to protesters. A fight almost ensued after Michael Anton, owner of EmTech and a board member of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, yelled at an elderly woman who had stopped her car to talk to protesters. After one of the protesters defended the woman, Anton became belligerent towards the protester. The encounter, fortunately de-escalated and remained peaceful.
After giving interviews to TV news reporters, protesters spread out around the convention center to assure presence on First and Main Streets as well as in front of the convention center entrance. Their signs bore messages like “We Deserve Better,” “Clean Energy,” “Ignorance Expo 2015,” “Stop Bonnie Peterson,” (the person who was responsible for choosing Casey as a speaker) “No racist speakers in Mesa County,” “Denial for $$$,” “Fracking poisons Air and Water,” “We Love Science” and “Shame on CMU.” (Colorado Mesa University was a host of the Expo.) Some drivers honked and waved at protesters while others gunned their engines while driving by to create more exhaust, or rolled down their windows and yelled things at protesters, like “Shove it up your a**!”
Today’s protest was the first organized pushback against the Energy Expo, which has been held annually in Grand Junction for a decade. The even has invariably had an outsized focus on extractive energy development.
The rally was organized by a progressive political faction that emerged in Grand Junction around 2012 and has been expanding ever since, through the use of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter that make it easier for people to connect and plan events.
Grand Junction used to be known for its unquestioning boosterism of fossil fuel development, but today’s protest indicates that may be changing quickly as more people turn out to publicly challenge what they consider a highly unsatisfactory political status quo on the western slope.