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October 04, 2011

New Mexico Moving Planet Boogies Down in a Move Beyond Coal Flash Mob

Over 100 climate activists from north-central New Mexico converged and staged a flash mob at the annual State Fair in Albuquerque on September 24th as part of the Moving Planet day of action across the world.  It was fitting that Saturday was a beaming sunny morning.  With matching bright yellow bandanas inconspicuously balled into our pockets and purses, we stood patiently in the fairground entrance line, excited to perform our Sol Not Coal flash mob dance.  We were all excited about the message - to show support for solar and other renewable energy sources over coal.

Our group had met only once before to rehearse, and again that morning to go over the dance and pick up our bandanas and tickets to the State Fair.  Some knew each other from past events, hugged when they noticed each other on the bus ride to the Fair or in the entrance line.  With a crowd that large, though, there were many new faces.  Our connection was instantaneous, however, and we chatted in line like family or old friends who were catching up at the fair.
NM dance 2
As someone who had just recently moved to Albuquerque from a small town in Pennsylvania, I was elated to find an action to support renewables over fossil fuels just a few short weeks after settling in to this town out west.  Coal has surrounded me my entire life. 

I grew up playing in culm piles, exploring caved-in buildings in the woods that used to hold coal for trains that no longer run, bike riding through a field of culm that I’ve known all of my life as “The Black Desert,” and loading pieces of coal into a Tonka Truck in my backyard. 

When I went off to college, there was a coal plant on campus that students had been fighting to shut down.  The college and coal plant were a short drive from Centralia, a mostly evacuated town where smoke plumes out of the ground because of fires burning in the mines beneath it.

I wasn’t sure how motivated people would be to protest burning such a toxic energy source if they lived in a city so far from the history of coal mining as I knew it, but what I found in New Mexico were groups of people who are motivated, determined, and excited to ask our leaders for change.  I had an instantaneous connection with the people around me.  We chatted in the line into the fairgrounds and then continued as we got into the state fair.  We didn’t have to work hard to pretend we were normal fair attendees: mingling, laughing, and having fun.
NM dance
In the final minutes before dance time, signs started popping out of nowhere.  Some people held up signs protesting the coal plants that the utility, PNM, partly owns.  Others wore the “Sol Not Coal” slogan on a board around their necks with educational papers that onlookers could grab. 

Then the music began.  Noel Lopez, a break dancer from Santa Fe, started us out dancing to the lyrics, “Let the sun shine in,” and the sun was indeed shinning in on us.  The music switched to Love Train by the O’Jays and the first of three tiers of dancers surprised the crowd on onlookers by bursting into the flash mob dance.  The second tier joined in and then the third tier, eventually reaching 100 New Mexicans dancing together. 
Nm dance 3
We then split into two rows of dancers, chanted “Sol Not Coal”, and began our Sol/soul train line which was at the core of our flash mob dance routine.  It was thrilling to see everyone coming down the line – young and old, Anglos and people of color, men and women – smiling and grooving to their own dance, all excited about the action we were promoting.  Everyone was full of enthusiasm that we all began shouting “Sol Not Coal” when the song ended.  The chanting at the end was completely unscripted, but now that I think back on it, there’s no other way we could have ended such an energizing action.

Sierra Club, SouthWest Organizing Project, and New Energy Economy co-organized the Sol Not Coal flash mob; League of Women Voters of NM also helped recruit flash mob participants.

-- Christina Glessner, New Mexico Sierra Club. Photos by Lindsay Marisol Archuleta.

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