Plug In America watchers know that Drive Electric Earth Day (DEED), celebrated for the entire month of April, is an extension of September’s National Drive Electric Week (NDEW). But how did NDEW come about? It all started with President Barack Obama and, as DEED begins, we’re taking the opportunity to briefly revisit the tale, with a related nod to the mother of climate change policy, as former California State Senator Fran Pavley is well known.
When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, while it may seem inconceivable today, consumers could purchase only one mass-produced EV, a Tesla Roadster. But some of us back then still owned Toyota RAV4 EVs. At the time, they were the only EV sold, rather than leased, which put them beyond the clutches of the OEMs’ crushers. So, as the nation prepared to officially greet its first Black president, a few of Plug In America’s founders came up with an idea: Let’s show the country’s growing zeal for zero-emission vehicles by driving some of those RAV4s and Roadsters, plus some electric motorcycles and a few other stragglers, in President Obama’s inaugural parade.
We got three letters of support for our parade application to the White House: From (then San Francisco mayor) Gavin Newsom, Washington Governor Jay Inslee (then a representative), and Senator Pavley, who today is environmental policy director for the USC Schwarzenegger Institute.
“With this letter, I am writing to express my enthusiastic support for the application of Plug In America to participate in the January 20th Presidential Inaugural Parade in Washington D.C.,” Pavley wrote. “I believe the inclusion of a fleet of electric vehicles, in addition to a float promoting solar and wind infrastructure, will send a strong signal to the nation of the new Administration’s support for renewable energy and clean technology efforts – an endeavor which will bring strong economic, environmental and public health benefits to the United States.”
The bad news is that our application wasn’t accepted. But that was the good news, too, because we came up with an alternative: Why not do a parade on home turf? And indeed, we staged history’s first and greenest procession, “Inaugural Parade West: Plug In, America!” in Santa Monica. We rounded up some 80 freeway-capable vehicles–a big deal back then–from across Southern California. (Video of the parade from start to finish by early PIA supporter Stefano Paris here.)
Pavley wrote the nation’s first global warming law, AB 32, and AB 1493, which required a reduction in tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions. She spoke at our press conference, for which we issued a media alert with a big request:
“Today we congratulate President Barack Obama, who has called for one million plug-in cars by 2015,” said PIA co-founder Paul Scott. “But, with the audacity of hope—and the confidence born of years driving these cars—we’re asking Obama to accelerate his plan and make it happen three years sooner, then to boost that number to ten million plug-ins by 2016.”
Needless to say, we still haven’t reached those numbers. The latest count: about 2.3 million total.
But something very big and very good resulted. While we got plenty of media coverage, from Reuters on down, not a single TV news camera stuck around or showed up for this unprecedented parade itself, which, as EV drivers intent on accelerating adoption, was paramount. Later bemoaning this with my friend and fellow advocate Jeff U’Ren, I said something to the effect of: “If that parade had been part of a national observance, we’d have had a much better chance of TV coverage.” To which Jeff replied, “we should put on a National Plug In Day.” And voila. National Drive Electric Week, as we have since renamed it, was born. It is now observed for a whole week from coast to coast and internationally by thousands. DEED, which will include 170-plus events this year, extends the celebration. And media from Vermont to Alabama to Hawaii and beyond continue to carry our message of change.
Plug In America co-founder Zan Dubin-Scott is co-founder with Jeff U’Ren of National Drive Electric Week, which never would have come to be or continued to thrive without countless hours of effort from PIA’s board and staff as well as that of thousands of volunteers who put on its individual events annually and its co-presenters, the Sierra Club, the Electric Auto Assn. and EVHybridNoire.
Photo, top: Senator Fran Pavley at parade press conference, 2009. Courtesy Zan Dubin-Scott.