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On Sunday afternoon, a few dozen people gathered at Champaign’s West Side Park to send a clear message to Rep. Tim Johnson, the Republican congressman who represents Illinois’s 15th Congressional District. The message: It’s time to prioritize legislation that addresses the causes and effects of global warming.

The event marked the local kickoff of Project Hot Seat, a nationwide initiative sponsored by Greenpeace and intended to compel members of the U.S. Congress to take a more active role in solving the problems associated with climate change.

With a bullhorn in hand, Tom Abrams, the 2006 Green Party candidate for Illinois state representative in the 103rd District, encouraged the crowd to “continue to do (its) part to stop global warming.”

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But for the people at West Side Park, doing their “part” meant more than just showing up or signing a piece of paper. In order to send a strong message to Johnson, the activists put together “creative petitions,” as Greenpeace field organizer and C-U resident Drew Thomas calls them.

Participants moved among various “stations,” each one featuring a different means of communicating a message to Johnson. At one station, videos were being recorded. At another, letters were being composed. Elsewhere, children and adults crouched over a table painting pictograph messages on squares of fabric and a few feet away people made speech bubbles that would then be photographed next to their heads.

“Creative petitions can tell a story and deliver a more personal, visual message than names on a sheet of paper,” Thomas says.

Thomas says that Greenpeace, which opened its office in Urbana’s Independent Media Center about a month ago, has found particularly fertile ground in C-U.

“Greenpeace has had a long presence of loyal membership and strong activism during campaign pushes,” he says. “It’s very apparent that this community understands the threat of global warming and is eager to do something about it.”

At the end of June, the Project Hot Seat crew will “deliver all the creative petitions gathered at Sunday’s event” to Johnson’s office, Thomas says. Those interested in participating in this or any other Project Hot Seat event — or simply learning more about the initiative — can attend any of the weekly meetings held every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Independent Media Center.

Faces in the Crowd

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“I firmly believe in the power of people organizing,” says Ron Morrison, above, a University of Illinois senior. “I feel that a lot of times in order to create a change in a system of government you need to use a form of coercion.”

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“I think it’s important to think about our future,” explains University of Illinois undergrad Rachael Levine, above. “And if we need to show support for Rep. Tim Johnson to allow him to show his support (for the cause of global warming), then we should.”