I was # 93. They took the older women first, then the younger women (they all looked beautiful). The old men came next. A Washington D.C. police officer finally points to me and says “You”, motioning with his hand to come forward.
More than 160 of my fellow citizens from every state are chanting (the favorite, “You say tar sands, I say no”) back and forth with a lively group of supporters in Lafayette Park across the no-man’s land cordoned off by the police.
When my turn comes I turn and face the White House with arms held behind as the officer tightens thick, white plastic handcuffs around my wrists. “Officer”, I begin “We are here to respectfully remind President Obama of his campaign promise to protect the nation from the ravages of an unstable climate by foregoing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from northern Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast”. He nods his head, says nothing.
Then I am firmly padded down; my sweaty hat is removed and rigorously inspected. As instructed, I have brought nothing except my driver’s license and cash for bail. For the first time in decades, I removed my wedding ring. I am not wearing a belt but did find a cheap tie to wear at the last moment.
This was last Friday, the thirteenth day of the largest U.S. environmental sit in so far this century. The media finally paid attention as 1265 were marched off to jail. However, our message – leave the dirty tar sands oil in the ground – is strange and incomprehensible to their tin ears. What about jobs? The high cost of gas?
Of course, if you’re an addict – and we are all petroleum addicts – where the stuff comes from doesn’t matter. To addicts, losing primeval forests, polluting vast watersheds, violating treaties with First Nations and putting the largest aquifer in the U.S. at risk are abstract, distant threats. Big Oil’s position is simple: we’ll deal with the consequences after the $10 trillion worldwide petroleum infrastructure has been milked for every penny of profit.
The struggle over the toxic, carbon intensive Canadian tar sands may be THE critical battle for the climate. They are the second largest source of carbon on the planet. The largest, Sandi Arabia, is close to being pumped dry. If the pipeline is built, tar sands extraction will double (it’s already the size of England) and, according to Dr. James Hanson, the nation’s leading climate scientist, that means “game over” for the climate (Dr. Hanson was arrested earlier in the week).
This is serious stuff and by administrative fluke, the decision to approve the Keystone XL pipeline is exclusively in Obama’s hands. He can’t blame the wing nuts in Congress for inaction. This is Obama’s environmental litmus test before the 2012 election.
We don’t have money like Big Oil to sway public opinion, therefore we have to “use the currency of our bodies” to make our point. That’s how author and reluctant activist Bill McKibben explains it as we prepare to be arrested.
McKibben is not your typical cheerleader. He’s a writer more comfortable making his case one step removed from the chaos of unfolding events. But McKibben has stepped it up recently. It’s his valor and intelligence that has brought us here today, lifting from the noise of heartbreaking current events an issue that First Nations in Canada have been battling for over a decade.
No one, least of all Bill McKibben, thinks Obama will nix the pipeline with the stroke of his pen. But after two weeks of civil dissent that rapidly gained political purchase, the tar sands are on the President’s radar. And as a sign that we hit a nerve, oil king pins on both sides of the border are mounting a counter attack (that’s what those absurd ads for ‘ethical oil’ are all about).
For many it was the first time they had purposely disobeyed the law. Held the longest on day one, Gus Spath, environmental advisor to numerous Presidents, smuggled a note out of D.C.’s Central Cell Block saying, “I’ve held numerous positions and public office in Washington but my current position feels like one of the most important.” It’s what we all now believe; doing nothing is a choice that is no longer an option.
We pay our $100 fine and are shown the door. Freedom. A few hours ago I was free but didn’t know it. Now I’m truly free and ready for a bathroom.
Carved in marble at the new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on Washington’s Mall, Dr. King reminds us that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”.
Don’t worry if you missed this one. There are many mountains to move and everyone is needed.
Watch this short video recapping the last two weeks of action in Washington DC.
Keep posted at www.tarsandsaction.org/next-steps
Arrested at the Tar Sands Pipeline Sitin