Boy has it been an exciting 36 hours! Last night I arrived at the Tar Sands Action Training around 5 pm to find a church full of concerned citizens from literally every walk of life. It was so incredible to meet and connect with people who had journeyed here from Kentucky, Canada, California and Vermont (just to name a few!), ranged in age from 17 to 80, and for the majority of whom the Tar Sands Action would be their first arrest. Much of the training was spent getting to know those with whom we would soon share an inexplicable bond of collective action, and that in and of itself was by far more inspiring than I had anticipated. Beyond logistics and legal questions, the training provided a forum for leader Bill McKibben to motivate us for the coming day and Keith, a member of an Albertan First Nation tribe being directly affected by the Canadian Tar Sands, to move us with his story. Keith spoke of rapidly increasing rates of respiratory disease and rare cancers in his community, along with visible sores on the bodies of moose his family would regularly hunt for food – all because of the Tar Sands oil extraction. That was quite enough tugging at our heartstrings to convince us that this action, and our own arrests were worthwhile; for the climate, for future generations, and for the many Albertans already feeling negative impacts.
When the morning came, I was more than ready to take action. We were advised to bring as little property as possible to move the arresting process along, so unfortunately I had to leave my camera at home. I did manage to snap a picture of us at the beginning of the action, which I’ve attached for you all to check out. We lined up in Lafayette park and walked solemnly, but with strength in two long lines to our sit-in formation infront of the White House. There we stood dignified, holding banners boldly displaying our message: Stop the Tar Sands Keystone Oil Pipeline. On my right a 28 year old rambunctious male dancer/DJ from Philadelphia, on my left a 50 something year old woman from Salem, MA who had proudly developed a contingency of locals in her hometown who were following her trip to the Tar Sands Action. All three of us preparing to be arrested for the first time in our lives, none of us expecting it to be our last. We stood together in solidarity with 137 others who calmly accepted arrest for the charge: Failure to Obey Lawful Order, all the while singing peace songs and chanting about the importance of Obama vetoing the pipline.
Each of us 137 calmly accepted arrest, one at a time having our hands secured behind our back with thick plastic zip tie-type devices (no handcuffs, unfortunately!), fully patted down by an officer, mugshot photos taken, and ushered into 12 person paddy wagons (which were quite hot and confining). Separated 6 and 6 by a wall within the wagon, I sat with my fellow fugitives laughing and supporting each other’s discomforts and curiosities. We were bused off to Anacostia Jail just outside of the city and were subsequently held in these wagons for around 2 hours before being processed in the jail and released with $100 citations in a relatively timely manner. Upon our release we were greeted by a crew of cheering supporters amply stocked with water and granola bars and proceeded to hang out and share stories – finally beginning to recognize a tacit understanding about our shared experience and statement.
Throughout this action, one thing continued to pop up as a pattern: that for the majority of protesters the Tar Sands Action was their first experience risking arrest (a very big step in the world of environmental action). Not only did this reality even further reinforce our collective arrest experience as an issue, a day, and a group of people whom will always share this unique introductory experience, but I think it also says a great deal about the weight of this issue and its timing at such an important moment in history. Clearly the destruction of the Tar Sands combined with our country’s blatant ability to stop a pipeline which would severely worsen the situation had enough gravity and urgency to mobilize over 800 law-abiding citizens to put their bodies on the line to make an impact. Right now, the United States is at a crucial point of no return: either jump on the renewable energy band wagon with Europe and other progressively-thinking regions or drag our feet and keep trying to squeak out that last drop of oil with complete disregard for our climate and environment.
Given it’s key point in time, the Keystone XL Pipeline is absolutely the make-or-break decision for President Obama on behalf of the United States’ environmental future, and the Tar Sands Action is creating history as the largest display of civil disobedience in the history of our country’s environmental movement. I feel indescribably proud to have fully exercised my passion for the environment and my democratic rights today alongside 136 beautifully powerful citizens. Together we will create the change we want to see in this world, and each and every one of us must play a part. Thanks to all who have followed and supported this action and now is truly the time that your call into the White House or your petition signature can help make history by stopping this destructive pipeline and oil extraction process. Please be encouraged to contact me with further questions or thoughts and visit http://www.tarsandsaction.org for more information.