The Tar Sands Action (smile)
By Ted Glick
Future Hope column, September 5, 2011
My mind has been a jumble the last couple of days as
I've tried to think about what I would be saying in
this column. I knew I would be writing about the
historic and amazing Tar Sands Action in Washington,
I am literally smiling as I embark on this writing
journey. There was so much positive energy, so many
wonderful experiences, so much hope for the future in
and around the two weeks of sitting-in and standing-in
in front of the White House, August 20-September 3.
One of the things I will never forget is how, day after
day, new people kept arriving at Lafayette Park in the
morning prepared to walk across the street and get
arrested, 1252 of them. Wave after wave, daily, this
kept happening. And over the last four days, from
August 31 to September 3, the numbers kept getting
bigger and bigger each day. On the last day, 243 people
crossed Pennsylvania Avenue and stood and sat, first in
the rainmost without rain gear--and then in the hot
sun, some for four hours, before being arrested.
The vast majority of those arrested had never done so
before. They were from all over the country, just about
every single state. They ranged from teenagers to
grandparents in their 80s, predominantly white but
racially diverse, people of faith, landowners, movie
celebrities, climate scientists, elected officials and
Then there was Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous
Environmental Network and North Dakota, speaking Friday
morning in Lafayette Park before she and others crossed
over and got arrested, speaking from the heart,
speaking of the many people close to her who have died
of cancer at young ages because of the fossil fuel
industry's poisoning of her communitys air and water.
Was there anyone in the audience of hundreds not moved
There were the young people Saturday morning and
afternoon who sang and chanted for hour after hour on
the Lafayette Park sidewalk to keep up the spirits and
energies of those across the street in front of the
White House who kept waiting for hours for their turn
to be handcuffed and put into police wagons or buses.
There were the sobering things I learned about the tar
sands throughout the two weeks, especially from the
Indigenous people from Alberta province in Canada who
have been leading this struggle for years: The
second-largest area of (extra-dirty and thick,
tar-like) oil in the world, behind only Saudi Arabia.
The ethnocide of Indigenous people taking place as
their land, water, health and millennia-old culture are
being devastated as the forests are destroyed and
massive strip mines moonscape the land. All of the
toxic chemicals that must be added to the thick tar
sands oil in order for it to be able to flow through
pipelines, which increases the likelihood of corrosion
and leaks. The plan for the pipeline to be built over
the Ogallala Aquifer, water source for many millions in
the US, and the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills of
There was the statement by our nations leading climate
scientist, James Hansen, that if the Keystone XL
pipeline is built and the tar sands is fully exploited,
it's "game over" for the planet as far as surviving
There was all the news coverage, this issue becoming
all of a sudden a major national story. In retrospect,
the decision of those who called this action for the
"dog days" of late August, when Congress and the
President are out of town, turns out to have been very
prescient. There was lots of press coverage in the
first week which then led to even more and more
extensive coverage in the second week, including Bill
McKibben being on the national PBS news program. Tim
DeChristopher reported to friends that the protests
were one of the three national news stories on the late
night television news he saw in the Nevada jail where
he's currently housed.
There hasn't been an action like this in the United
States for a long, long time. The last ones I know of
in terms of comparable numbers were the 1414 people, my
late ex-wife and excellent political artist Peg Averill
among them, arrested in Seabrook, New Hampshire in 1977
outside the site where a nuclear reactor was beginning
to be built, and the many thousands arrested over
several days in early May of 1971 in Washington, D.C.
in a Vietnam war protest.
But neither of them went on for two straight weeks.
I know that some of those not in touch with what's been
happening within the climate movement in recent years
were amazed to watch the Tar Sands Action unfold over
these two weeks. But it didn't come out of nowhere.
Two and a half years ago thousands of people were
prepared to be arrested at the Capitol Coal Plant
action in Washington, D.C. Then, more recently, there
was the 10,000-person Power Shift conference and
actions in mid-April in D.C. and the powerful,
week-long March on Blair Mountain of hundreds, and a
thousand on the last day, in early June. There was the
example and leadership of Tim DeChristopher, who
publicly called for just this kind of day-after-day,
provoke-a-political-crisis type of action from the
stage at Power Shift, three months before he was
sentenced to two years in prison. And, without
question, there was the exemplary, day-to-day
leadership given by Bill McKibben. Without Bill,
without his passion, his tireless work, his writing and
speaking, this action never would have happened.
But it wasn't a one-man show, not at all. Scores of
mainly young people worked hard leading up to and
during the two weeks of the action doing all of the
things needed to make this be such a success. When Bill
and 51 others were unexpectedly kept in jail for 53
hours after the first day's action, there wasn't an
iota of letting up or hesitation. On the second day, as
those 52 sat in jail, 45 people crossed over to the
White House sidewalk, all of them knowing they could
receive the same treatment. As it turned out, the
willingness of those 45 to not back down, to show the
police that we were serious about our plans for scores
to get arrested each day for two weeks, led to a
dramatic pull-back by the police. They went back to
their original plan to use "post-and-forfeit,"
essentially a $100 fine on everyone arrested, and then
let them go within a few hours of their being arrested.
At the rally in Lafayette Park on September 3rd, it was
announced by Bill McKibben that there were plans being
developed to keep this movement going. It has to; Obama
is supposed to make a decision about the Keystone XL
pipeline by the end of the year. One big upcoming date
is October 7th, when the last of a number of public
hearings around the country on that pipeline will be
held in Washington, D.C.
Bill also reported on an action taken in Seattle, Wa.
where 40 or so people paid a visit to the newly-opened
office of the Obama re-election campaign. A repetition
of that tactic would be a way to keep getting the
attention of Obama and his people: public visits to
such offices all over the country, especially by people
who worked for and/or voted for him in 2008, so that
the Obama campaign understands that we are serious,
that we expect Obama to finally carry through on his
promises during the 2008 campaign.
"Let's be the generation that finally frees America
from the tyranny of oil." That's one of the things
Obama said, along with this big applause line, that his
election was "the moment when the rise of the oceans
began to slow and our planet began to heal."
He hasn't yet delivered. Worse, he and his
administration have opened up public lands in Wyoming
for coal mining, allowed most mountaintop removal
permits to proceed forward, done nothing to stop
natural gas fracking, supported the expansion of
deepwater ocean drilling beyond the Gulf of Mexico and,
so far, given lots of indications that he will approve
the Keystone XL pipeline. These methods of extreme
extraction of fossil fuels are exactly the wrong
direction to be going.
Michael Marx of the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign
gave an excellent speech on Saturday in Lafayette Park.
He called for us to help Obama find his "inner lion" so
that he can finally begin to do what he promised he
would do in 2008, which will only help his chances of
reelection. He went on to say that if that is going to
happen we need to find our own inner lions and we need
to "bare out teeth."
For those who want to see Obama reelected, for those
who are turned off by all of his administration's many
betrayals of his campaign promises and unsure of what
they'll be doing about the Presidential election, and
for those who have had it with both Republicans and
Democrats, the campaign to defeat the Keystone XL
pipeline is a classic unifying issue, an urgent issue.
The next few months are key. Let's keep building the
Tar Sands Action momentum and win one for the people
and the earth this year. Si, se puede!!
Ted Glick is the National Policy Director of the
Chesapeake Climate Action Network. He worked on the Tar
Sands Action for two months. Past writings and more
information can be found at http://www.tedglick.com.
Follow him on twitter @jtglick.
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