Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tar Sands Action: Why I got arrested

N.B. : EcoAction does NOT endorse getting arrested. This article is written by a member of EcoAction but does not represent EcoAction as a group. The author did this action on her own, totally separate from EcoAction. 

Getting arrested wasn’t part of my back-to-school plans. But there I was, a week after moving in for my junior year, in handcuffs in front of the White House.

Photo credit: Josh Lopez ( 
The reason? A 1,700 mile pipeline that would carry viscous, dirty oil from the tar sands in Albert, Canada, through the United States to refineries in Texas. The pipeline, called the Keystone XL, would carry 900,000 barrels of oil a day. It would cross six states and over seventy rivers and streams, including the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. It would cross aquifers like the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water to two million Americans and supports $20 billion worth of agriculture. It would cut through farms and backyards, and disrupt indigenous communities like First Nations tribes in Canada and native tribes in the United States.

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The pipeline would certainly leak. It's just a matter of how often, and how much. Already, TransCanada's Keystone I pipeline has leaked a dozen times in less than a year. Extraction of the oil in Alberta poisons the air and water of nearby communities and requires hundreds of millions of gallons of water each day. Accessing the tar sands requires massive, devastating deforestation of the boreal forest in Canada. And the oil that the pipeline would carry from the Alberta tar sands is bitumen, an especially dirty oil. Refining bitumen results in high emissions, which contribute to smog and acid rain, and results in 20% more carbon emissions than does conventional fuel.
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Would the pipeline create jobs? A new study from Cornell suggests not. The jobs it would create would be mostly temporary. The environmental, social, and public health costs of the pipeline over decades and even centuries would certainly outweigh any short-term job creation. And this pipeline would only increase our dependence on fossil fuels for energy, at a time when our money would be better invested in safe, renewable sources of energy.
Because the pipeline crosses an international border, it’s up to the State Department and the White House, with advice from federal agencies, to grant or deny the project a “certificate of national interest.” So although Obama does consult with Secretary of State Clinton and review the advice of those agencies, this decision doesn’t go through Congress. President Obama will ultimately make this decision himself.
TransCanada, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and, of course, the Koch brothers, are pressuring Obama to approve the pipeline. But environmental groups, indigenous communities, the National Farmers Union, climate scientists, Republican and Democratic senators and governors, and Nobel Peace Laureates (including the Dalai Lama) are pushing back. As an environmentalist, a U.S. citizen, and a human being, I wanted to push back too.
So when environmentalist, activist, writer, and founder Bill McKibben issued an invitation to participate in a two-week long sit-in at the White House to protest the pipeline, I was immediately interested. Other signatories to the invitation included author and farmer Wendell Berry; the actor Danny Glover; climate scientist James Hansen; and author and journalist Naomi Klein.
Photo credit: Josh Lopez (
“We will, each day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass. We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes—who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting—this is, in fact, serious business,” read the invitation. “Twenty years of patiently explaining the climate crisis to our leaders hasn’t worked. Maybe moral witness will help. You have to start somewhere, and we choose here and now.”
The sit-ins at the White House lasted from August 20 to September 3. Over that two week period, 1,253 people were arrested. There were teenagers and eighty-year-olds, students and landowners and scientists, former Obama for American staffers, tribal leaders, families and individuals from across the United States, and from Canada and Puerto Rico.
Photo credit: Josh Lopez (
I was arrested on the last and largest day of the action, September 3, when 244 people were arrested. Let me be clear: this was a highly organized action. In order to get arrested, I attended a four-hour training beforehand and received a detailed legal briefing about the possible consequences of my actions. A wonderful legal team supported us through the arrest process, and the organizers had constant, clear communication with the police.
In addition, this was a completely peaceful, nonviolent action. We assembled in formation in front of the gates of the White House, sitting or standing quietly, wearing professional dress. We cooperated with the police. We did not resist arrest. What we did do was send a message to President Obama: We will not stand for environmental injustice. We will not stand for social injustice. We will not stand for an administration that puts our health, safety, and future at risk simply because of corporate pressure or financial interests or apathy. We elected President Obama because he told us that he would be an environmental leader, and we will hold him to that promise. If playing by the rules doesn't work, then we won't play by the rules. If we have to get arrested, we will. Our lives and livelihoods, and all live on this planet, depend on it. No cause could be more important. 
Go to to sign up for updates and to read the press releases and media coverage of the sit-ins. You can also sign up to hear more about plans for October 7, when a final State Department hearing on the pipeline will be held here in DC. Plans to turn out for the hearing will be announced in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, sign the petition against the pipeline that will go to President Obama. like the Tar Sands Action on Facebook. Follow them on Twitter. Check out more pictures of the protest and watch this great video. And feel free to email me with any questions about the protests, at

1 comment:

  1. So courageous! Georgetown is proud of you!