Activist reflects on civil disobedience for environmental movement

photo courtesy of XL Dissent

photo courtesy of XL Dissent

By Spencer Johnson, contributing writer ||

On March  2, I zip-tied myself to the fence of the White House. It was the first time I’d been involved with the  component of a direct action civil disobedience protest that could lead to arrest and I knew it was the right thing to do.

In total, I think I’ve been to a dozen or more of these types of protests. I’ve protested the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) over three times now. I’ve marched around the White House and Governor Corbett’s office. I’ve started chants, held signs, been interviewed for articles. I’ve fasted five days to bring awareness to climate change. I’ve recruited, phone-banked, petitioned, written pieces for blogs, news networks, and newspapers. That day, I decided to get arrested at XL Dissent, a student-led action with over 1,200 college students, 398 of whom were risking arrest, like me, for civil disobedience to once again protest the Keystone XL Pipeline.

It was the right thing to do, getting arrested. And we all knew it.

President Obama was elected with promises of swift change and transition. So far, we’ve seen the closing of toxic coal-fired power plants with help from groups like the Sierra Club and 350.org. We’ve also seen environmental regulations strengthened and climate change addressed. But we’ve also seen how Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy incorporates natural gas as a clean-burning ‘bridge fuel’ that will help us transition to renewable energy sources.

Natural gas is a bridge to nowhere. Environmental problems from hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) and other processes have caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage. Injection wells used to inject Fracking chemicals and flowback water (a now largely banned practice) into the earth have been known to cause earthquakes. Poorly regulated wells cause contamination of groundwater and explosions. Poorly monitored wells lead to dangers for workers and spills that will never be fully contained. The tar sands goo that the KXL Pipeline would be pumping is the crudest of crude oil and doesn’t even float on water, making it nearly impossible to ‘clean’ from our nation’s waterways.

True, the images and videos from Josh Fox’s infamous Fracking documentary Gasland were proved to be the result of biogenic methane not coming directly from a gas well. But that doesn’t mean these companies aren’t ignoring regulation. It doesn’t mean these companies aren’t responsible for blowing up houses. It doesn’t mean these companies aren’t causing unnecessary damages in the name of profit, fueled by back-room deals with politicians in exchange for campaign money.

I was sitting in a room with over 1,200 other activists. We were in a church that had agreed to house us. I’d had half a pitcher of Sangria. It was already the day of the action, technically. Some around me were asleep, huddled in their sleeping bags with dreadlocks draped across their pillows. Some ate late-night snacks and caught up with old friends, laughing quietly. And I was writing this because I was feeling inspired, I guess, to share and reflect upon my involvement.

In 2011, over 1,000 people got arrested at the White House in the first action against the Keystone XL Pipeline. A pipeline former NASA scientist James Hansen says is “game over for the climate.” In 2013, 40,000 people marched on the White House in the Forward on Climate rally, a rally that made environmental protest history. In a several weeks, over 78,000 people have signed on to 350.org and Credo Mobile’s Pledge of Resistance to get arrested at the White House if President Obama approves the KXL.

We’re committed. We know that this pipeline is going to affect our future and the futures of generations that will follow us. Obama can sit and allow his Obama Tar Sands Pipeline to sweep through the heart of America’s agriculture and decimate the land of Natives in the Northwest. Or, he can stand up and say no to a pipeline that threatens to change the course of climate history.

Tar Sands is being transported via train to the coast already. We’re already shipping this goop overseas. We know that. News articles have attacked Bill McKibben and the 350 team and other environmental organizations saying we aren’t focusing on what’s already happening and we aren’t seeing the larger picture. We see it. We understand it’s happening. But we also know that the approval of this particular pipeline sends a message to world leaders.

Crossing international boundaries it would be the biggest pipeline of its kind. And Obama’s approval of it would seal the deal to unmitigated runaway climate change by releasing enough CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to exacerbate the melting of the arctic ice and increase the likelihood of droughts, floods, and extreme weather patterns common with a rapidly changing climate.

So stop with your premonitions and attacks. We know what we’re doing. We know that everyone is going to be affected by this decision. We know this pipeline is a bad egg. We know we’re only a small amount of students and that we in no way reflect the amount of support we should be seeing in this movement. But we also realize that we’re getting arrested for the future, we’re getting arrested to show our dedication, we’re getting arrested because we know that not everyone has clean water, not everyone has clean air, not everyone has privilege. We’re getting arrested because we know everyone deserves a life, everyone deserves a future, everyone deserves a chance.

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