By Judy Skog, activist and Sierra Club member
At 5:00 am on Monday, August 29, I and three other people from Madison got into my car for the 16 hour drive to Washington, DC. We were travelling to DC to oppose the horrible Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline. I had to reschedule a check-up with my oncologist to attend the protest, but it was that important to me to go. We went, even knowing that the folks who had participated in the action on the first day (Saturday, Aug. 20) spent the weekend in jail. We went, not knowing what we would find in DC in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene just 2 days earlier. Over the course of the 2 weeks of civil disobedience, 1252 people were arrested in front of the White House to give President Obama the message that he has the power all by himself to stop this pipeline.
If we fully develop the Alberta, Canada tar sands, it will devastate (as in scalp, strip mine, rape) an area of arboreal forest the size of the state of Florida. Imagine doing that in northern Wisconsin! It takes 3-5 units of water for every unit of oil processed. That water is put into holding ponds. It’s so toxic that birds die after they land on it. The oil companies have ignored the rights of the indigenous people of Alberta to make their profit. They are burning natural gas to process this very dirty oil. That’s crazy to burn a clean fuel to make a dirty fuel. If this oil is all burned, our atmospheric CO2 will go to 600 ppm. It has been determined that 350 ppm is the maximum safe level, and we’re already at ~390 ppm. The list of why this pipeline is a bad idea goes on and on.
The organizers of this protest were very thorough and professional. They left nothing to chance, but they also did not sugar coat what might happen to us. Seth, Abby, Bryan and I arrived very late Monday night. Tuesday morning we took the Metro into DC to observe and be supportive of those sitting in front of the White House that day. At 5:00 pm Tuesday we attended training for our turn in the sun on Wednesday. The training was a mix of practical information (bring a throw-away water bottle, don’t wear jewelry or a watch, bring photo ID and cash for the fine) and bonding activities. We each had a buddy, in case we ended up in jail (instead of the anticipated “post and forfeit”). They fed us a great vegan dinner of rice and beans. They encouraged us to write the phone number of the legal support team somewhere on our bodies (I wrote it on my leg in Sharpee—it’s still wearing off).
We arrived at Lafayette Park (between the White House and the Chamber of Commerce building) at 10:00 am on Wednesday, August 31. The legal folks checked us each in, so they would know who to look for after the arrests. There were speeches by people from Texas and Nebraska who will be directly affected by the pipeline, as well as folks from West Virginia who are fighting mountain-top removal for coal mining. We also heard from Bill McKibben. Then it was time to line up. Some folks chose to stand. I chose to sit. There were a few folks there who couldn’t risk arrest, who joined us, but left after the Park Police gave the second warning. It was a very solemn occasion. Then the police started calling the women out one by one. They zip-tied our hands behind our backs and patted us down and put on a wrist band with a number (like one you get at an amusement park). I was #57 to be arrested. I was the next to last woman to be arrested (of a total of 111 people for Wednesday). We were photographed by the police and asked if we intended to post and forfeit. Then we were loaded into the back of a police van for the ride to the Anacostia Police Station (across the river). There was lots of time to talk to the people we shared the van with, and much bonding happened. Elizabeth, the woman to my left worked for Maine Interfaith Power and Light. Ellen, the woman to my right was a journalist who was fairly new to the environmental movement. Since none of us had a watch, we had no idea of the time. We were in a “tar sands bubble”. At the station, the police cut off our zip-ties, asked for our photo ID, and filled out paperwork listing the charges against us. We paid the $100 fine and they showed us out the door. Thank goodness they let us out the back door, which was only about a block’s walk to the Metro stop. A person from the Tar Sands Action legal team checked each of us off from the list. Then we had a short walk to blessed shade (the weather was nice, sunny, with a little breeze, but after a while, it was hot in the sun), cheers and hugs, cold water, and granola bars. There was one more form to fill out indicating our booking number, and we were free to go. I was a little reluctant to leave the bubble and re-enter the real world, but eventually asked someone the time, and headed to my friend’s house for a very late lunch and a nap.
It was very disconcerting (and a little freeing) to arrive at the action with only my driver’s license, $110 in cash, and a card for the Metro. I had no jewelry, no watch, no cell phone, no hat or sunglasses, no belt, and certainly no purse. I did bring a poster with pictures of my family, and the people who supported me financially. However, I knew that the police would take that away from me. The very first thing they did after giving us our last warning and cordoning off the area was to confiscate our signs. Even so, it was worth having my sign there.
There were famous people risking arrest, but there were also average folks who were either directly affected by the pipeline, or who cared so much they decided to take a stand. The folks at our training ranged in age from 18 to 80.
So, now I am home, and have caught up on sleep (ah, the joys of your very own bed).
Would I do it again? Heck yeah!