1252 Arrested to Stop Keystone XL—Here’s What Comes Next

By Adrian Ran

The groundswell of opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is something I’ve been following closely since this month’s sit-in at the White House, which saw the arrests of 1,252 brave people in protest. I’m so proud that RAN and our supporters have played a key role in elevating this issue to one of international significance.

But our work is not over.

I have joined with several of our most valued friends, including Tim DeChristopher and Bill McKibben, to invite you to stand with us in Washington, DC on November 6. Exactly one year before the election, we are asking you to join us to encircle the whole White House in an act of solemn protest. We need to remind President Obama of the power of the movement that he rode to the White House in 2008.

We’re not expecting any arrests at this action, but with your involvement we can send an unmistakable, unavoidable message.

It’s clear that it’s now or never for President Obama to make good on his promises to end “the tyranny of oil.” He can start by saying no to the Keystone XL pipeline, a 1,700-mile fuse to a carbon bomb that is slated to run through America’s heartland.

Our organizing to stop the Keystone pipeline will only work if you’re with us. Below is the full text of your invitation to stand with us, which has been signed by:

  • Tim DeChristopher, inmate, Federal Correctional Institution, Herlong California
  • Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network
  • Courtney Hight and Maura Cowley, Energy Action Coalition
  • Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska
  • Bill McKibben, tarsandsaction.org
  • Gus Speth, former chair, president’s Council on Environmental Quality
  • Becky Tarbotton, Rainforest Action Network
  • Lennox Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus

Dear friends—

Once again, we’re sending you another long letter to ask for your help.

It’s been several weeks since the last people got out of jail in Washington DC, at the end of two weeks of civil disobedience that led to 1253 brave people ending up in handcuffs to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. It was the largest such action in decades, and because of their leadership lots has begun to happen.

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu along with seven other Nobel Peace Prize winners wrote a letter to the president asking that he block the pipeline. They acknowledged the actions of those of us in DC, saying: “These brave individuals have spoken movingly about experiencing the power of nonviolence in that time. They represent millions of people whose lives and livelihoods will be affected by construction and operation of the pipeline.”

At President Obama’s first public speech since the sit-ins ended, a hardy bunch of University of Richmond students unfurled a huge banner demanding that the president veto the pipeline – followed by similar actions in Columbus, Ohio, Raleigh North Carolina, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Wilmington, Delaware and many many others.

Meeting on the Rosebud Sioux reservation last week, Native tribal leaders from both sides of the border and private land owners from South Dakota and Nebraska signed a ‘Mother Earth Accord’ opposing Keystone XL and the tar sands. These are the people who started this fight; and they’re being joined by everyone right down to Nebraska Cornhusker football fans who booed lustily when a Keystone ad showed up on the Jumbotron at a recent game. The next day the university ended their sponsorship deal with Trans-Canada Pipeline

Even as we issue this letter, Canadian activists by the hundreds are risking arrest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and brave protesters are trying to block shipments of heavy equipment to Alberta from Idaho and Montana–these are remarkable signs of continent-wide protest.

And on the not-so-good-side: huge wildfires driven by the worst drought in Texas history have destroyed towns and killed good people; the biggest rainfalls ever recorded have done similar damage in New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

So—there’s real momentum for action, and real need. We have less than 90 days to convince the President not to approve the pipeline. So here’s the thing: we need your help again. We need you to keep using your creativity and bodies as a part of this struggle—to fight this fight even though there’s no guarantee of victory.

Here’s the plan, in three stages

1) Most important of all: On Sunday November 6 we will return to Washington. Exactly one year before the election, we want to encircle the whole White House in an act of solemn protest. We need to remind President Obama of the power of the movement that he rode to the White House in 2008. This issue is much bigger than any individual person, President or not, and that we will carry on, with or without him.

We’re not certain this is the right plan. We don’t know if there are the thousands of people that it will take to encircle the White House—we’ve never tried something this ambitious before. And we worry that it’s too earnest and idealistic—that maybe we should be going back to jail. But unlike last time, this time we’re working from a position of strength, and we can firmly but peacefully remind the president that we were the real power behind his campaign. We’re not expecting any arrests at this action, but we are expecting to send an unmistakable, unavoidable message.

2) But we have to start building momentum now with action in our communities. Between now and October 7, the State Department is holding a series of hearings on its flimsy report on Keystone XL. Our colleagues in the environmental movement are doing a good job of organizing for those meetings, including the final one in DC—and we’ll be supporting a rally at the final hearing.

But starting on October 8, we’ll begin a rolling series of actions at key Obama campaign offices around the country. We want these to be a bit bigger and more serious than what’s come before, so we’ll be doing training and providing materials to folks in those communities. We need to make sure that the message gets through to headquarters that people remember the promises from the 2008 campaign and want them kept.

3) We need to keep showing up at the president’s public appearances – just like what’s already been happening on campus after campus, town after town. (We especially like the chant that goes: “Yes We Can…Stop the Pipeline.”). Our organizing team is tracking the president’s every appearance to look for opportunities to act. If the President is coming to your neighborhood, we need you to get his attention. (We’ll help you do that).

We’ve already shown we have the courage and the fortitude for civil disobedience.Now we need to mix it up and show a different side of the campaign. Many of us were sincerely moved by Barack Obama’s campaign for president. We’re not yet ready to concede that his promises were simply the empty talk of politicians. We’re not going to be cynics until we absolutely have no choice.

It will be a beautiful and brave sight, the White House enclosed by the kind of people that put President Obama there. Since he’s said he’ll make up his mind by the end of the year, now’s the time. We know it’s hard to get to Washington, but if you can: this is the moment.

Thank you. A lot.