On Wednesday, Feb. 13, a group of 48 environmental and social justice movement leaders were arrested in Washington, D.C., after refusing to move from a main thoroughfare in front of the White House. Participants included the presidents, directors, and founders of major environmental groups like the Sierra Club, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, and the Labor Network for Sustainability.
The participants said they were engaging in civil disobedience in order to highlight the urgent need to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline construction. They wish to hold President Obama accountable for his statements made against the pipeline and encourage him to put a stop to the project, which they claim will damage the quality of groundwater and encourage the carbon-heavy practice of tar sands mining in Alberta.
This demonstration was an especially meaningful step for the Sierra Club. For the past 120 years, the Sierra Club has maintained a “standing rule of not using civil disobedience,” according to Conservation Director Sarah Hodgdon. “But the urgency has finally called for this tactic.”
Before leaving for the demonstration, many of the participants described their intentions in posts to the Tar Sands Action website.
“If not now, when?” asked Allison Chin, president of the Sierra Club’s Board of Directors. “I’m here to help create the space for President Obama to exercise bold leadership on climate, because I agree with him that, in his own words, ‘failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.’”
“We must move rapidly and responsibly toward a transformation in this country,” said Cherri Foytlin, a co-founder of Gulf Change who walked to Washington, D.C. from New Orleans to participate in the demonstration. “This fight is no less than the moral struggle of our time.”
The demonstration precedes the upcoming Forward on Climate rally scheduled for noon on Feb. 17 at the National Mall in Washington, but the two are characterized as separate events. While today’s civil disobedience was intended to protest the Keystone XL pipeline specifically, the weekend’s Forward on Climate rally will address multiple climate and environmental issues, including hydraulic fracturing and national standards for CO2 emissions.
Although today’s demonstration included civil disobedience, organizers have asserted that the Forward on Climate rally will not. Hodgdon did not anticipate the demonstration setting a precedent for civil disobedience at the rally. “The leaders have been communicating with each other to make sure everyone knows the rally will be legally cooperative.”