Forty-eight individuals were arrested outside the White House on Wednesday afternoon as they urged President Obama to take a strong stand on climate change by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline and embracing a clean energy future without fossil fuels.
Among the notable leaders involved in the civil disobedience were Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, which made news recently by declaring its leaders and membership would end an almost 120 year ban on participating in acts of civil disobedience. Large cheers went up in the gathered crowd of supporters as Brune was led away in handcuffs.
“For the first time in the Sierra Club’s 120-year history, we have joined the ranks of visionaries of the past and present to engage in civil disobedience, knowing that the issue at hand is so critical, it compels the strongest defensible action.” –Michael Brune, Sierra Club
“For the first time in the Sierra Club’s 120-year history, we have joined the ranks of visionaries of the past and present to engage in civil disobedience, knowing that the issue at hand is so critical, it compels the strongest defensible action,” said Brune prior to his arrest. “We cannot afford to allow the production, transport, export and burning of the dirtiest oil on Earth via the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama must deny the pipeline and take decisive steps to address climate disruption, the most significant issue of our time.”
Other notable arrests included environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.; Bill McKibben, Founder of 350.org; Julian Bond, civil rights leader and former president of the NAACP; and Daryl Hannah, an actress who has become well known for her climate activism from previous acts of civil disobedience in Washington and elsewhere.
After blocking the sidewalk in front of the White House—with some attaching themselves to the tall iron fence—and refusing to move when asked by Capitol Police, the activists were arrested one-by-one, handcuffed and led away.
“The threat to our planet’s climate is both grave and urgent,” said Julian Bond, who was among the last to be taken into custody. “Although President Obama has declared his own determination to act, much that is within his power to accomplish remains undone, and the decision to allow the construction of a pipeline to carry millions of barrels of the most-polluting oil on Earth from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. is in his hands. I am proud today to stand before my fellow citizens and declare, ‘I am willing to go to jail to stop this wrong.’ The environmental crisis we face today demands nothing less.”
“We really shouldn’t have to be put in handcuffs to stop KXL–our nation’s leading climate scientists have told us it’s dangerous folly, and all the recent Nobel Peace laureates have urged us to set a different kind of example for the world, so the choice should be obvious,” said 350.org founder Bill McKibben. “But given the amount of money on the other side, we’ve had to spend our bodies, and we’ll probably have to spend them again.”
Wednesday's action was designed as a smaller but dramatic preface for a rally scheduled for Sunday that organizers say will bring many thousands of activists from all over the country to the White House gates to ask Obama to move "forward on climate".
Update (1:04 PM): The last of the climate protesters were arrested in the last several minutes, including Sierra Club president Michael Brune, co-founder of 350.org Bill McKibben, and noted civil rights hero Julian Bond.
Update (12:44 PM): Robert F. Kennedy, Jr was the latest to be arrested outside the White House. He got the endearing, if not original, send-off from his fellow climate activists that all those arrested so far also received. "Two, four, six, eight - who do we appreciate? Bobby, Bobby, Bobby... Yeah!" -- as he was taken away by police.
Update (12:06 PM): Capitol police issued warnings to amassed protesters that those who did not disperse from the sidewalk in front of the White House would be arrested.
Subsequently arrests did commence, with climate activist and actor Daryl Hannah among the first to be handcuffed and led away.
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Posted prior to the day's action (7:15 AM):
Saying they're not attacking or protesting against the Obama administration but rather applying the necessary pressure the president himself has asked for, climate activists and environmental groups converged on the White House Wednesday to demand an end to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
For the first time in its 120-year history, the Sierra Club members, including their current presidnet Michael Brune, will participate in the civil disobedience action to convey the severity and urgency of action on climate. Joining them are representatives from other groups including 350.org, Tar Sands Blockade and the Hip Hop Caucus, and individual activists like civil rights activist Julian Bond, actress Daryl Hannah, Nebraska rancher Randy Thompson and others on the frontlines of the climate justice movement.
Those involved released a group statement which said their purpose was "to show the depth of our resolve that President Obama take immediate, decisive action against climate change."
"If the president leads," they continued, "the vast majority of Americans will rally behind him. We’re not here today to protest the president, we are here to encourage and support him. We lived through horrors of Superstorm Sandy, the Midwest drought, wildfires, and the hottest year on record: we know in our bones that the time has come to do more than we have, and all that we can."
350.org, which has staged protest rallies and civil resistance actions outside the White House before, says Wednesday's events are both a continuation of their previous efforts and an escalation they plan to sustain as Obama begins his second term in earnest following his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
As Bill McKibben, co-founder and chief spokesperson for the group, tweeted Wednesday morning:
Today's CD in DC presages Sunday's (completely legal) rally, but also a coming spring and summer of peppery action. Save up bail $
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) February 13, 2013
It we expect the president to act on Keystone, we have to show we're willing to take some risks too.
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) February 13, 2013
Those participating will gather in Lafayette in the mid-morning for a small rally and press conference before heading across the street for what they term "civil disobedience" at the East Gate of the White House just before noon.
"Civil disobedience is the response of ordinary people to extraordinary injustices," they said. "Americans have righted the wrongs of our society – slavery, child labor, suffrage, segregation, and inequality for gays and immigrant workers – with creative nonviolent resistance. Climate change threatens the health and security of all Americans, and action proportional to the problem is required--now."
"Today we risk arrest because a global crisis unfolds before our eyes. We have the solutions to this climate crisis. We have a moral obligation to stand stand for immediate, bold action to solve climate disruption. We can do it, and we will.”