WASHINGTON, D.C. — From where he sits — behind bars in a Washington, D.C., jail cell — everything is going according to plan for Bill McKibben.
The environmental author and activist was arrested on Saturday, Aug. 20, in Washington while protesting the proposed construction of a 1,700-mile pipeline that would pump oil from the Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada, to oil refineries in Texas. He was one of 70 arrests on Saturday.
McKibben went to Washington to orchestrate a civil disobedience action in front of the White House. The action, set to continue for two weeks, will see protesters civilly disobeying the law by protesting in front of the White House every day, all ready and willing to go to jail for the cause of stopping the pipeline.
McKibben and the other protesters were charged with “failure to obey a lawful order” and taken to Anacostia Station to be processed. While they originally believed that they would be able to pay a $100 fine and get out of jail the same day, the US Park Police decided to hold the protesters for 48 hours.
From behind bars, McKibben issued the following statement:
“Hello everyone! We don’t need sympathy, we need company. It’s clear to us that police were hoping to deter this action, and it’s equally clear to us the opposite will be the result.
“I’m looking forward to seeing everybody over the next two weeks. It has been a little hot here in central cell block, but not as hot as it will be if we don’t stop this project. People here have been in good spirits, and there has been a great deal of learning. We are thinking ahead to this weekend to share stories about Dr. King and freedom movement.
“Even though uncomfortable, this experience has given us a greater sense of that part of history. Come on in, the water is fine.”
According to tarsandsaction.org, where McKibben’s statement was posted, there were 45 protesters from Saturday’s arrests remaining in jail. They are expected to be released this afternoon.
MIDDLEBURY — As Bill McKibben walked out the jailhouse door of the Washington, D.C., Central Cell Block on Monday, someone handed him a Sunday New York Timeseditorial denouncing the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline that would pump crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to Texas oil refineries.
Naturally, the environmental author and activist was on the same page. He had just completed his 48-hour sentence for protesting that same pipeline in front of the White House.
McKibben, a Middlebury College scholar and Ripton resident, was arrested on Saturday, Aug. 20, along with roughly 70 other protesters. It was the first day of the planned two-week civil disobedience action designed to persuade President Obama to say no to the planned $7 billion pipeline.
“This is now the single most important environmental test for the president between now and the (2012) election, and a wonderful chance for him to remind many of us why we were so enthused about his election,” McKibben told the Addison Independent after his Monday release.
After being taken into custody by U.S. Park Police, who patrol the federal property in front of the White House that the protesters occupied, McKibben and the other demonstrators initially expected to be released the same day after payment of a $100 fine.
However, they ended up staying the weekend in the Central Cell Block, charged with “failure to obey a lawful order,” which McKibben said was “exactly as much fun as it sounds.”
“The police told our legal team that they wanted to make an example of us, to deter other people from coming (to the protest),” said McKibben.
He said he was delighted to find, upon his release, “that it didn’t deter a soul. More and more people (have) signed up for what’s becoming the biggest civil disobedience campaign in climate movement history on this continent.”
McKibben reported watching 61 more arrests the day of his release, including actress Margot Kidder, who portrayed Lois Lane in the four original Superman movies. According to www.tarsandsaction.org, there had been 220 total arrests as of Wednesday morning.
Middlebury College professor of English and American Literature Chris Shaw, who sat in the cellblock adjacent to McKibben, said that those who were arrested on Sunday and Monday deserve the credit for keeping the protest going after their group’s unexpected layover in prison.
“The people who really impressed me (were) not our gang who spent two days in jail, but the people who went (to protest) Sunday after we had been thrown in the clink,” said Shaw, a Bristol resident.
Subsequent arrests will not follow the same pattern as the first wave. According to McKibben, their release came after “an appalled judge had bawled the police out about our treatment and dropped all charges.”
Protesters arrested from now on will simply be subject to the $100 fine the event organizers had originally counted on.
McKibben knows that it is “not an easy thing for any good law-abiding person to get arrested,” but also contends that blocking the pipeline merits the drastic action. In a statement released from prison, McKibben noted, “it has been a little hot here in central cell block, but not as hot as it will be if we don’t stop this project.”
Shaw agrees that the right action is being taken on against the pipeline. First and foremost, said Shaw, the pipeline is a tangible issue that is easy to understand.
“A lot of the things that we get flamed up about and try to create policy about are amorphous. They’re vague. On both sides, most of the time, (it is) abstraction fighting abstraction,” said Shaw. “This is a concrete thing ... that is easy to identify (and) easy to get peoples’ attention focused on.”
According to Shaw, the consequences of the pipeline would be severe enough — NASA scientist James Hansen has warned that the pipeline, if built, would mean “game over” for the fight to bring carbon levels in the atmosphere back to sustainable levels — that a civil disobedience action is necessary to separate it from just another environmental protest.
“If you do just another protest ... nobody’s going to pay attention,” said Shaw. “But if 50 grannies and nuns a day go get arrested in front of the White House for two weeks, that’s going raise a higher profile.”
The protests will continue until Sept. 3, and more than 2,000 people from all 50 states have signed up to protest and get arrested during the two-week span. McKibben urges anyone who wants to get involved to sign up at www.tarsandsaction.org and join him in Washington.
“Come on in,” said McKibben from his jail cell, “the water is fine.”
Reporter Ian Trombulak is at email@example.com.