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Forty-Eight Arrested as Sierra Club Protests Keystone XL Pipeline and Ends Ban on Civil Disobedience

Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, being arrested in front of the White House (Creative Commons-licensed Photo by Tar Sands Action)

Dozens of people demonstrated in front of the White House to protest construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is being built by the multinational corporation TransCanada. Forty-eight of them engaged in civil disobedience and were arrested.

Those arrested included: Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club; Allison Chin, president of the Sierra Club; Bill McKibben, founder of; Julian Bond, former president of the NAACP; Danny Kennedy, CEO of Sungevity (a solar power company); Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Connor Kennedy and actress Daryl Hannah.

According to the Tar Sands Blockade, Yudith Nieto, who “grew up in the fence-line refining community of Manchester in Houston, TX,” was arrested. Nieto had previously participated in actions against the pipeline organized by the Blockade. Jerry Hightower, “nephew to David Hightower, whose muscadine grape vineyard was destroyed by Keystone XL construction despite protests by Tar Sands Blockade and the objections of the local community,” was also one of the people arrested.

The arrest of the Sierra Club executive director and its president marked the end of a 120-year ban against participation in civil disobedience. It indicated that a well-established environmental organization, which has played the game of beltway politics, was ready to admit the oil industry wields tremendous power over the political process. It will take protest, including nonviolent direct action, to save the Earth and humanity from climate change.

Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., who took an unpopular stand against the Vietnam War, Brune wrote :

We know that enabling the exploitation of Canada’s carbon-intensive tar-sands oil would be a huge setback for progress on climate disruption. It could undo all the real progress on carbon-pollution that the president rightly took credit for during his speech last night

A politician might ask whether stopping Keystone XL would be a politic or popular decision. A leader will only care whether it’s the right one. My biggest hope? That this president is ready to lead.

McKibben declared, “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. 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.”

Citizens should not have to engage in protest, but they do when there exists a moral imperative to act.

When a corporation is abusing eminent domain to intimidate private land owners into giving up their land and when it is deliberately misrepresenting the risk its operations pose to the environment to preserve opportunities for profits, there must be action. And, when the political class—including the administration in power—chooses to serve industry over the environment, people are left with no choice but to use their bodies to take action.

There is a much larger demonstration planned for February 17, which 135 organizations and tens of thousands of people are expected to attend on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It will go from 11:30 am to 4:00 pm EST. The “Forward on Climate” rally will call for action on climate change and there will likely be demonstrators against the Keystone XL Pipeline there as well.

For more, here’s Bill McKibben speaking about the upcoming rally: 

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."