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Tweeting While the World Burns or: Elites Against the XL Pipeline

Call me a crank.  Call me an egalitarian ideologue.  Hell, call me Ishmael if you’d like, but is this what democracy looks like to you?  Do hand-picked celebrity protests help or hurt the eco-movement, especially if they’re staged a few days in advance of ones for everyday people?  You be the judge.

On Wednesday I read at Censored News about the 48 people arrested in front of the White House protesting the XL Tarsands Pipeline (including Michael Brune of the Sierra Club), my first reaction was: what the hell?  The long-planned protest was scheduled for Sunday!

I clicked over to and read about the protest, then scrolled down to find the Wednesday 8:17 a.m. announcement of the Select Event. I checked into some of the tabs, comments, the early group photo, hand-picked participants* list with brief bios…and growled a little.  It was hard not imagine that the organizers didn’t want to give too much advance notice or some well-meaning hippies might want to join them.  Brrrrr; would they have been frozen out?  Then I read the schedule: meet with police (gone now; might be usual), ‘media availability, and speeches in the park, and location: ‘…just east of the picture-postcard zone.  Oy.  Yep; it was hard not to further imagine that these folks’ll be orderin’ a mess o’ these photos for their holiday gifting.

Yes, yes; we all were so pleased that the Sierra Club had at last decided to suspend their crazy rule that forbids their officers or employees from engaging in acts of ‘civil disobedience’.  Parenthetically, I’d read a Feb. 11 piece by Mike Roselle, Campaign Director of Climate Ground Zero earlier in the week that said that the rule was suspended for one day, although he seemed to believe that the discussion about that would go on.  In the piece, he parses what civil disobedience is, what it is not, and reckons that if photo-ops don’t work, Brune, will have to make some big decisions soon in regard to further actions.  While mentioning few concerns, he’s jazzed that Micheal Brune will ‘go toe to toe’ with the President.

As I began to consider writing a post calling this Vanity Action, I checked the front page of FDL and saw that Kevin Gosztola had put up a post about it.  Hmmm.  What to do?  Could I be content with raising my objections there, thus taking the coward’s way out?  Turns out I did raise some tepid objections, and was content to not do more, much to my shame, although waiting turned out well, since I now have more evidence to buttress my gripes, and I won’t even go into the corporate sponsorship of some of these participants’ groups.  Nor will I point our how they fail to call out consumer consumption as far as I know, or which of them might advocate capitalist Green-Washing.. And as my social activist artist friend emailed me this week, ‘All we can do is go where conscience and logic takes us, or we are cowards and frauds’.  (Freda kindly lets me use his art in my posts.)  My conscience now asks me to publish this.

Two items brought further illumination.  One was Amy Goodman’s interview with Brune, Kennedy and Hannah as she covered the event (video and rush transcript are here; my bolds throughout).  A few key statements:

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: I think President Obama is going to kill the pipeline.

INTERVIEWER: Why do you say that?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: Because I think it’s the right thing to do, and I think he knows that. And I think he—you know, I think he has a strong moral core, and I think John Kerry does, too. And I think, ultimately, he would not do something that is—that is this catastrophic and irresponsible and reckless.

MICHAEL BRUNE: I have not—I have not talked with him (Obama) since the—since his inauguration address, but we are talking to White House officials. And the clear message we want to deliver is that the president has an enormous amount of executive authority, and we want his ambition to match the scale of this challenge. I agree with what Bobby Kennedy said yesterday, that we believe that the president has a solid moral core, we believe that he is committed sincerely to fighting climate change. And in that context, you can’t build a pipeline from the tar sands. You shouldn’t drill for oil in the Arctic. You should not build liquefied natural gas export terminals that will make fracking happen everywhere across the country with even more intensity. So the challenge right now is to show the president that we’ve got his back. Every time he stands up to big polluters, we will mobilize to defend his strong policies. And at the same time, we’ll push the president to go as far as he needs to go.

Ahhhh, soooo.  This drivel (and I mean ‘drivel’ in the nicest possible way) must be why these folks held a protest banner with Obomba’s logo on it.  #Forward on climate change indeed.

When Amy interviewed Daryl Hannah separately, she at least injected some reality:

DARYL HANNAH: Well, unfortunately, this lethal beast doesn’t seem to go away. And also, the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline is already being put in the ground as we speak. So, as I’d like to believe what Robert Kennedy Jr. said and what Michael Brune said about the president’s intentions to not pass the rest of the Keystone XL pipeline, but unfortunately, I don’t know that his actions will match his words in terms of the Keystone pipeline, because so far he’s fast-tracked the southern leg. And the Keystone pipeline, if it is approved, is basically a conduit to the expansion of the tar sands projects up in Canada, which are incredibly destructive to our life support systems.

Then I read Michael Donnelly’s (another crank) piece at Counterpunch: ‘Tweeting as the World Burns’.  Suffice it to say that I don’t agree with some of what he wrote, but some of it sure set off my bullshit meter again, and some…sent smoke comin’ out of my eyes and ears, starting with some of the tweets from the heroes of the story:

“Bucket list item checked off: share a paddy wagon with Julian Bond. This is a broad movement,” Bill McKibben tweeted after his misdemeanor arrest for protesting the Keystone Pipeline outside the White House, February 13, 2013

“It’s always good to get arrested with a Kennedy” posted Pete Nichols, who flew in from California for the rally. When informed about the Tar Sands-derived fuel in his and many of the other protesters’ mode of transportation, he frivolously responded, “I actually teleported. New Waterkeeper project. ssshhhh…btw…..tar sand oil makes terrible jet fuel and even worse martinis.”

I’d seen a few others that irked me earlier; even one that said one or two of the original 50 escaped arrest.

Donnelly’s anger had been fueled earlier that day:

In one of those Cosmic moments, an article about the effort to desegregate the Arkansas Capitol’s cafeteria in 1964 appeared the same day as the invite-only Designer Protest.

He compared what happened to those engaged in civil disobedience during those civil rights days to this, which may not be entirely fair, but I do know what he means.

“Comparing what those Civil Rights Movement activists endured with the 1.5 hour Vanity Protest and catch-and-release arrests held at the White House is akin to equating the Battle of Antietam with the Battle for Granada…yet, that is exactly what the organizers are doing all over social media. They were simply charged with failure to disperse and obey lawful orders and released on $100 bond each. (And don’t even get this Irishman started on the pejorative “paddy wagon” line. “Tweets from the Birmingham Paddy Wagon, anyone?”)”

Yup, cranky as all giddy-up, and at least understandable from where I sit.  You can go through their tweets at this page.  When I wanted art for this piece, I searched pages of Creative Commons photos on flickr.  Nothin’.  And there’d been a freaking warning under the event report that said all the photos had been copyrighted, but you could ask for permission to use them.  Meh.  Is that what democratic movements should do?  I’d found a silhouette of a question mark to use instead, but when I went to grab an url to show you the photo of the banner, it turned out that Rainforest Action Network had loaded a few onto flickr.  Good on them.

Meanwhile, the everyday people may already be on their way to DeeCee, or organizing other actions, and I salute them, and will be with them in spirit.  So will many Occupiers, as you can see here, and read about the week of protests that Flowers and Zeese report here.  The Green Party meet-up in DC is here.   As luck would have it, though, the President will be golfing in Florida for the weekend.  And…so it goes…

Feel free to give your opinions; I understand that it can be uncomfortable to hear our ‘heroes’ challenged as having clay feet, or for being entirely too self-congratulatory.  As is the case with Michael Donnelly, I’m great with celebrities joining in protests, but not like this.


* Cheri Foytlin, who attended is the civil disobedience real deal, and hasn’t always been able to come up with bail money after her arrests without help from supporters.

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