Bill McKibben, head of 350.0rg and a principal organizer for the White House demonstrations against the Tar Sands extraction and Keystone XL pipeline, was interviewd Tuesday night by KO on Countdown. McKibben’s quietly understated message to the President was direct, personal and moving, and equally important, evolving:
It’s going to be gut-check time for the President.
When he ran for President . . . the night he was nominated, in fact, he said, “you know what? When I’m President , the rise of the oceans will begin to slow, and the planet will begin to heal.” That’s powerful talk.
He hasn’t yet done heroic things on the environment. He’s done some good things around the edges, but nothing transformative. And he’s backed down on some important fights.
This time, he can’t blame it on Congress; he doesn’t have to ask Jim Inhoff for permission; he doesn’t need any help from the Congress. He can turn down this permit himself. And if he does — and here I think is the political calculation — if he does it will send a surge of excitement through that base.
We were sitting, lying on the metal shelves in what’s called the central cell block in the Washington jail the other day, and people were saying, “you know, the last time I was this uncomfortable, I was lying in a church basement getting ready to go knock on doors for Barack Obama.” I sure hope I get reminded of why I was doing all of that.”
When Jane Hamsher asked me if I wanted to join her at a White House demonstration led by McKibben that would also include Dan Choi, I said “sure,” not yet realizing I would spend two days in the cell directly across from Bill and down the cell block corridor from Dan.
And Bill is right that the cells and bunks were uncomfortable. But we kept telling each other this isn’t anything compared to what the planet and its people face if we don’t stop the madness of releasing one of the world’s largest concentrations of carbon, stripping the forests, threatening the aquifers, and then burning the fuel. How could we ever explain such shameful and reckless selfishness to the next generations?
But what Bill and the organizers did was to make sure that several generations understood all at once. I’m 67 but was far from the oldest and clearly not the veteran of this kind of war. Two cells down, 18 year old Lucas, who had just graduated from high school, was right there, and so were a dozen or more kids still in or just out of college or that age. We had two ministers — one older, one newly ordained – teachers, inventors, architects, former government advisers and more . . . just regular Americans. They all understood far more than I.
One of many favorites is Tom Weis, 45, who’s planning to ride his part electric three wheeler all the way from Canada to Texas, staring in October. He’ll be biking the pipeline route and stopping to interview folks whose lands and water supplies risk destruction from leaks and pipeline failures. Tom is planning to cross-post his experiences here at FDL, so check out his video and watch for “Renewable Rider.” If you can help in his effort, follow the links.
The woman in the first 65 arrestees blew me away when they were arrested. (Many great pictures here.) We watched as the Park Police and SWAT guys handcuffed each of the women first, starting with a young women who stood up bravely, looked at us and held it together as burly men placed handcuffs on her for the first of what would be three or four times. I will never forget that look, nor the next from a woman probably older than I. Proud, defiant, brave, she was. Unbeatable. Hell, we all thought, look at that! What are we worried about? And so it went, one after another. Out of the way, guys, the ladies have got this.
And so it went. Jane’s posts provided great commentary on the conditions in the women’s cells at the first holding center — it was the same for the men, with 15 of us in our 6X8 foot cells. The paddy wagons tanking us to the main jail became dangerous heat traps when we were left inside to wait for . . . what?
Others have posted on the conditions at the main jails to which we were transferred late Saturday night and remained until Monday morning before donning ankle shackles to be led to another large holding cell before release some 10 yours later. I don’t have much to add except those were without doubt the most inedible not-really-cheese sandwiches in the history of food, but the only alternative was the almost equally undigestible baloney.
Inside the main jail, once it was clear we were to spend an exceptionally uncomfortable weekend courtesy of the DC Park Police, Bill McKibben had the difficult task of helping others keep the faith — since the original expectation was we’d be released on Saturday — so people needed to keep faith in the plan, the goal, and in themselves. The mix of generations proved useful, here, and everyone hung in there, telling jokes, exchanging stories, quoting famous sayings, controlling the doubts and most of all, passing the time.
Like all of us, Bill is moving, learning from this event. He’s telling his President there’s a promise to keep, a threat to be stopped, an alternative future to be built. And people who worked for Obama are now prepared to hold him accountable. I don’t think this President is listening, yet, not sure he can or cares. But McKibben and followers aren’t done. They’re just starting. And there are now 65 more people from last weekend, and by today, another 200 or more who are ready to do it again and again, and more. Because it doesn’t have to be this way, and it’s not okay for our government not to care about the only home planet we have.
Update: Schedule of events and places/churches where the training is held nightly: TarsandsAction.org If your in the area and want to the sights, come!