Yesterday I was arrested for the first time.
The officers peered at my Driver’s License, questioning if I was really over 18.
Yes, I’m 20 years old, and somehow I find myself in front of the White House, being cuffed and transported to the Park Police headquarters in Anacostia.
The women were taken away first. I was surrounded by many twice my age and older. At that age, I may have more money in the bank to pay legal fees, I may have a steady job and not need to worry about having a criminal record. But I had no qualms about being arrested.
I knew the police would treat me with decency.
I knew I would be released in a timely fashion.
I knew I would have food and water waiting outside.
As a white, gender-conforming, woman taking part in a peaceful protest, I would not face the worst, or even the average, of prison conditions in the United States. The process was straightforward and streamlined. Entering the justice system cannot be taken lightly. But for me yesterday, the repercussions of breaking the law were minimal.
I also don’t face the worst of our changing climate. I live in a relatively stable area of the New England, where I can grow my own food, and pedal my bike wherever I need to go. The pipeline won’t cross my land, the spills won’t threaten my water supply. Life hasn’t gotten uncomfortable for me.
I know every day that the stakes for how I expend my energy are extremely high. Folks my age are playing a huge role in what the world will look like when we reach old age.
For all these reasons, I know the most rational and strategic decision I could make yesterday was to defy the orders of the Park Police and remain on the sidewalk in front of the White House, with 110 others, to demand President Obama to deny the XL Pipeline permit. I know that in Day 12 of this two week protest, I needed to add my voice and my body to the 600+ who had done so before me.
The proposed pipeline would stretch 1500 miles from the border with Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. It would cross the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The pipeline would transport oil from the tar sands of Alberta to Texas refineries. The extraction process of this oil is incredibly resource intensive, displaces indigenous people, and threatens clean water sources. Lastly, this oil is some of the most carbon-dense on earth. If this pipeline is approved, at a $13 billion price tag, any attempts to significantly reduce carbon emissions will be dashed.
The final approval of the pipeline is in Obama’s hands.
While I am loath to lobby and plead to politicians, this is one decision that we need to put the heat on Obama. I spent all summer creating community solutions to climate change, but the pipeline warrants saying a big ole, political, “No!”
I was in the mammoth crowd on January 20th 2009 when Obama was inaugurated. I braved the freezing cold, cheering and dancing with the jubilant multitude. I soaked in the glorious city of Washington that I call my hometown and reveled in the power of the people around me.
But today I am sad.
I am sad for the beautiful towns of Southern Vermont that are cut off by flood waters from Hurricane Irene, which fits the pattern of intensifying weather brought on by climate change.
I am sad for farmers across the country that faced devastating drought this summer.
I am sad for the people forced to migrate to this country to escape economic and environmental collapse in their home countries, only to face oppression in the United States.
I am sad for the indigenous people who have been disposed from their land by extraction and greed.
I am sad for children born in the shadow of coal plants who will contract respiratory diseases.
I am achingly sad.
Just as much as I needed the joy from helping children plant seeds this summer, and seeing someone harvest a carrot for the first time, I need to feel that sorrow, to soak it in, to know I must keep going. I must lend as much energy as I can muster to a fight that will not end within my lifetime. The people around me yesterday in the sit-in line, and sitting in the police transport vehicle, and who I worked with all summer, give me hope that we aren’t beaten yet. I think we’re just getting started.