First, when you’re getting x-rays, the dentist tells you not to move or breathe in order to get a sharp image, and when you’re getting your lock box cut off, the cops tell you not to move if you want to preserve your fingers. Second, the whine of the saw the cops use to cut through the PVC pipe sounds exactly like the drill the dentist uses. Third, the smell of the PVC pipe burning as the saw’s blade cuts through it smells like some plastic composites the dentist uses to make fillings.
Beyond that, there’s no comparison. Participating in a non-violent direct action against a corporate bad guy is way more fun than going to the dentist – albeit serious fun.
I know this because I was one of six people (pictured above, me on the far left) who locked down and blocked the elevators in the lobby of the building in Washington, D.C., housing ERM – Environmental Resources Management. It’s a consulting firm that wrote an analysis of the potential climate impact of the Keystone XL pipeline if it were to be built – and concluded that said impact would be negligible. Critics, like my friend Steve Norris, who initiated this whole amazing project, say the analysis is flawed. Listen here to an interview I did with him for Between the Lines. The firm also failed to disclose its many conflicts of interest, including ties with TransCanada, the builder of the pipeline, or its ties with other fossil fuel interests, when it filled out an application with the U.S. State Department and claimed it had no conflict of interest. The State Department presented its findings to President Obama, who, because the project crosses an international border (from Alberta, Canada, across the entire U.S. midsection to Texas) must decide whether or not to approve the project. Opponents of the pipeline say it would vastly increase carbon emissions and exacerbate climate change.
The six of us included three women in our 60s, a 40-something dad, and two young people. Fifty others filled the lobby and we all chanted and sang clever rhymes (like in this video, which also shows us locked into the pipes) until being led away in handcuffs – in our case, after the cops cut us apart. We were all charged with illegal entry (a misdemeanor) and have to appear in a D.C. courtroom in August.
This action followed a Walk for Our Grandchildren that took two dozen elders and others 100 miles from Camp David (named for President Eisenhower’s grandson) to the White House, while another 45 or so joined up at Harper’s Ferry (for the symbolism of liberation from slavery and liberation from fossil fuels) and walked 65 miles of the total distance along the spectacularly beautiful C&O Canal trail, between the Potomac River and a very active rail line, carrying mostly coal out of the Appalachians, furthering climate catastrophe and disastrous local impacts. The trail was almost completely tree-shaded, wide and flat and unpaved. Along the way we saw great blue herons, dozens of mud turtles basking in the sun in the canal, and innumerable yellow swallowtail butterflies. Also lots of spiders, judging from all the spider bites I got while sleeping in my tent.
We walked out of concern for the earth our children and grandchildren will inherit if we don’t get serious real soon about tackling climate chaos, which has already appeared much sooner than climate scientists had predicted. We walked to ask President Obama to kill the Keystone XL, and we walked – against all odds – to advocate keeping most fossil fuels in the ground.
Even though the title of the walk could have limited the number of non-elders, we had many young people and some middle-aged folks on the walk with us. We all remarked on how beautifully everything went, with just about flawless logistics and not a complainer in the bunch, despite some wicked and debilitating blisters on some folks’ feet – who nevertheless insisted on walking the whole way, patched up each morning and night by an awesome team of wilderness first responders. Among them was an herbalist who applied poultices of chewed-up (by me) plantain leaf to my biggest, itchiest spider bite, which immediately eliminated the discomfort.
Here’s a wonderful video showing parts of the walk, with interviews with some walkers.
I felt like the walk, the CD, and the rally the next day made all of us participants members of a beloved community. Now, since we were all white and mostly middle class, we have to figure out how to broaden that community if we’re to accomplish our goal of preserving life on the planet more or less as we’ve known it. Like one of the chants said, “Hey everybody, can’t you see, we ain’t got no Planet B.”