Sitting cross-legged on scalding concrete in front of the White House, under the blaze of an August sun, I silently awaited my turn to be handcuffed for civil disobedience along with the other 1,252 brave people who participated in the Tar Sands Action.
I was reminded of that day four months later while sweating profusely under an equally oppressive Cambodian sun and squinting to see the fields of cracked, dry rice paddies. The farmer standing at my side managed a weak smile as we peered hopefully into the empty sky awaiting the rainy season that would water his crops and nourish his family. Over 80% of Cambodians survive on subsistence farming, and for them climate change is not a political abstraction but it’s a matter of life and death. No rain, no crops, no food for his children.
Intense experiences like these in the fiery heat have cemented my certainty that we have a moral mission to curb climate change. I’m not interested in feel-good green schemes; I’m even more determined to do what it takes to halt the destruction of our planet and fellow human beings. This is why I’m willing put my body on the line in the Tar Sands Blockade.
In January when I left to travel Southeast Asia, I left a climate movement emboldened by its renewed sense of our own power when we non-violently forced President Obama’s delay of the dreaded Keystone XL pipeline permit. We flooded hearings across the Midwest, held huge actions in key states, had a sleep out to testify at the State Department, and even encircled the White House. Over 1,200 people were arrested at Obama’s doorstep and thousands more vowed that we would never allow this destructive pipeline to tap the most dangerous carbon bomb on the planet.
You can imagine my dismay in a cramped Vietnamese internet cafe when through a spotty connection I read about President Obama’s betrayal in Cushing, OK when he announced he was fast-tracking of the Keystone XL’s southern leg. Amid the sickening thick cigarette smoke and my feelings of helplessness one thought gave me hope: “Don’t worry: our movement physically won’t allow it to be built.”
A few days after I returned to the states a small article appeared on the New York Times environment blog quietly announcing that Keystone XL had been granted the necessary permits to begin construction in Texas. TransCanada has deployed its bulldozers and confidently stated that it will begin digging on August 1st. Not long ago our movement’s mass opposition was making front page news in this same paper. Now that it’s election season are we going to quietly acquiesce to to this Big Oil pipe dream and allow super-PAC industry attack ads to define our energy future?
Fortunately, a rag-tag bunch of young people in Texas are taking a stand. They’re working closely with Texas landowners to defend their homes from this foreign invasion of filthy tar sands oil from cutting across America’s heartland. Inspired by their determination I signed up on their website, received a phone call, and within a week I’d made plans to join them down in Texas.
Traveling abroad gave me a new perspective on the United States. I saw first-hand how our greedy overconsumption is a death sentence for the world’s poor, but also have a renewed appreciation for our privilege and relative freedoms. A democracy is only as viable as the extent to which its populace exercises their freedoms. We have a moral obligation to use our freedom of speech and assembly to push the envelope as far as we can.
Fortunately, I’m not alone. This summer, amid alarming record heat waves, wildfires, super-powered storms, people across the country are taking a stand. These actions are forming a “Summer of Solidarity” with direct actions to stop coal-train exports in the West, shut down fracking in Ohio, and the Mountain Mobilization to stop mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia. Join one of these actions in your region and sign up for Tar Sands Blockade. It’s time to make some noise!