Can two weeks of mass action in DC stop the tar sands pipeline?

    Starting Saturday, farmers, ranchers, Gulf Coast residents, faith leaders and climate activists from across the United States and Canada will be marching on the White House, holding sit-ins and risking arrest every day for two weeks.

    Starting Saturday, farmers, ranchers, Gulf Coast residents, faith leaders and climate activists from across the United States and Canada will be marching on the White House, holding sit-ins and risking arrest every day for two weeks because President Obama, with the support of the State Department, may soon allow the construction of an oil pipeline from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast—a decision that would not only endanger farmland and drinking water, but also, in the words of NASA scientist James Hansen, signal “game over for the climate.”

    Given these dangers, a mass sustained action of civil disobedience, the likes of which has not been seen in America for quite some time, seems unquestionably necessary. Whether such an action can force a “no” decision, however, is another story and one that can’t be known until things are underway.

    For one thing, it will be interesting to see how the organizers are prepared to deal with police not making arrests—as was the case with the 2009 Capitol Climate Action that sought to close a coal-fired power plant in Washington DC. Caught somewhat off-guard and needing something to show for their efforts, organizers ended up accepting a mild concession from Congress that allowed for the plant to switch to natural gas.

    That decision was criticized by some veteran environmentalists at the time as a sign of the climate movement’s timidity and concern only with small victories. While such criticism could be brushed off two years ago—when the climate movement was finding its legs—the tipping point has only drawn closer and there will likely be little allowance for mistakes or concessions this time around, especially over an issue as potentially devastating as further development of the tar sands.

    It would seem the organizers are aware of this, at least by the fact that they’re committing to two weeks of civil disobedience, not just one day. But is two weeks really enough? It might be if Obama had to render a decision by September 3, the final day of the protest. But in actuality there is no deadline. Obama has said his timetable is “before the end of the year.”

    So, the real question seems to be: what will be accomplished with two weeks of protest that hasn’t been accomplished with one?

    I look forward to finding out and remain optimistic, for as Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

    If anyone reading this will be in DC this weekend, let me know. I’ll look for you there!



    Recent Stories

    • Analysis

    Lessons for nonviolent activism in an era of digital authoritarianism

    May 17, 2022

    As autocrats become savvier in using technology to repress dissent, activists are striving to preserve the benefits of digital activism and mitigate the risks.

    • Q&A

    ‘Poison for the people’ — How an exiled activist is countering Russia’s propaganda machine

    May 12, 2022

    Environmental activist Evgeniya Chirikova once helped save a forest in Moscow. Now she’s trying to give voice to Russian activists and journalists resisting Putin’s regime.

    • Feature

    A rural protest for accountability and transparency brews in India

    May 10, 2022

    Facing extreme poverty and a lack of basic services, a movement in Rajasthan is renewing its push for an ambitious law to hold officials accountable.