Those words -- "Keep the Tar Sands where they are; Climate change has gone too far!" -- were chanted by more than 200 people in a vigorous protest I took part in on Aug 12, at the State Department in Washington, DC, against the Tar Sands Pipeline. The action was organized by CREDO Action, the Rain Forest Action Network, and The Other 98%. The Shalom Center and Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC) endorsed the protest, and affirmed our readiness to risk arrest.
We ranged in age from 18 to 79 -- students, grandparents, clergy, former Obama volunteers, farmers -- among whom were 60 of us who sat down, blocking the main entrance of the State Department. We were protesting its profoundly mistaken affirmation that the Pipeline is no danger, and asking Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama to rule the Pipeline out.
We expected to be arrested, but the police were under orders: No arrests. After two hours of sit-in, during which the organizer staff were told there would be none, we marched to a side entrance. On the way, I asked a leading officer, "What would we have had to do to be arrested?" Stolidly, he answered: "Not today."
I think the unwillingness to arrest us was already a measure of our growing power. The president's words and tone about the Pipeline have markedly changed in the last three months, as opposition has grown. More than 70,000 people have signed a Pledge to Resist with nonviolent civil disobedience if the Pipeline is approved, and this action was "early warning" of our readiness to carry out that commitment.
Each of the 60 who risked arrest carried a sign saying, "Another -- Against the Pipeline," and we called out our reasons, one at a time. My sign read, "Another Rabbi Against the Pipeline," and I explained I had two reasons to oppose it:
"One from the past -- 3,000 years of clear religious wisdom that it is a sacred obligation of humanity to honor, protect, and heal the Earth of which we are a part -- and one from the future: I have five grandchildren. I love them, and I would love them to grow up in a world that's as healthy, as beautiful, as abundant as the one I grew up in."
I think because I was speaking as a Rabbi, several of the many reporters present interviewed me, including The Huffington Post. Its report does quote me.
Among the chants that shook the air around the building were: "Keep the Tar Sands where they are; Climate change has gone too far!"
"Hey Obama -- We don't want no pipeline drama."
"We are unstoppable; Another world is possible!"
At the very end, I spoke directly to the police with words of respect for their commitment to uphold the law, and pointed out -- "The Pipeline is a much worse crime than anything we might have done today -- because it will poison the Earth and endanger the human future. You are parents and grandparents -- So to prevent that crime and to protect your kids, we welcome you to join with us in building an even broader movement."
That is the welcome we should be offering all our neighbors: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right." (A. Lincoln)
And with "the fierce urgency of Now." (M.L. King) Fierce urgency because we know the time is short -- for the God Whose many names all point to the Interbreathing Spirit of all life is already choking, choking, on the flood of CO2 that we have allowed to be loosed upon our planet.