A Minor’s Reflections on the Keystone XL Pipeline and Civil Disobedience

Reposted from WeArePowerShift.org. By Ariana Shapiro, State Focal Point, the Green Umbrella. Ithaca, NY.


I lay on the hardwood floor of the church of St. Stephen, the patron saint of travelers, staring at the gaping jaws of the beams above me while the sounds of sleeping activists rose from the pews. The holy place harbored our bodies while we shared the same dream of a livable future. The next day, these slumbering human bodies would send a message to our government. First we sent our votes, then we sent our voices. Now we send our bodies.

But not all of us sent our votes. When Obama was elected president in 2008, I was fourteen years old. Today I am seventeen, still unable to vote under American law. Politically, my opinion means nothing; so let my words ring twice as loud.

The next morning I climbed alone into a paddy wagon outside the White House, my hands cuffed behind me. I was the fourth of 243 arrests on this last day of arrests, one of 1252 arrested over a two-week period in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline that projects to funnel oil from the Alberta tar sands to a refinery in Texas. I cried during the lonely drive through the rainy streets of D.C., catching glimpses of the White House through the grates in the police car. The words of a civil rights era tune flowed through my mind: “Oh deep in my heart, I do believe, that we shall overcome some day”.

But we will overcome? Will Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline, and follow through on his promises to work towards a clean energy future? Can we prevent further climate catastrophes before it is too late?

I asked myself these questions as I paced around my solitary jail cell, waiting for my dad to be released so he could retrieve me. I wondered if my small sacrifice would have any impact. Being in jail was a sacrifice – it wasn’t fun. I was cold, lonely, and mind-numbingly bored. I am aware that I received a watered down version of the authentic jail experience, but the three hours I spent helpless in a cell gave me an important glimpse into what it must be like for Tim DeChristopher and the countless other Americans serving time for doing the right thing.

I’m scared of the Keystone XL pipeline. All 1,252 arrestees are scared. Everyone who stood on the side and cheered, everyone who participated only in spirit, they are all scared. But in spite of all the fear that could exist, I was blown away by the love, courage and unity that I experienced at the Tar Sands Action. I can only be optimistic about the future, because with history as my witness, the right thing always prevails in the end. I have to believe in that.

Deep in my heart I do believe that we shall overcome some day.

President Obama, can you hear my voice? Do you believe too?


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