On August 30, a couple hundred people snaked through downtown San Francisco to confront Big Oil and demand accountability for the damage they have done to impacted communities worldwide. It marked the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It was also the largest non-violent direct action since the BP oil disaster.
After a die-in on a mock oil spill in front of Chevron’s offices with Rev. Davis from the Richmond community (site of Chevron’s refinery) reminding us that “liars, crooks, and killers also come in three-piece suits,” we visited the EPA to demand the comprehensive enforcement of the Clean Air Act, which gives the agency authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The crowd then marched to BP’s offices at Mission St. and New Montgomery, where citizens presented an open letter to the CEOs of all the major oil companies. Activists from a coalition organized by Mobilization for Climate Justice West blockaded the doors while others claimed the intersection with a giant parachute. Engaged citizens rallied on each of the four corners to lend their support.
I was among 15 people ultimately arrested and taken to a holding cell for little over an hour, cited, and released. I explained why I was willing to engage in a non-violent direct action in a previous post on Ecolocalizer. For many it was the first time being arrested in a non-violent direct action. As Lauren Thorpe, an activist with Greenpeace, explained,
“Monday’s action is particularly significant for me because I have come to the point in my life where I am willing to risk arrest for my beliefs. I believe the time has come for action beyond words to really show my commitment to stopping the status quo of our unsustainable, unhealthy and unfair fossil fuel-based economy. I won’t be alone on Monday either — I’ll be standing side by side with fellow activists, some whom have been risking arrest for decades and some of who are new to it just like me. As I start to mentally prepare for Monday, I remember the rich history of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience that has significantly changed both politics and public opinion on some of the most pressing issues of our times.”
In addition to learning some great new chants and making new friends, Monday’s action was a strong signal that the climate justice and clean energy movement is alive and well. After a year of Senate non-action on a climate and energy bill, record temperatures, and environmental disasters ranging from Michigan, West Virginia, and the Gulf in the United States to Pakistan and Russia, it is clear that the environmental movement is transforming itself and awareness and action is growing stronger by the day.
We can gain additional wind in our sails this week from the strongly intoned voices of a handful of kick-ass environmental leaders. Bill McKibben of 350, Philip Radford of Greenpeace, and Rebecca Tarbotton of Rainforest Action Network sounded the clarion call for stepping up our actions, saying, “Time is not on our side, so we’ve concluded that going forward mass direct action must play a bigger role in this movement, as it eventually did in the suffrage movement, the civil-rights movement, and the fight against corporate globalization.”
And environmental activist Tim DeChristopher issued his own stirring call for mass mobilizations. Known as Peaceful Bidder #70, DeChristopher is famous for disrupting an auction in 2008 by bidding for oil and gas leases on parcels of federal land despite having no money to pay for them.
“The more I advocate for stronger and bolder action from climate activists, the more I see the need for real human connections. No amount of social media can match the empowerment of being in the streets with thousands of other people who share our passion. That’s why mass mobilizations that engage in bold action are so important for our movement…The strategy of appeasement and compromise has thoroughly failed, and the discouragement of the climate movement is undeniable. For years we have been told to kneel and beg, and it has left us empty-handed. Now it’s time to stand up and fight for our right to a healthy and just world. Obedience to injustice is the ruin of the soul, and our movement desperately needs some rejuvenating disobedience.”
After several postponements, DeChristopher’s trial (dubbed the “Climate trial”) has been set for December 13. A mass convergence is planned in Salt Lake City to support DeChristopher and to elevate awareness and action on climate and energy policies.
Indeed, more mobilizations are on the horizon. In a couple weeks, Appalachia Rising is organizing an national response against mountain top removal coal mining. October 10 (10/10/10) is an International Day of Action, organized by 350.org and thousands of communities around the world to demonstrate local solutions to climate change. And the Climate Summit in Cancun (COP16) kicks-off on November 29, with mass mobilizations planned. Indigenous delegates will also bring the message of the People’s Declaration from the Bolivia’s climate summit.
Back to the intersection of Mission and New Montgomery: one of the most moving moments for me was sitting in the intersection, being present with so many other concerned and engaged citizens. From one side I heard the police give their final warning to disperse and from the other side I heard the powerful testimony of people from impacted communities and poems about mother earth.
One side had a bullhorn, money, and the force of law; the other side had the truth and the moral voice of people defending a livable future through empowering nonviolent action.
One spoke more clearly and with more authority than the other. And it will only continue to get louder.
More photos of the day’s events can be found Rainforest Action Network’s Flickr page.