Arrested At The Tar Sands Action by John Breitbart

The author’s “mug shot”
(Photo: John Breitbart / NLN)

NEW YORK — September 6, 2011. So much can happen in a week. I am back home, safe and sound. The two-week “Stop the Pipeline! Tar Sands Action” ended on Saturday, 4 days ago, with a total of 1252 arrests. My arrest was # 67 of 111 on Day 12, Wednesday, August 31.

As planned, I caught the bus last Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. earned my kudos for being cheap ($18 if you reserve on the web) and reasonably on time. Upon arrival, I briefly visited the White House to see if demonstrators were there. Then hopped a bus to Columbia Heights where the nonviolence training was going to be held at St. Stephan’s church. The training was more of a briefing than a full-fledged training. No affinity groups were formed, but this turned out to be unnecessary due to the highly scripted nature of the protest. Our four trainers, all volunteers, were great and worked as a fantastic team, covering loads of information about the planned scenario, legal information and lots of good advice for the many participants being arrested for the first time. Media volunteers also played an important role in this action, and took portraits of all the participants holding small signs. Mine read, “I was arrested Tar Sands Action. Washington, DC, Parks Police #082011090311.”

The 111 protestors who did civil disobedience (CD) on Wednesday came from all over America including as far away as the West Coast. There were even a few from as far away as Australia (Tasmania) and western Canada (Vancouver Island). A busload of young folks from Appalachia participated, and stressed how parallel they feel the situation is with the mountaintop coal mining in their part of the country. It was inspiring to be around so many clear-headed, passionate people, whose participation was fueled by their love and focused by their reason: powerful ingredients that make for citizens worthy of this title. As far as diversity goes, there were participants of all ages involved. It was good to see a new generation taking up the call. However, this part of the environmental movement has far to go in enlisting support from people and communities of color. It is a problem that has been present for a long time, and this action reflects how far we have yet to go.

The church allowed people to stay overnight and I took them up on this offer. The sleeping bag and pad came in handy, but sleep did not come quickly with all the excitement about what the morning would bring.

“The action went beautifully” — J. Breitbart
(Photo: John Breitbart / NLN)

The action went beautifully, like a picture postcard. We assembled in two lines in the south part of Lafayette Park and calmly walked to our positions in front of the White House fence. After remaining in place for about 20 minutes, the police put barricades around the area and issued three warnings that said if we did not move we would be arrested. This pattern emerged in the early days of the protest (you can visit the site for lots more information, including links to flickr for photos and YouTube for videos). The arrests were made slowly and took about an hour and a half.

After being handcuffed behind our backs we were searched, photographed and asked if we planned to “go through the system” or “post and forfeit”. Then we were loaded in a police van and driven to the Anacostia Police Station. There, we waited awhile and then paid a $100 fee called a Post and Forfeit. This allowed the protestors to be released without returning for a trial. It was like paying the fine for the violation (“Failure to obey lawful order”) in advance. Not everyone felt good about the civil disobedience involving so much coordination with the police, and the requirement of $100 to pay the Post and Forfeit. Since when is CD supposed to be only for people with a hundred to spare?

Outside the White House…
(Photo: John Breitbart / NLN)

We were released quickly after forking over the cash, and then gathered outside the station where the organizers and legal support people had water and some energy bars waiting. When everyone had been released, we joined for a closing circle where we talked about our next steps and shared what we would take home from this experience: “Energy,” “Determination,” “Joy,” and “Fire” were some of the words spoken. After final good-byes we dispersed to the nearby Anacostia metro station.

The author being arrested by DC Park Police
(Photo: John Breitbart / NLN)

Feeling the need to get home, I was able to board a Boltbus at 4:30 p.m. back at Union Station. On the way to New York, having heard about the flooding problems in upstate New York and Vermont, I called the friends I had visited earlier in August. It made me feel pretty emotional when I learned about the devastation in Vermont first hand, and how my friend’s house survived, but the driveway and land were wrecked, and there was still no electricity on Wednesday night. My home town had really dodged the bullet this time around. I had just protested about global warming, and now the resultant severe weather was seriously stalking my friends. There were two loved ones I couldn’t reach, and would have to wait until Saturday to confirm that they were all right (one in Phoenicia, NY and the other in Troy, NY).

I arrived home exhausted and over-stimulated at the same time. A number of people responded with support to my email, and one person put me back in touch with an activist I knew in the late 1970s during the anti-nuclear movement to stop the construction of a nuclear power plant at Shoreham, Long Island. Lorna Salzman has a thought-provoking perspective on what actions are needed now, and what is missing from the efforts of (visit: if you want to find out more on this). Thanks to Harry Bubbins for the connection.

For me, engaging in civil disobedience is part of the karmic and political “rent” I feel the need to pay for being an American, living in the richest and most brutal country in this troubled world. The way Americans use energy, and the way our country uses military might to make this possible has caused, currently causes, and in the climate-changed future will continue to cause immeasurable human suffering. Those among us who understand these things have a duty to act. If we do nothing, history may christen the phrase “good American” to explain our culture in a similar way that the phrase “good German” was applied to the citizens who lived during the time leading up to World War II.

Here’s an apt quote cited in my friend Lorna Salzman’s email of 9/4/11:

“We are already fighting World War III and I am sorry to say we are winning. It is the war against the earth.” – Raymond Dasmann

Thank you for your support, and see you perhaps at the next protest, yes?

Peace and justice for all and mother earth,


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