The new deputy assistant for legislative affairs was lobbyist who pushed for the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: Elvert Barnes/flickr/cc)
Is the only way to protect their profit to have the Secret Service detain our youth?
It seems so.
I was prisoner number fifty-nine, and this is my story: I flew from San Diego to Washington, D.C., in 2013 to peacefully protest in front of the White House against bringing to light one of the darkest shadows still within the earth. That shadow is in a place most of us will never go—Alberta, Canada.
Alberta is home to forests that cover sludgy bitumen beneath the ground that can be refined into Canadian Tar Sands Oil, at the expense of precious land, tons of clean water, and the releasing of one of the largest carbon reserves on the planet. The more carbon in the atmosphere, the hotter the earth will get, and the more common strange patterns of extreme weather will become.
It’s all to create the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline— which will help generate 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil across the United States to be refined, exported and burned.
Now the US faces a clear choice: promote the oil industry’s interests by green-lighting the most carbon-intensive, destructive oil on the planet, or stand boldly for the sake of future generations, promoting clean energy solutions instead.
Many people, like NASA’s climatologist expert Jim Hansen, say it would “essentially be endgame for the climate.”
Not to mention that to access the tar sands, oil companies strip-mine and drill millions of acres of pristine forest and wildlife habitat. Strip-mining that tar sands requires up to four barrels of water per barrel of bitumen!
Talk about a step in the wrong direction for the environment!
But that hasn’t stopped corporate interests and profit motives of business moguls like the Koch Industries. Some estimate they’ve put $50 million into political lobbying in favor of the pipeline in hopes they could so much as double their $82 billion net worth from the 2 million-plus acres they have rights to where the pipeline would dominate the land.
Soon-to-be dead from age, blinded and shortsighted by profit, the Koch brothers, whom the late Hunter S. Thompson surely would’ve declared a bounty on their scalps by now, are said could gain somewhere in the range of 40-80 billion dollars from the pipeline.
Those dollar figures, or their age-impaired brains, have them forget that while they will not be around to face the catastrophic environmental ramifications of the pipeline in years to come, their children and children’s children will.
As a 23 year old, I too will face these threats.
This is why I went to protest against multinational corporations bringing this darkness into light for profit. And that’s why the money-oiled corporate interests of government chose to have the Secret Service detain sixty-four of us without charging us with a crime, reading us our rights, or letting us see a judge (regardless of the fact that we had a legal permit obtained by 350.org). But that permit, of course, was irrelevant because President Obama has made it legal for the Secret Service to arrest anyone, without charging him or her with a crime, if they are present at a protest that the government doesn’t find pleasing for any reason.
The night before our protest, we sat in an old community building, listening to one of the Obama administration’s widely quoted climatologists, Jim Hansen, who said that if humans expect to mitigate or slow global warming, coal must be phased out by 2030. “If the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over for the climate,” Hansen warned.
Despite these facts, I learned that many other “people” desire an awakening of this monster—the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline—including Exxon and TransCanada. These companies are proposing an extension of the tar sands oil into the United States that will cover over a 1,000 miles, destroying land, seizing private property, and detonating a carbon bomb.
I was quick to learn from Mr. Hansen that before the Industrial Revolution, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air measured about 280 parts per million (ppm), according to researchers. Today, it measures about 390 ppm. That means, for example, that every million pints of air contained 390 pints of carbon dioxide. But to keep climate disruption to a minimum, many scientists like Hansen say ppm shouldn’t ever rise above 350.
If you’re anything like me, the aforementioned was probably like reading Mandarin after your fourth margarita while having no previous background in the Chinese language. So, in other words, Keystone XL would release 181 million metric tons of carbon/year, which is equivalent to the emissions of putting an additional 37.7 million cars on the road each year!
We wanted to stop this, so the next day we were thrown in jail, while Obama vacationed at Martha’s Vineyard.
Prior to our arrest, 350.org told us to expect a fine for the action, as it is consistent with a minor traffic violation. Instead, I was put in a Secret Service police van and held for almost three days without being read my rights or charged with a crime.
Quickly, productive discussion among detainees emerged. While in jail for wanting to save our planet, I learned that since Citizens United Act passed (funded largely by the Koch brothers), oiled-interests could dump unlimited money into politics to get virtually any bill or law passed in Washington. In this case, the Koch brothers, whose pockets run deeper than just about anyone in America, were dumping fortunes into Republican pockets to pass this pipeline so they could profit tenfold on the backend.
While all of this took place, there was also a lot of pain and discomfort. You could feel that frightening heaviness of anticipation of a Republic that would one day collapse like the Roman Empire, if it continued to treat people like slaves. Eight people were hospitalized because we were not given sufficient amounts of water. Six ounces of water every twelve hours in the smoldering humidity of the Washington, D.C., jail cells wasn’t enough, especially when the guard forgot (or so he said) to bring us some for almost an entire day.
In my cell, I was just inches below a massive fluorescent light that made me woozy in combination with the limited amount of water I’d been able to drink. Within the first eighteen to twenty-four hours the guards began splitting all the protesters up, sending us through the night to other jails with our hands-and-feet-cuffed, because they said that ours was full (even though it clearly wasn’t).
On our way back from checking out a new jail, handcuffed and stuffed in those little vans like some kind of cattle, they told us the others were also full.
While we waited in the van, I told a guard that I had to use the bathroom. He told me that I had to wait until I got into my new cell in another jail we were headed to. But I couldn’t go in a cell, because in jail the toilets were right next to the faces of our cellmates.
But I didn’t tell him that, I just said I had to go, immediately!
Upon hearing this he led me to the cells downstairs. It was filthy. I went while countless inmates who probably committed real crimes watched me. My dignity had been violated somewhere between the filthy floors (I wondered if they’d ever been cleaned) and my inability to move my arms or legs outside of the range of movement the cuffs permitted. “It’s a white boy,” one inmate yelled while I finished up using the bathroom.
Back in the police van, I watched people’s spirits being broken by my own government right before my eyes. This is happening while the people sworn to serve us sit in their comfy chairs on Capitol Hill counting their campaign money, I thought.
Many older people complained that they needed medical treatment, but the guards didn’t listen. I remember trying to encourage a man in his sixties to stay strong while we sat there, sweating, with our arms and legs cuffed. He couldn’t. I could see the life in his eyes fading. I hoped he could hold it together and not burst into tears. I didn’t want to watch an innocent old man defenselessly cry his eyes out because of a spirit broken by our own government. What hope had he left when his own government cared so little about his grandchildren’s future? He was miserable and uncomfortable. He was overheated, dehydrated, and scared to death—after all, there was no record of our whereabouts because we weren’t booked for anything!
While they drove us to another jail cell, a fellow detainee spoke passionately about how the extraction of the tar sands involves clear-cutting and scraping away all forests and possible life, often one hundred feet down. By maneuvering massive machines with billowing smokestacks and steel-toothed scoops, the companies would wage war with the land. When the thick black slush is spooned out of its 300-million-year-old home, hundreds of toxic chemicals await to separate, to be thinned and thickened into a more marketable sludge.
For revolution’s sake, even President George W. Bush said that the U.S. was addicted to oil. So why did I look around and see mothers, people old enough to be grandfathers, and other innocent young people locked in jail like terrorists for wanting carbon emissions to stop and renewable energy strategies to be taken seriously?
In my new book The Purpose Principles I ask: Was it because our oil-lobbied-government has no interest in ever phasing out fossil fuels and moving to clean energy, so long as we the people sit back and merely complain amongst ourselves? Meanwhile they borrow the dirtiest needle from fellow addicts like the Koch Industries and others like Exxon and TransCanada.
That is the question we as a nation are waiting to have answered: when will we say enough is enough with the fossil fuels?
Another question I’d love answered: Will we just wait forever, kick rocks and complain amongst ourselves, continuously voting these corrupt cowards into office and let our future be destroyed? Or will we take a stand and demand the revolution Thomas Jefferson said we must have “every 100 years to ensure democracy.”
If Obama and our government chooses the dirty needle it is game over for my generation, because it will confirm that Obama was just pulling strings like the other well-oiled politicians with no genuine intention of solving these problems of addiction and negligence.
We all know Canada is going to sell its dirty crack if it can find a helpless buyer. So if the United States is buying the filthiest of stuff to send overseas, it will absolutely be ignoring the extreme dangers of “fracking,” going after oil in the deepest ocean, the Arctic, and harvesting coal via mountaintop removal.
Our government and President who approve or reject these things must decide if they are indeed hopeless addicts to big business and dirty fuel.
As a 23 year old, I can tell you that I am not the only Millennial scared out of my mind for my future, or lack thereof. And let me tell you, the future looks bleak behind bars when you haven’t done anything wrong.
As someone whose never been to jail for anything, let alone for simply wanting my future to be looked after, I wondered how this all can be happening when, at his own inauguration, President Obama promised environmentalists (who helped him receive the opportunity to stand on that very podium) that he would take care of Mother Earth? He promised that, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
Yet instead of protecting the planet and letting others do so peacefully, there we sat, indefinitely detained for wanting to stop an environmental disaster that Obama now seemed to want to enact, without being read our Miranda rights, or even knowing what our charges were.
Perhaps our charges were so simple as going against big businesses that control government by purchasing congressional seats and financing campaigns, I wondered.
I thought of my friends, who sat in classrooms, incurring tremendous student loan debts, prepping for a future that maybe destroyed by the greed of big business and the negligence of Washington—and they didn’t even know their future was being taken away from them.
And that horrid pattern of moving from jail to jail, and sitting in concrete cells, continued for the entire three days. All the while my hands and feet were never uncuffed.
On the last day, we patiently awaited our “court hearing” (or so we thought). Jail guards lined us up against the wall to uncuff our feet so “we could go see the judge.”
They walked us down a hallway we thought was to the courtroom. The door opened. I saw a bright natural light. I looked at it—it was the sunlight. The first real light I’d seen in nearly 72 hours. They were letting us all go, without charging us with anything, or even telling us what had happened.
They were fear mongering us in hopes we would never protest again—that it would scare others from fighting against the pipeline!
When we were outside of jail we found out about the number of us that had been hospitalized from the severe conditions—eight people.
“How the heck could I forgive anyone for that?” I said to my best friend after telling him the story back in Los Angeles, having just landed from Washington, D.C.
I was beyond pissed off. My veins pulsed with hatred, not only because of what had happened, but because I found out firsthand that they really can do whatever they want, and get away with it, whenever they want (which is almost all the time).
I sat on his patio by the pool, face-first in the concrete, crying like a little kid, barely resisting punching the ground as if it were President Obama himself and his advisers, who had most likely called for our detainment from a beautiful brunch at Martha’s Vineyard overlooking a garden that cost millions of dollars while thousands couldn’t even afford breakfast in Washington, D.C.
It was the deepest hatred I ever felt in my life toward anything or anyone. “How could I forgive them?” I repeated.
Today with our future being determined by the negligence of big business and a corrupted Washington, the worst thing we can do is let our anger govern our minds and paralyze us into simply complaining and hollering.
In The Purpose Principles I wrote how you and me, young and old, we must become as Henry David Thoreau said, “a counter-friction to the machine.”
I didn’t know then that our unhandled rage, however warranted, never serves us in creating a better world—never.
What I did know, however, is that it could be turned into passion and used to take a stand. They win if we can’t get out of the cage of our complaints and frustrations and channel them into creative energy to take over governing our communities and society ourselves.
They want us to sit back and throw the remote control, bitch about their corruption, and vote them into office again. They lose when we turn our despair into relentless courage to find solutions to rise above these failing systems.
There are many of us, both young and old, who want change with all our heart. No longer can we just wait it out. We must inform all our friends and family of what is happening to our land, country, and future.
Three reasons to make today the day you stand up against this nonsense is for our children, grandchildren, and the future at large.
If not, who will?
Is the only way to protect their profit and power at the expense of our future to have the Secret Service detain us for opposing their negligence?
It seems so.
Even still I have come to write this article because my conscience leaves me no other choice. Our country is being destroyed. My generation’s future has been suffocated by the smoldering destruction of pipeline after pipeline. Yet most do not realize it yet. And our government has been corrupted to the very core by well-oiled campaign financers and big business.
Like Martin Luther King Jr. said himself, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
We can betray our children and children’s children no longer. But even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, our hearts do not easily assume the task of firmly opposing our government.
Over the past three years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart in my books, I see the challenges we face. Some of us who have already begun to break this muteness have found that the calling to speak is often a task of discomfort, but we must speak anyways.
We are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us. Together we bear the greatest responsibility, in ending an oil conflict that has extracted a heavy price on young people’s future.
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter—but beautiful struggle for a better world.
We must move past our indecisions and into action.
Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell our children and children’s children that the struggle was too hard? Will our message be that the forces of Western comfort and militant, money-backed corruption were too much to face, and we send our sincerest apologies for not trying? Or will there be another message, of courage, of revolution, of hope, of commitment to this cause, to our youth and future, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
Fortunately, with the tools of instant communication and connectivity via the Internet, it’s never been easier to make that choice.