22 Former Obama Campaign Staff And Donors Arrested Protesting Keystone XL

On Monday, twenty-two people peacefully obstructed the entrance to the building that houses the State Department’s offices in downtown Chicago. They were then arrested without incident.

Last week in London, several protesters were arrested inside the Parliament building after attempting to disrupt a speech by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Hundreds were arrested in 2011 for trespassing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

In February, former NASA climate scientists James Hansen and dozens of leaders of the environmental movement like Michael Brune of the Sierra Club were arrested in front of the White House. Some 1,252 people were arrested in front of the White House in 2011 over 15 days.

All of these people have one thing in common — they are willing to risk arrest in an attempt to stop the U.S. and Canada from building the northern leg of the tar sands-pumping Keystone XL pipeline.

Monday’s protest was particularly significant since most of the activists who walked to the State Department’s Chicago office and got arrested were former Obama campaign staff, donors, and volunteers.

Organized by CREDO Action, Rainforest Action Network, and The Other 98%, the protesters went to State Department offices because that is where the decision process currently rests as the department drafts a Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The protest took place in Chicago because that is President Obama’s hometown and where he chose to locate the organization built upon his successful presidential campaign: Organizing for Action (OFA). Many of the 22 that walked to the State Department’s Chicago office and got arrested were former Obama campaign staff, donors, and volunteers.

Elijah Zarlin worked as a Senior National Email Writer on the 2008 Obama campaign for almost a year (it his t-shirt featured above, worn by many protesters on Monday, displaying President Obama’s words on his commitment to climate action) . Following the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Zarlin told Climate Progress he remembered then-Senator Obama telling campaign staff that if they wanted to do something about climate change, they had to win the general election. “I took that to heart,” he said.

“I never thought I’d be back in Chicago to risk arrest in order to get President Obama to do the right thing on climate change,” said Zarlin, who now works for CREDO. He said he participated in the sit-in because “we haven’t seen leadership and policies to truly make an impact,” despite the president’s “commitment he made to his staff and supporters to fight climate change.” In 2011 he was part of the 1,252 people who were arrested at the White House protesting Keystone.

Becky Bond, CREDO Action’s political director, said that the protest that happened Monday was “a preview of what’s to come if [President Obama’s] State Department recommends approval of the pipeline.” More than 62,000 people signed the Pledge of Resistance, which is a commitment to risking arrest “to send a message to the president that he must reject Keystone XL.”

This pledge was announced following the State Department’s release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and prepares for the final statement. After that is released, the Obama Administration has 90 days to decide if the project is in the national interest. If they do, that decision triggers the pledge, which Bond said would be “the biggest burst of civil disobedience in modern American history.” Activists will prepare with trainings on how to approach local disobedience.

The protesters have a sense that the usual avenues of activism are inadequate and more people have shown a willingness to do anything within their means to get the administration to understand the serious climate consequences of allowing a pipeline like this to be constructed.

A recent OFA fact sheet suggests that activists wait until President Obama makes a decision on Keystone:

“If people believe that Keystone XL is the primary fight to be engaged in, there are many groups who have taken a position, and we are happy to make suggestions about who volunteers might work with on that or other issues.

OFA sees climate as a broader issue than just Keystone. Ivan Frishberg, who runs the organization’s climate change campaign said: “Keystone is one decision, and it’s a big one. But it’s not the only one.” But if President Obama decides that the Keystone pipeline is in the national interest, the activists at OFA dedicated to organizing around the President’s agenda and the activists who have put their bodies on the line over Keystone will find themselves in conflict.

6 Responses to 22 Former Obama Campaign Staff And Donors Arrested Protesting Keystone XL

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    They were ARRESTED PROTESTING Keystone XL. That’s a helpful point of context for asking this (again) …

    Ryan and Joe, will CP and CAP begin an effort to persistently ask Hillary Clinton the best possible concrete questions regarding climate change and her position on it, including such concrete questions as this: “How would you rule regarding Keystone XL if you were president today — that is, if it were your decision to make? Would you approve KXL or deny approval? Please be clear and decisive. Thanks!”

    It seems to me that if some people are engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience to convince the administration not to approve KXL, and others are planning a cross-country march to make a broader statement about climate change, and to urge action, then it ought to be clear that CAP and organizations like it — and other organizations in the climate and environmental movements — should do their very best to make sure that the next Democratic nominee for president is someone who has a clear, compelling, convincing, and courageous position on climate change and how she/he would address it if elected. Because Hillary Clinton has started the race for the nomination already, and because she is already the clear front-runner in the minds of a great many political pundits and media figures, it falls upon all of us (and especially those with a large platform and access) to begin finding out and TESTING Ms. Clinton’s position and her willingness to make the tough, necessary decisions. Right? Or do we want to end up in the same position five years from now that we’re in today?

    It’s a clear question. Responses?



  2. Jamie Ross says:

    Good work, people! Thanks for doing this.

  3. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Time for Obama to stand up for what he says he believes in. Was all that talk about the seriousness of climate change just talk?

    Time to think about the legacy he will leave. Maybe there are many Americans who do not get climate change, but they will.

    If Obama approves the pipeline, history will judge him very harshly. That is for the short period there are people to write history.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The protests are good, overdue and will be counter-productive-in the short term. The Right, if protests ever amount to a nuisance, or, Heaven forfend, a threat to a 10% return on capital, will crack down, hard. They are really itching for an opportunity to deal with Greens with ‘extreme prejudice’. The tsunami of hate flowing against environmentalism in the Western Rightwing hate media for decades, is reaching real apoplectic furies now, as the ecological collapse gathers steam. As the Right will never, ever, forego profit for human survival, there must be a great confrontation, eventually. That’s what PRISM, FISA, FEMA, the PATRIOT ACT, etc are all really for. The whole ‘terrorism’ scam, ostensibly to protect the Holy West from the jihadi thugs who the USA and its allies organised into ‘al-Qaeda’, has been, I believe, in reality a project to establish the contours of the totalitarian state that will be required to protect the elite’s wealth and power during the Collapse and the ensuing Chaos.

  5. Brooks Bridges says:

    Join Credo and get support those getting arrested and sign up to be in such a group.

  6. Ima Voter says:

    It would seem equally important to find the Republicans who will listen to reason, who will be open to acknowledging there is a problem and then to seek solutions. Convincing only one party simply makes for a large divide – we need to convince all politicians that this is a very serious issue, using facts and data to impress this upon them.