Mass. Conference Minister arrested at White House pipeline protest
Written by Wire Reports and Gregg Brekke August 22, 2011
The Rev. Jim Antal, the UCC's Massachusetts
Conference Minister, was one of 65 people
from across the US and Canada arrested at the White House Aug. 20, 2011, the
first day of a two-week sit-in aimed at pressuring President Obama to deny the
permit for a massive new oil pipeline. Over 2,000 more people are expected to participate in the “Tar Sand Action” by joining in daily acts of civil disobedience through Sept. 3.
In what activists call “the
largest environmental test for President Obama before the 2012 election,” the president is to decide if he will grant a Canadian company a permit to build the
1,700-mile “Keystone XL” pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on
the Gulf of Mexico.
that the pipeline could cause a BP-like disaster in America’s heartland, over
the largest source of fresh drinking water in the country. The world’s top
climatologist, Dr. James Hansen, has warned that if the Canadian tar sands are
fully developed it could be “game over” for the climate.
“It’s not the easiest
thing on earth for law-abiding folk to come risk arrest. But this pipeline has
emerged as the single clear test of the president’s willingness to fight for
the environment,” said environmentalist and author Bill McKibben.
Joining Antal in civil
disobedience, McKibben was among those arrested, along with the co-founder of the
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and former White House official Gus
Speth, gay rights activist Lt. Dan Choi, author and activist Mike Tidwell,
Firedoglake founder Jane Hamsher, and many others.
The protest began with a
small rally in Lafeyette Park, where participants listened to McKibben address
the crowd and prepared themselves for what would likely be an afternoon in
jail. At about 11:00 AM, the group formed two lines and marched to the White
House fence to the applause of onlookers. A group of participants lined the
fence, holding two large banners that read “Climate Change is Not in Our
National Interest: Stop the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline” and “We Sit In
Against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Obama Will You Stand Up to Big Oil?”
Within a few minutes,
police issued warnings to clear the area. Police then began arresting those who
refused to leave.
Forty-five of those
arrested Saturday, including Antal, and another 50 protestors arrested Sunday,
were held over the weekend by District of Columbia police pending a hearing and
potential sentencing or fines Monday.
The Rev. Maria
Castellanos, the UCC’s policy advocate for domestic issues, called the two-day
detention of these protestors “unusual.”
“The police generally
arrest protestors and release them the same day,” she said. “I’ve never heard
of the police holding peaceful protestors so long.”
Antal did not comment from jail but Speth relayed a statement through his wife encouraging continued protest of the pipeline. “We the prisoners being held in the Central Cell Block
of the D.C. jail need company and encourage the continuation of the protests
against the tar sands pipeline,” he said. “Help us stop this disastrous
proposal! I’ve held numerous positions and public office in Washington but my
current position feels like one of the most important.”
Prior to his arrest, Antal
wrote an opinion article about the ecological consequences of the pipeline in
which he said, “As the
first generation to foresee and the final generation with an opportunity to
forestall the most catastrophic effects of global warming, this is the
time. Now is the moment.”