The Rev. Jim Antal writes that "Ash Wednesday is a good day to be arrested because civil disobedience is a form of repentance," and that every day is a great day to act on our calling to be stewards of the earth.
That’s why Antal, the Minister and President of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, and a climate activist, was one of dozens of people arrested at the White House Wednesday afternoon, participating in an act of civil disobedience. The group was urging President Barack Obama to block a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.
On the heels of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress and the nation Tuesday night, Antal and the group intend to keep the Keystone XL pipeline issue in front of the national media through the weekend. On Sunday, Feb. 17, buses will bring as many as 20,000 people to Washington D.C. for what's being called the largest rally on climate change. The effort will protest construction of the pipeline, which climate activists say would do great harm to the environment.
Most of the people arrested at the White House on Ash Wednesday were CEOs or board chairpersons from a number of non-profit environmental groups. Joining Antal and the 50 other demonstrators were author and environmental activist Bill McKibben, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and other environmental leaders from across the United States.
In a UCNews commentary, Antal wrote that the motive for today's action was to challenge Obama to follow through with his promise to "reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy." Antal says stopping the Keystone XL pipeline is "one such action."
This isn’t the first time Antal has advocated for God's creation in Washington, D.C. In August 2011, he was one of 1,253 people arrested in front of the White House. "The last time we did this it was the largest act of civil disobedience since the Civil Rights Movement," he said, "and I believe it was a direct consequence of bringing the Keystone pipeline to the attention of national press to cause President Obama to put halt on it."
One issue behind the this weekend of advocacy and demonstration is the recent appointment of former senator John Kerry to Secretary of State. Because the pipeline crosses the U.S.-Canada border, the State Department has oversight.
"Having somebody like John Kerry, who was the most outspoken senator on climate change, as Secretary of State is the perfect set up to take action – historic action," Antal said.
On Ash Wednesday, the group walked from D.C.’s Lafayette Park across the street to the White House at about noon, and cuffed themselves to the fence surrounding the property using plastic ties. Law enforcement gave them three warnings to end the demonstration, then removed their plastic ties and took the protestors into custody.
"Civil disobedience may not be for everyone," Antal wrote. "But going to jail – giving up one’s freedom – to sound the alarm that we – all of us – are doing something wrong, and we must change… that conviction is becoming more and more widespread."
The United Church of Christ has been working for environmental justice for almost 30 years, and recognizes the opportunity for a shared mission campaign to live out our faith — in unity, as one church — for the sake of our fragile planet Earth.
With the help of UCC congregations everywhere, Mission 4/1 Earth, which begins Easter Monday 2013, hopes to accomplish more than 1 million hours of engaged earth care, 100,000 tree plantings across the globe, and 100,000 advocacy letters written and sent on environmental concerns.