U.S. Parks Police Wednesday arrested nearly 50 environmentalists who were protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in an event outside the White House organized by the Sierra Club.
It was the first time in its 121 years of existence that the environmental group has endorsed civil disobedience.
And the Sierra Club selected the arrestees in advance.
The group was assembled to show the people who would be affected by the proposed pipeline, which would stretch from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, crossing through eight states along the way, Sierra Club officials said.
“We wanted the group to reflect the breadth and depth of this environmental coalition,” Sierra Club National Programs Director Sarah Hodgdon said. She said the arrested activists included indigenous people, Nebraska farmers, and others in the path of the pipeline.
Among the selected participants were Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune; Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and one of the most radical opponents of the pipeline; Green for All CEO Phaedra Ellis-Lampkin; and former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond.
Dancing at the Blue Iguana actress Daryl Hannah and vaccine truther Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also were among the afflicted.
The act of invite-only civil disobedience was meant to send “a strong message to Obama that we believe in him,” Brune said.
Environmentalists say the pipeline would be a “game over” moment for the climate and are pressing the Obama administration, which is expected to issue a decision on it sometime this year, to reject the project.
Business groups and others contend it would create tens of thousands of jobs and lead to greater energy independence for the U.S.
The event began with a rally in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House.
“Americans are losing their homes because of wildfire,” Brune said. “They’re losing their jobs because of crippling drought. They’re desperate for leadership.”
The Hip Hop Caucus, a social justice organization aimed at youth, was also present. Hip Hop Caucus President and CEO Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. likened the pipeline opposition to the civil rights movement.
“This is our lunch-counter moment for the 21st century,” Yearwood said. “This pipeline is our Birmingham.”
The Keystone XL pipeline is a “criminal enterprise” meant to “enrich a few billionaires like the Koch brothers,” Kennedy told the crowd.
“This is the dirtiest possible source and most expensive for the energy consumer and for future generations who will have to pay the price,” Kennedy said. “This is a boondoggle. It’s a giant criminal enterprise that has subverted democracy.”
After the rally, the crowd moved to the White House. Once the protesters arrived at the fence, they were surrounded by a crush of television cameras and boom mics, until the police ordered the media to move behind a barricade.
After that, the media, the protesters, and the considerable police presence—motorcycle cops, cops on horses, cops in green fatigues with sidearms strapped to their thighs—waited.
While the protesters broke into chants and the occasional rendition of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the police announced over a P.A. system that they were in violation of ordinances against blocking sidewalks and that their protest permit had been revoked.
Shortly after the police gave a third and final warning, Sierra Club staff rushed up to collect banners and assorted signage from the soon-to-be arrested.
Police arrested Hannah first.
Several of the protesters used zip ties that said, “Reject the Keystone” to attach themselves to the White House fence. Police soon arrested them with slogan-free zip ties of their own and led them to the waiting paddy wagon.
A U.S. Parks Police spokesman said 48 activists were arrested in total and transported to Anacostia for processing.
The protest was a “choreographed operation,” and the Sierra Club gave the department advanced notice of their plans, “right down to the number of folks,” the spokesman said.
Wednesday’s direct action was the second time 350.org has demonstrated outside the White House to oppose the pipeline. The group orchestrated a weeklong series of sit-ins in August 2011 outside the executive mansion that resulted in more than 1,200 arrests.
Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and 350.org, are planning a larger rally for Sunday, Feb. 17.