Civil Disobedience? Me?

If the government is going to refuse to step up to that responsibility to defend a livable future, I believe that creates a moral imperative for me and other citizens. My future, and the future of everyone I care about, is being traded for short term profits. I take that very personally. Until our leaders take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I will continue this fight… – Tim DeChristopher in his closing statement before being sentenced to two years in prison (read it – it’s historic!)

Last month on Twitter, all the environmental tweeps I follow were buzzing about some guy named Tim DeChristopher. I quickly learned about DeChristopher’s spur-of-the-moment attempt to prevent public lands from being leased to gas and oil companies by “winning” bids at the auction that he didn’t intended to pay for. I was both impressed by how elegant and creative his action was and outraged that he was sentenced to such a harsh prison sentence for it.

The Alberta tar sands

DeChristopher’s act of civil disobedience planted a seed in my head. Or at least watered the seed that was planted when Deepwater Horizon exploded, when the Kalamazoo River next to my alma mater was coated with sludge from the Enbridge spill, when the Yellowstone River was awash in oil from an Exxon pipeline that ruptured last month. I was perhaps trying to work out an inner dilemma when I told a friend in general conversation that I’d be afraid of doing civil disobedience because of the likely repercussions: namely, a crime record that might prevent me from getting a job. Even if you explain to a prospective employer that it was an act of civil disobedience, they’ll still think you’re a bit unstable, a bit of a loose cannon, we reasoned. My friend said something like “That’s why people don’t act.”

A week or so later, an email alerted me to a petition against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil about 1700 miles from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf coast. Then I learned Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Wendell Berry and others were asking folks to follow DeChristopher’s example by stepping up the game, putting more on the line in this fight. I was moved by the appeal and started to test my apprehensions about civil disobedience. I was ultimately won over by the idea and last night signed up to participate. I felt even stronger in my decision after my dad, who most would consider a “mainstream” American, told me he’s angry about the pipeline too and supports my choice.

We have to do something to shake up the status quo in this country. We’ve built our entire economy, our infrastructure on this dirty, finite energy source. We need to start planning for the future now, by taking our money away from oil companies and putting it into energy efficiency, renewables, public transportation, smart growth and smart grids, sustainable agriculture and other measures. Although I’m anxious (and excited!) about participating, it’s important to live by one’s guiding values. If you’d like to participate too, here’s more information.

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