I went to a training for “People vs Fossil Fuels” action that would take place the following day, October 13. Phil Webster had sent a couple of notes out about this event. My husband gave me a ride down to Freedom Plaza (in DC near the White House), or I’d have been walking and taking the metro in the dark in unfamiliar territory. His ride made it OK for me to go to the mandatory training. I found two fellow UUs from Indiana who took me under their wing. Everyone had to prove they were vaccinated and wear a mask. Everything was outdoors. There were five consecutive days of action, marches, and arrests planned. I only participated one day. There were two huge tents, loud speakers, many colorful signs, five porta pots as well as food and admin. areas. I had to register when I arrived.
The next day, Wednesday, I got up at 5:30am and made my way down to Freedom Plaza via car, metro, and walking. The metro was very lightly used in both directions. I arrived at the plaza at 7:30am, as instructed, but the action did not start until 9. We learned chants, songs, found out where we’d be marching, and how those willing to risk arrest and those who weren’t would be taking different paths to the White House. They instructed us not to talk to the cops and what to expect if we were arrested.
I wasn’t ready to be arrested, so I took the simple route. I felt very emotional walking with about 300 people down the streets, in this city of power, chanting, holding signs, and raising fists. We walked by upscale outdoor restaurants where people in nice suits and ties watched us go by. I was moved by how many people traveled so far—from all over the US—to be here for an entire week of protests. People were so passionate about fossil fuel issues. There were a lot of “front-line” people—Indigenous from Alaska, New Mexico, and elsewhere that talked about what the fossil fuel companies were doing and have done to their land, about the oil and gas leases on federal land in Navaho country, about poisoned water and air, and about pipelines. There were African Americans upset with what was going on in their neighborhoods. Port Arthur, Texas; St. James Parish in Louisiana; Houston, Texas. I believe they said that Houston had 235 facilities dedicated to single use plastic and 400 petrochemical businesses. Near Houston, there is a “chemical incident” every single month where people are forced to “shelter in place” with closed windows, toxic fumes, and no AC in 100 degree plus temperatures. The folks in Port Arthur, Texas, talked about all of the intolerable water and air pollution, how they’ve seen five hurricanes in the past five or so years, how the petrochemical industry is ruining their city and their lives. What we see are many examples of extreme environmental racism. All of these “front line warriors” moved to DC for the week and were asking privileged white people to support and join them.
During the various speeches, these folks cussed a lot. They disparaged Biden and talked passionately about how he and his administration have done very little to stop their support of the fossil fuel industry, to stop pipelines or fracking. We were right outside the White House with a minimum of 30 cops close to our gathering on Pennsylvania Ave. Those who were going to be arrested (about 150 people?) stood on the White House side of the street. The rest of us stood on the other side on the street, but still in front of the White House.
How did I feel about being there? On one hand I wasn’t sure it would do any good. Especially getting arrested—would that really help? However, as I was marching on, I realized that I was very happy to be there, elated in fact. Very happy to be actually doing something, not just sitting home wringing my hands or talking to the choir. It felt good to do something. Next time, I will get arrested. The climate crisis is the crisis of our time. I know that you all will agree that we are all called upon to do all we can.
Thank you too for all that work all of you are doing in confronting climate change and other important environmental issues.