by Bill McKibben, climate activist and author of The End of Nature, Deep Economy
For me, the low point of the year was probably Sunday, August 21, lying on a stainless steel bench in Central Cell Block in Washington, D.C. Eighty of us had been arrested outside the White House the day before, at the beginning of a planned two-week civil disobedience action designed to call attention to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a climate-killing project that the president will either veto or permit by year’s end.
The police, in an effort to deter the protest, treated us more harshly than they’d dealt with peaceful protesters in the past: instead of fining and releasing us, we were shackled at the ankle and tossed in the jail. My main worry was that it would kill the protests, so I managed to smuggle one sentence out to reporters: “We don’t need sympathy, we need company.” By midday, another message was smuggled back inside: more than a hundred people had shown up to be arrested on day two of the protest. The intimidation hadn’t worked. Indeed, by the time the two weeks were over there had been 1253 arrests, the largest use of civil disobedience in this country in a generation.
So it didn’t surprise me a bit, a few weeks later, to see the rise of the Occupy movement, first in New York, then around the country, then around the world. I was pretty sure people were tired of being pushed around by the country’s power brokers and ready to speak up. It’s turned out to be even more powerful than anyone could have predicted, of course: a real watershed moment in American history, full of promise for a rebalancing of power in a sick society.
And for me the key message is: persistence. The notion that we’re not going away, that you can’t make us disappear by intimidation or arrest, is the basic bottom line for any movement. That’s why we’re going back to the White House on Nov. 6, to ring it in people demanding that the president do the right thing on the pipeline.
You can’t accomplish much in a day — but in a week, and a month, and a year, you start to become a problem that has to be dealt with. The odds are we won’t win this pipeline fight — but those odds are a lot better than they were a few weeks ago. And if we do win, a major reason will be the Occupy movement, the sheer fact that there are people ready to keep the spotlight on corporate dominance all the time. If we do win, it will be a small victory — but maybe the first of many.
The world really is changing.