A group of approximately 100 young climate activists and allies gathered outside Secretary of State John Kerry's home in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday morning to protest tar sands expansion in the United States. The protest at Kerry's home was organized by Midwest Unrest, a movement of students and recent graduates aiming to organize young people in the Midwest against the threat of tar sands.
The decision to hold this action outside Kerry's house was an intentional one: The protest aimed to bring attention to what Midwest Unrest refers to as a "backroom deal" between Enbridge — a Canadian oil company — and the State Department that apparently permits a massive expansion of Enbridge's Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline.
Tar sands are unconventional deposits of petroleum containing bitumen, a viscous form of petroleum that is commonly known as tar or very heavy crude oil. The western Canadian province has large deposits of crude bitumen, which is why the United States is under political pressure to obtain oil from there, rather than from the Middle East. But mining tar sands necessitates the removal of trees and brush, requires large amounts of water, opens up the possibility of oil spills and leaks, and generates more greenhouse gas emissions than the production of conventional oil.
A statement on the Midwest Unrest website described the action as an opportunity to make it clear to Kerry where these activists stand.
Secretary Kerry cannot allow Enbridge to sneak tar sands through our backyard, so we are coming to his front door in Washington D.C. to make sure he knows where we stand. This is a call to escalate, and some of us will be risking arrest. We encourage anyone to participate in our call for civil disobedience or to join our generation's call to action.
Midwest Unrest's call to action claimed that this deal would permit the pipeline to "zigzag the oil" across the border so the "tar sands can start flowing at capacities similar to Keystone XL before anyone has ever studied the environmental and social impacts." Essentially, organizers are concerned that as public discussion focuses on the Keystone pipeline, Enbridge will be able to get away with its tar sands expansions via the Alberta Clipper pipeline relatively unchecked.
Roughly 20 activists present at Tuesday morning's action risked arrest through civil obedience by locking themselves together on Kerry's doorstep. After the action was well underway, police on the scene arrested the activists that were involved in civil disobedience.
Kendall Mackey, a national tar sands campaign manager with Energy Action Coalition and one of the main organizers of the event, told Common Dreams — a nonprofit, independent news site that focuses on human rights and social justice — that the action was necessary because Kerry has not been responsive to previous attempts to protest the Alberta Clipper pipeline.
For two years we have sent petitions, called the White House, and brought thousands of people to rally against this scandal, but Secretary Kerry has still not responded or done anything to stop it. With our communities and our future on the line, we have no choice but to bring our message right to Secretary Kerry’s front door to expose this dangerous and illegal scheme and urge him to put a stop to the Alberta Clipper pipeline.
This action comes at a particularly significant time. With the Paris climate talks coming up later this year and the first tar sands mine in the United States set to begin operating in Utah in the fall, climate activists like those involved with Midwest Unrest — which is supported by organizations such as 350.org, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and the Center for Biological Diversity — are working hard to hold politicians accountable on issues of climate justice and not let problems slip under public radar.