An open letter to President Obama about the tar sands arrests
September 1, 2011 —
My name is Virginia Kennedy. I am a 50-year old mother of three. I was one of 65 citizens arrested in front of your house—my house really, the country’s house—the White House, on the first day of the tar sands action on August 20, and I was kept in jail for the weekend.
We spent the weekend in jail because we asked you to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline. To reject tar sands oil, the extraction of which is destroying indigenous people’s lands and lives and decimating boreal forest lands. The oil which if extracted and burned will mean, in the words of NASA climate scientist James Hansen, “game over for the climate.” That’s game over for my children, for your children, for everyone’s children.
I was in a holding cell with 12 other women who participated in the action. Most were not perennial activists. Many had never participated in such an action before. These women, from ages 20 to 70, were retired schoolteachers, grandmothers, college students, working women supporting themselves or families.
Each had decided that this is the issue of issues, because we are talking about the viability of human life on the planet we are irreversibly harming. They decided to join with the other voices, trying to make you listen and to give you courage to take this step, to take this stand against the fossil fuel industry—the moneyed interests that regularly demand you yield to them.
We were in a holding cell for the majority of the time. A freezing cement cellblock with no windows and one solid metal door, no way to see out. No blankets. Nowhere to lie down. An open toilet in the corner. Glaring fluorescent lights that never dimmed. We were kept without food or water for 18 hours, then given a cold cheese sandwich and water.
I want you to know I thought about you a lot during those long hours. I wondered about the power you have or maybe don’t have. Maybe it has just gotten impossible for any politician to stand up to the brutal, greedy bullying of the fossil fuel companies. Or maybe you don’t want to.
I wondered how I could be in a jail cell with women who were guilty of nothing but trying to get their President to listen to reason. Women who stood peacefully with a whole group of citizens who said we want clean energy and an end to oppression by a fossil-fuel industry that wants the world to believe we have no choices but the choices they want to give us.