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Monday, March 10, 2014

Arrested for the First Time at XL Dissent

 “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”
― Howard Zinn

** This blog post and my action of civil disobedience are dedicated to the amazing people who took the first steps in a very long walk on March 1st in the Great March for Climate Action. Good luck to all of you and I can't wait to join you in New Mexico in May. The next time I will be in Washington, D.C. will be in November after walking 2,000 miles to get there. If you are interested in helping me on my cross-country journey, email me at You can donate online at anytime here.   

**This also happens to be my 100th post on Viridorari :) I also recently reached 10,000 views. Thank you everyone! 

It felt like a dream as I pulled up to the quaint house tucked away in a lovely neighborhood in Columbia, Maryland. A little over a half a year earlier I had pulled out of that same driveway and began a long six hour drive home by myself, saddened by the idea that I might never see my new friends again. But here I was, showing up at four in the morning with little more than a week's notice with two fellow travelers peering with sleepy eyes out the windshield at the front door of the house.  

I turned off the car and we gathered our things. As we approached the front door Ron opened it for us. We had called them a half an hour ago at their request so that they could be awake to greet us at this ungodly hour. I gave Ron a huge hug, and I would have given RoseMarie one too, but she politely declined because she was sick and didn't want me to catch whatever she had. I introduced them to Katharine and Bill, who originally got in touch with me over an online ride board.

RoseMarie quickly transformed into super-host, showing us to our rooms, providing us with snacks she had prepared specially for our arrival, and asking us what we wanted for breakfast in the morning. She had even put out three different colored sets of towels in the bathroom, one for each of us to choose from. Ron gave us maps and pamphlets to help with navigating the city. Katharine gave me an astonished look that said: "Wow, you weren't kidding when you said they were amazing!"

After driving for a little over five hours straight after a full day of class and work, the guest bed felt like a cloud. But I couldn't fall asleep for almost another half hour; I was too excited. When I woke up in just a few hours I would be heading into Washington, D.C. to be arrested in a peaceful protest.

The first time I stayed with Ron and RoseMarie was also to participate in a civil disobedience event in Washington, D.C. In August of 2013, Ron — who had been a part of the civil rights movement when he was younger — and I participated in a sit-in together in front of the State Department while RoseMarie cheered us on from the support rally. We were not arrested that day, but we garnered a decent amount of media attention, which is important for the cause. Before I found the pair on an online board, I had considered sleeping in my car while I was there. A month after the sit-in I would be attending my first semester of college, and I was in no position to pay for a hotel. The pair of activists opened their home to me, a complete stranger, and treated me like family.

Just like I did that August, I had returned to D.C. to protest the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline once more. KXL would be capable of transporting 830,000 barrels of unrefined tar sands oil per day from Alberta, Canada to refineries near the Gulf Coast. Tar sands is lower-grade and burns dirtier than conventional oil and it is nearly impossible to clean up in the event of a spill. KXL would be the last phase in a four-phase project (the other three have already been built). It was said that the first pipeline built, the Keystone Pipeline, would have a minimum oil spill risk, but it spilled more than a dozen times in its first year of operation. KXL would only provide around 50 permanent jobs once construction is finished.

 Map of the three completed phases and proposed fourth phase (KXL)

Because KXL would cross an international border (from Canada into the U.S.) the project requires presidential approval. In his climate address on June 25, 2013, President Obama said he would not approve the pipeline if it would "significantly exacerbate carbon pollution." The evidence that the pipeline would do exactly this is overwhelming and undeniable; the pollution from building KXL would be the equivalent to adding 5.6 million cars to the roads. 

I am one of many American citizens, young and old, trying to hold the president accountable to the promise that he made to us. Now is the time to be moving away from fossil fuels, not building more pipelines and developing dirtier and dirtier types of fuel like tar sands.

Ron and RoseMarie did not join us on March 2nd for the event in front of the White House; they had prior commitments. But they sent the three of us off in the morning with a delicious homemade breakfast and plenty of snacks for the long day ahead of us. 

When Katharine, Bill, and I got into the city, we joined more than 1,000 people in a march from Georgetown University to the White House. Georgetown University was chosen as the starting point because that is where President Obama delivered his June 2013 climate address where he made the American people that crucial promise. 

Katharine and I jumped into the front of the march. Up ahead of the front row, journalists and camera men were swarming, walking backwards to get pictures and video footage of us. We took up entire streets as we passed through, with police patrolling up ahead of us to clear the traffic and give us safe passage. People watched from the sidewalks and stores, and people many stories up leaned out of their apartment windows to see us. We were making a huge ruckus, and the energy was only growing as we progressed. 

Many students in this protest cast their first presidential vote for Obama. On March 2nd, they told him: "Obama, we did not vote for KXL!"

We chanted:

"Hey! Obama! We don't want no pipeline drama!"

"Michelle Obama, tell your man, we don't want his dirty pipeline plan!"

"One, we are the people! Two, we are united! Three, we will not let you build this pipeline!"

 "What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? NOW!"

Katharine said later that her favorite part of the day was the march. I have to agree, it was incredible. It's not every day that you see 1,000+ passionate people marching through the streets, taking advantage of their first amendment rights to make the government aware of their grievances. Most of the protesters were students, holding signs that said things like "Our planet, our future." It was a very powerful performance. 

But it was only going to get more powerful. 

Around noon, we arrived at Lafayette Square in front of the White House. We gathered in a huge circle around a stage to hear a handful of powerful speakers. Chris Wahmoff, a Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands activist, gave a particularly motivating speech. 

"The power is not in that building!" He said, pointing at the White House. "It's out here!" 

In June of 2013 on his 35th birthday, Wahmoff skateboarded into an unfinished Enbridge pipeline near Marshall, Michigan in the early morning. After staying there for 10 hours, risking the dangers of toxic fumes within the pipe, Wahmoff emerged at 5:10 p.m. to be arrested.  

After the speakers finished, it was time for the big moment. The massive group split up into the support rally and those who would be risking arrest. I gave my bag to Katharine, keeping on me only my wallet (with my driver's license and money) and a small notebook and pen. 

Almost four hundred of us, including myself, gathered at the White House fence on the sidewalk. When protesting in front of the White House, you have to keep moving up and down the sidewalk — you can't stop. If you stop, you are essentially performing a sit-in and will be arrested and charged with blocking passage. 

Many protesters equipped with zip-ties fastened one of their hands to the white house fence. A black plastic tarp cut into the shape of a spill was spread out onto the ground. Fake plastic animals painted in black were thrown onto the tarp, and protesters in white haz-mat suits spattered with black paint tossed themselves onto the "oil spill", laying still on the ground, their eyes closed as they played dead.

We held firm in our positions for about twenty minutes, chanting and cheering as photographers came in close to snap pictures of us. The police, who had been keeping a comfortable distance until then, swooped in quickly. They put up a temporary fence around us in a matter of minutes, separating the support rally and those of us risking arrest. They set up a couple of tents within the fenced off area for processing the arrested. There was enough room to park a couple of police vans within the fenced area; these would be the vans that would carry away the first few protesters to be arrested. On the outside of the fence mounted policemen stood guard on their horses, and three transport buses and a small fleet of police motorcycles waited.

The support rally is separated from us on the other side of the fence.

Heavy police presence

I played dead for a while on the "oil spill." However, the warm temperatures that initially graced our march soon began to plummet. The wind picked up and the ground was cold, so I decided to get up and join my fellow protesters by the fence. We continued to chant, sometimes singing "This Land is Your Land," keeping up the energy despite the police's inaction after erecting the fence. They were standing around and watching us, and one officer was walking around with a video camera gathering footage of the event.

Finally, the first of our three warnings came from an officer inside a police car using the vehicle's microphone.
"Your permit to demonstrate on the White House sidewalk it revoked … You must leave the closed portion of the White House sidewalk now. All persons remaining on the closed portion of the White House sidewalk will be arrested."

The arrest-riskers and the support rally erupted into loud cheers, holding up peace signs and hearts, and no one moved.

The temperature continued to fall, and my companions along the fence were getting cold. Some of them had zip-tied their bare hands to the cold metal, and their fingers were starting to turn purple and angry shades of red. The girl standing next to me, a student at American University, said she wished she hadn't made her zip-tie so tight so she could have wiggled out. We huddled close like penguins, and I covered their hands with mine to offer them some warmth.

Our second warning came. No one moved. We continued to chant.

"Ain't no power like the power of the people 'cuz the power of the people don't stop!"

About fifteen minutes later, our final warning.

"Your permit to demonstrate on the White House sidewalk it revoked … You must leave the closed portion of the White House sidewalk now. All persons remaining on the closed portion of the White House sidewalk will be arrested. This is your third and final warning."

We broke into our loudest cheers yet — it was almost time!

“We are fighting global warming, this our third and final warning!” We began to say in unison, much to the amusement of our supporters. 

Then, the big announcement. The policeman came back on the loud speaker and said we were all under arrest and protesters were no longer allowed to leave the fenced area. They started with the people playing dead in the oil spill, taking the first protester into custody around 1:30: a young woman in a blue coat who was very flattered to be the first one taken, laughing and smiling shyly at the cameras as they led her away to the processing tents. We cheered wildly for her, shouting "thank you" and "we love you." 

"Thank you climate hero!" I called after her. She looked back and smiled at me, her face red. 

The first one to be arrested. I'm in the background in the blue shirt with my fists raised.

The first few to be arrested are loaded into a police van.

The police worked very slowly, taking only two or three at a time and then waiting for ten to fifteen minutes before taking more.

It started to rain — a light, chilly sprinkle. I had taken off my long-sleeve sweater earlier when it was warmer, and now Katharine had it on the other side of the fence. I spent nearly fifteen minutes trying to get up the guts to walk up to the fence and get it from her. I was worried about how the police would react if I broke out of the formation. I finally decided to go for it, and walked away from the White House fence toward the temporary fence. I made it about halfway there before an officer approached me.

"Where are you going?" He demanded.

I told him I wanted to get my coat from a friend, and pointed Katharine out to him. He told me to go back to the fence, and went and got the coat from her and brought it to me.

"Stay with the group," he told me as he handed me the coat. I got lucky. Not long after that, other people started to do the same thing, but the police refused to get them their items from the crowd. Bathroom breaks were also suspended. I heard later that some of the officers were wearing diapers throughout the event.

An hour ticked by before they arrested everyone on the tarp, and it felt like three hours. The tarp was cleared away. Those of us who were free of the fence started to do exercises to stay warm: jumping jacks, jogging in place, stretches, and in my case, some clumsy dancing with another protester. I noticed one of the journalists in the media section snapping pictures of us dancing, but I never saw them surface on the web. Let me know if you find them!

Finally, the police started to approach the fence and take some of the "floaters." I wished that they would start cutting the people zip-tied to the fence free and take them; the rain was coming down a little harder now and it was only getting colder. Even with the coat the officer had brought me I was shivering. I turned to my friends on the fence and told them I was ready to go; I wanted to put myself out there and make myself more obvious to the officers. We hugged and said goodbye, and I stepped away from the fence into the area where the tarp had been earlier.

It didn't take long. Within two minutes, a police officer started walking toward us, and he and I made eye contact. He shifted his direction slightly and started to come toward me, and I knew this was it. He greeted me and told me he was taking me into custody, and then gently turned me around and fastened my wrists into the plastic hand cuffs, first my left hand, and then my right hand. The cuffs were uncomfortably tight, and I would have slight bruising on my wrists later. It was about 2:45 p.m. I was never read my Miranda Rights.

They took my wallet, notebook, and pen and let me hang onto my money and license. I was brought into the processing tent where they took a picture of me standing next to a sign with my number: 71. My friends tried to get their hands on my mugshot later, but apparently that isn't public information. When I returned home later, I called the public relations office of the U.S. Park Police, and they told me that a total of 372 people were arrested that day.

I was led onto the bus that would transport me to the Anacostia police station and guided to a seat. When I tried to stand up and look out the window for Katharine and Bill in the support rally, one of the officers told me to sit down.

I was loaded into one of the white buses.
Once the bus was filled, they opened up the temporary fence to let the it out. As we started to drive forward, the support rally cheered for us and took pictures of us departing. Three police on motorcycles gave us an escort with two at the front of the bus and one at the back. They turned on their sirens and we flew through the city and broke lots of traffic laws. People on the sidewalks who saw us go by stopped and pointed and took pictures. We got onto a highway and crossed a river, and suddenly the Washington Monument was all the way on the other side of the city, miles away. 
When we pulled into Anacostia, there were supporters waiting for us at the entrance to the station's parking lot. They were people who had already been arrested and released, waiting to cheer us on as we came in. I wanted to wave to them, but my hands were bound. Instead I said "thank you" out loud on the bus even though they couldn't hear me.
We got off the bus and they lined us up outside of the station to clip off our plastic cuffs. We went inside keeping in strict number order and after a brief waiting period we each sat down individually with an officer to fill out paperwork. I can't remember my officer's name, but like all the other policemen that day he was friendly and cordial. Once we finished the paperwork, I was placed in a small holding cell with five other girls. 

The cell was cramped with all of us standing in it. There was a dirty toilet in the back corner and a metal bench to sit on. The door to the cell had a small window on it and no inside door handle. I pushed on it at one point because I wasn't sure if the police were locking it, but it didn't budge. I was only in the cell for maybe ten minutes, but the whole time I was thinking about people who had to spend much longer in jail. Ten minutes were uncomfortable; I can't imagine what it must be like to spend months or years. I'm pretty sure I would have gone insane. No wonder why the prison system has such high relapse rates. 

An officer came and fetched a few of us, and I was led to a window where I paid my fine of $50 and forfeited — no further legal action would be pursued against me. I picked up my small baggie of possessions that they had taken from me upon arrest. Then, just like that, I was free to go.

I walked with another group of released "prisoners" to the Anacostia metro station and took it all the way to the end of the green line to Greenbelt Station; the station closest to Ron and RoseMarie's house. Bill and Katharine were waiting to pick me up in my car, which we had left there earlier in the day.

Ron and RoseMarie were happy to see all of us home safe. They asked me lots of questions about being arrested and thanked me for my actions, and then we sat down and had a wonderful dinner together. Katharine, Bill and I hadn't eaten anything besides a couple of small snacks after breakfast that morning, so we all ate way too much and stuffed ourselves, but it felt great. We were waiting for one more person to arrive: a woman my age named Whitney. She had zip-tied herself to the White House fence, so she was one of the last people to be arrested. While we were eating dinner she was on her way back on the subway. 
Whitney, the one with the pink hair, zip-tied her hand to the fence.  

After dinner I used RoseMarie's laptop to check the weather; it was time to make a judgement call. A huge winter storm was on its way in, and I needed to figure out whether it was safe to leave tonight or wait it out. After reading through several articles and watching a few videos, it looked like Maryland was going to get slammed the next day: Monday. If we didn't leave that night, we were going to be stuck in Columbia for a while. I closed my eyes and let out a long breath. This long day was far from over; we were going to be traveling through the night. 

I came back out into the kitchen and told everyone that we would have to leave shortly after Whitney arrived. She was at the Greenbelt Station now getting a cab, and it would take about a half an hour to get to the house. Ron and RoseMarie were sad that we couldn't stay longer, but they agreed that it was the safest thing for us to do given the weather. We gathered our things together, and I sat down with Ron and Bill in the living room and listened to them talk for a while, jumping from topic to topic: Pete Seeger, Bill's previous experiences with being arrested, and Russia and the Ukraine. I fell asleep on the couch listening to them talk and dreamed about protesting. I woke up just before Whitney arrived. 

Ron and RoseMarie greeted her like she was an old friend, not like this was the first time they ever met her. RoseMarie took her into the kitchen to fix her up a quick dinner, and Whitney threw a look over her shoulder at me that asked: "Are they angels?" 

RoseMarie loaded us up with healthy snacks for the ride home: fruit, granola bars, fresh-cut veggies, and hummus, and Ron sat us all down on the couch with their cat, Sparkles, and took a group picture. Then we were out the door and into the night once more for the long trip home. Katharine took the first driving shift and I collapsed thankfully into the passengers sleep, reclined the seat as much as Bill would let me, and closed my eyes.

Background, left to right: Bill, Whitney, me, Katharine
Foreground: Sparkles the cat

We dropped Whitney off in Pennsylvania, and about a half an hour later Katharine and I switched places. While Katharine and Bill nodded off, I drove toward Ithaca on a long, windy road that required all of my attention. I drank Mountain Dew to stay awake and watched out nervously for snowflakes. They never came. I made the right decision to leave early, and I was relieved. 

Sometime around 3 a.m., we arrived in Ithaca. Bill said goodbye and climbed into his truck to drive three more hours to his home in Albany. He offered to help with the drive from Maryland, but Katharine and I insisted that he sleep so that he would be refreshed for his long ride home by himself. I took Katharine back to Cornell and then drove to Ithaca College. I'm supposed to park my car across campus from my dorm in Z lot, but I parked right next to my building. A $20 parking ticket was worth being able to go right in and crash on my bed. I walked into my room and stood there for a minute, looking at all the decorations on my walls. 

Just like that, in a little over 24 hours, I traveled to our nation's capital, saw old friends, made new ones, got arrested, and then came all the way home. It had been a hectic weekend to say the least.

I fell asleep with a smile on my face. With coverage from countless media outlets, including CNN, the 1,000+ people that were in D.C. on March 2nd and the 372 arrested had made a big statement. This is our planet, this is our future, and we don't want pipelines. We want renewable energy and a sustainable way of living. We want to coexist in harmony with the rest of the planet, not leech off of it. It's time to move beyond fossil fuels. 

Now the only question left is what does President Obama want? Does he want what's right for his people and for the planet? Or does he want to break the seal on a whole new category of fossil fuel development? He needs to know that we are watching closely. 

I'll take the fact that I never ended up getting a parking ticket from the college as a sign from the Universe that I did the right thing that weekend.

If you want to be a part of this incredible movement to stop the KXL Pipeline and tackle climate change, sign the KXL Pledge of Resistance. I am one of over 85,000 people who have signed it, and you can be one of those people too. 

If you want to read my brief commentary about this event in The Ithacan, go here.

I also wrote a blog post for the XL Dissent website, which you can view here.

“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Unless labeled otherwise, credit for all photos in this post go to either myself (Faith Meckley) or Katharine Onofryton.


  1. Simply wonderful! I loved how this brought so many people together! :)

  2. Thank you Katharine! I'm really glad it brought us together. You're an awesome human being and I'm so glad to have met you. I went to this public forum in Watkins Glen about proposed gas facilities on Seneca Lake, and Bill was there too! It was really cool to run into him. Hope all is well with you.