McKibben released from jail after White House protest
By Kevin O'Connor
STAFF WRITER | August 23,2011
Environmental activists gather outside the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 22, 2011, as they continue a civil disobedience campaign against a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, in Washington. The protesters want President Barack Obama to deny a permit for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline that would take oil extracted from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, and carry it through a pipeline cutting across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas.
Vermont environmental activist Bill McKibben, arrested Saturday at a Washington, D.C. protest, finally walked out of prison late Monday, exhausted but emboldened in his fight against a proposed $7 billion national oil pipeline.
“Give us a good meal and a shower,” he told this newspaper by phone, “and we'll walk back in if we need to.”
U.S. Park Police jailed the Ripton resident and 64 fellow White House protesters in hopes of deterring more than 2,000 others who've registered to join a two-week sit-in through Sept. 3. But a District of Columbia judge freed the group Monday without issuing any fines or citations, deeming the prison time penalty enough.
“We had a fairly hard time in jail,” McKibben said without elaborating, “but our spirits are very, very high.”
McKibben, protesting plans for a 1,700-mile pipeline from Canada's tar sands to Texas refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, was housed in a cell adjacent to one holding Vermont Law School professor Gus Speth, who formerly served as chairman of President Jimmy Carter's Council on Environmental Quality.
“We could talk though the stainless-steel barrier,” McKibben said.
Earlier, Speth contacted his wife to release this statement from jail: “We the prisoners being held in the Central Cell Block of the D.C. Jail need company and encourage the continuation of the protests against the tar sands pipeline. … I've held numerous positions and public office in Washington but my current position feels like one of the most important.”
The Obama administration is debating whether to approve the pipeline, which supporters assert will expand the nation's energy supply but opponents fear will raise emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases they say are warming the planet and warping precipitation and wind patterns.
McKibben and colleagues are concerned the Obama administration will permit the pipeline just as it recently opened much of Alaska to oil drilling and approved coal mining on federal land in Wyoming. Lacking money for advertising or lobbying, they're inviting supporters to log onto TarSandsAction.org or join them in Washington in hopes of luring the attention of the press, public and president.
McKibben is set to publicize the protest through a live video chat Tuesday at 8 p.m. at www.tarsandsaction.org/video-chat. Also, the website www.350vt.org is organizing a “Vermont Caravan” of fellow protesters to depart Burlington and Rutland this coming Sunday, Aug. 28, and join the sit-in on Tuesday, Aug. 30.