Kathy’s Story from the Tar Sands Action

KATHY ALBURY, Peaceful Uprising (arrested in the Tar Sands Action in the first week)

I was one of the now more than 1000 who endured an earthquake and a hurricane to take the message to our president that he must reject the Keystone Pipeline that would carry very dirty oil from the boreal forest in Alberta, Canada to Houston TX for export.

The trainings were an opportunity to hear the stories of those who are actually living with the consequences of the pipeline. Heather talked of the Native American communities in Canada devastated by the mining of the tar sands. Their native economies are destroyed and their health is failing. A group of fishermen from the Gulf showed us the chunks of hardened oil as large as a loaf of bread they had picked up off their beaches just before coming to D.C. and told us of the horrors of Katrina, not yet repaired before the oil spill devastated them yet again taking their homes, boats, and health. They had come not just to demonstrate against the pipeline, but also to meet with government agencies which had promised assistance to them. One told me later with tears in his eyes that it was all a waste of time, “like talking to a brick wall.” If they won’t live up to their clean-up promises after the oil spill, how can we trust that they will clean up the inevitable pipeline spills.

The best part of the action was all the other demonstrators. I met three Unitarian Universalist women from Harrisburg PA—we talked about their Transition Towne and our plans for one. One of them, Barbara, was my partner (it’s a good idea to have a partner when you get arrested). Her 80th birthday was our arrest day, so we sang Happy Birthday as the police took her away. Debby stood behind me during the action in front of the White House and sobbed as her guide dog was taken away so that she could be arrested. David, the photographer, sat in his wheelchair day after day filming every single arrest—he was even out there in the rain with a plastic bag over his camera saying “I can’t leave now—there’s no other film rolling…” and Wilson who sheltered David from the hurricane in a hotel. Bill McKibben was at every training and every action, always humble, thanking us for being there, encouraging us to be strong. A lady from the Midwest passed out little pieces of wheat to each of us to symbolize the threat to our wheat crops. On the Interfaith day there were Jewish folk songs, Buddhist chants, prayers and then all of us sang “We Shall Overcome”. John and Ellen Gunter from Chicago, offered me refuge from Hurricane Irene in their hotelroom. (Ellen has written a wonderful book, Reunion: How We Heal Our Broken Connection to the Earth) Peter from Boston is a chimney sweep who told me how he insulated his house to prepare for retirement. During the actions, there were a lot of tourists and locals milling about—they asked why we were there, what are tar sands, and why in the world would they want to build a pipeline across the country? Of course there were those who didn’t agree with us—some want their oil and others fear loss of jobs if the pipeline isn’t built. We tried to reason with them as best we could, but many would not listen.

This oil requires open pit mines that will destroy a section of the boreal forest the size of the state of Florida. It will take farmland from the farmers by eminent domain and destroy its value as crop land. This pipeline will leak (there have been more than a dozen leaks in the existing portion of the pipeline—less than a year old– including the Yellowstone River and Kalamazoo). These leaks will contaminate our waterways, aquifers, and farmlands for many years. The mining and production of this oil will dramatically increase the output of greenhouse gases and increase the effects of climate change, like hurricane Irene.

While this pipeline would provide short-term jobs; how much better it would be to guarantee lifetime jobs by greening our homes, i.e., putting solar water heaters on every home. It seems it would be so simple for Obama to stop the pipeline and create green jobs building windmills, insulating buildings, erecting solar panels, and so on. I hope he is hearing us.

Kathy Albury