It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since I signed the Keystone Pledge of Resistance and was trained as an Action Leader. I learned a great deal, and connected with a large number of people during the years I worked on the Pledge campaign.
The Pledge was an Internet campaign designed to put pressure on President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, that would carry the thick tar sands oil from Canada to the refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Environmentalists were having a difficult time persuading the public and industry to transition away from fossil fuels. The environmental organizations Rainforest Action Network (RAN), CREDO, and The Other 98% recognized the Keystone decision as an opportunity to both raise awareness about the dangers of tar sands and possibly even stop the construction of the pipeline.
The Pledge was posted on the Internet for people to sign.
“I pledge, if necessary, to join others in my community, and engage in acts of dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could result in my arrest in order to send the message to President Obama and his administration that they must reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”
97,236 activists signed the Pledge.
The brilliant part was also collecting the contact information of those who signed, creating a grass roots network.
The website also asked if you were willing to lead in organizing an action in your community, which I did. The Rainforest Action Network identified the 25 cities that had the most people who had signed the Pledge, and spent the summer of 2013 going to those cities to train Action Leaders. Indianapolis was not one of those 25, but Des Moines, Iowa, was. Todd and Gabe held our training session at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. The syllabus took 8 hours to complete, with discussion about the pipeline, dangers of fossil fuels, theory of nonviolent resistance, legal aspects, all of the necessary roles (media, police liaison, jail support, etc), and how to organize an action and train others to participate. Role playing was another part. The second day of the training involved the participants doing the training we received the day before.
Using the database of contact information from those who signed the Pledge, I connected with the other Action Leaders in Indianapolis, including Jim Poyser and Ted Wolner.
We organized the civil disobedience event we would perform if it looked like President Obama was going to approve the pipeline. We were going to block the doors of the Federal Building in downtown Indianapolis. One part of this whole process was to deliver a letter of intent to the security personnel at the Federal Building, so they would be aware of what we were going to do if the resistance was triggered. We had an interesting conversation. These events would happen all over the country.
Over the next several months we held training session for the local people who had signed the Pledge, eventually training about 50 people. Nationwide about 400 action leaders trained nearly 4,000 people. President Obama was made aware of this nonviolent “army” and its plans. All this was done in the open.
We used other opportunities to raise awareness about the Keystone Pipeline, fossil fuels and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. The Indianapolis Star published this letter to the editor I wrote. Senator Donnelly had been talking about the jobs the pipeline would create. In reality less the 50 full time jobs would be created. After this editorial, he didn’t talk about jobs again.
The Kheprw Institute (KI), a Black youth mentoring community I was involved with, allowed us to hold a public meeting about the Keystone Resistance. Each of the Action Leaders spoke about why we were willing to risk arrest to stop the pipeline.
We had numerous public demonstrations in downtown Indianapolis to try to raise awareness. Every week at our peace vigil I held my Stop Keystone Pipeline sign.
North Meadow Circle of Friends, the Quaker meeting I attended, divested their bank account from Chase bank because of its support of pipelines.
I was also connected to Derek Glass, who was looking for video projects for his interns to work on. He and Andrew Burger and I create this video about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance.
President Obama did finally decide to deny the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, so we did not have to trigger our civil disobedience actions. Below are letters we exchanged about that. Although President Trump reversed that decision, the pipeline is still not built, and may never be. The main obstacle now is the state of Nebraska requires a different route of the pipeline through the state in order to avoid the sand hills and Ogallala aquifer.
We leaned a great deal about organizing and training for local civil disobedience direct actions. Our work also created a large and diverse network of environmental activists. This was extremely useful when people in Indianapolis wanted to organize to support the water protectors in North Dakota who were trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Joshua Taflinger and Brandi Heron led these efforts in Indianapolis. They knew Jim Poyser, one of the Keystone Action Leaders, and asked him for help in organizing the #NoDAPL efforts in Indianapolis. He contacted me and the other Keystone Leaders, and we were all happy to help with this. We held numerous public demonstrations, prayer vigils and bank divestment events.
At the Kheprw Institute, Ra Wyse interviewed me about the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Coming full circle in a way, the video below is of me talking about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance at a Dakota Access Pipeline gathering at the Indiana State Capitol.