Landmark Keystone XL Trial Underway in Oklahoma

UPDATE: 11:30am– The six jurors have been selected! When it comes time to deliberate, only a simple majority (4 of 6) is required to reach a verdict in this case. Court in now in recess for Lunch. Will resume at 12:45

UPDATE: 10:45am– Jury selection still ongoing. Alec’s lawyer has asked the jury pool questions about who they think is responsible for protecting the public commons that we all depend on (the government? the people? corporations?), and how they feel about climate change.  Can humans influence climate long term? He has also asked if they have ever been so concerned about an issue that they took action to do something about it. What kinds of actions would be justified?

UPDATE: 9:15am, jury selection has begun.


Tar Sands Blockader Alec, “Climate hawk” Johnson argues threats of climate change and environmental harm justify his actions  

 ATOKA, OK –Thursday, October 23, 2014, 9:00AM— Alec Johnson, a 62 year old man arrested last year for disrupting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, attempts to make US history today by becoming the first to argue before a jury that he was justified in breaking the law to prevent the urgent threat of climate change. His defense is introducing a commanding consensus of climate science, including that of renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen who has prepared written testimony for the consideration of the court, and will make clear that effective action to address the climate crisis is urgent, imminently harmful to living things, and can no longer be delayed.

 “The Keystone XL pipeline is a clear threat to our children’s future,” Mr. Johnson stated while addressing a crowd of supporters before entering the courthouse. “The fact that the southern leg of KXL was approved in Oklahoma and Texas represents a stark failure by federal, state, and local government to protect the atmosphere that belongs in common to the world’s people. Today I am defending our right to life, which depends on a habitable atmosphere, and in doing so I’m acting to protect that right for future generations.”

climate_hawk_locked_downOn April 22, 2013, Alec Johnson disrupted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline near Tushka, Oklahoma by chaining himself to heavy equipment and effectively halting work. Eventually the police were called and he was removed from the site and arrested. Now, more than a year after his arrest, Mr. Johnson presents his defense to an Atoka County jury. If convicted he faces up to two years in prison. To avoid that fate Mr. Johnson must convince the jury that enforcing future generation’s rights to a stable climate and livable environment is not a crime. This kind of ‘necessity’ defense rooted in climate justice could have national implications for the growing movement of resistance to the fossil fuel industry across the US.

“The necessity defense allows the defendant to inform the jury of the reasons he risked his liberty and faced arrest in order to prevent a greater harm to the public interest,” explains attorney Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “As more and more Americans feel compelled to take action to prevent catastrophic climate disaster, the Courts will likely see this defense with increasing frequency.”

Trial proceedings are expected to carry on throughout most of today and potentially continue tomorrow. Mr. Johnson is facing two counts of a misdemeanor obstruction charge. A six person jury will deliberate on the two charges, requiring only a simple majority (at least four votes) to reach a verdict.

“As the father of two daughters, the threat that climate change poses to their future has become a defining commitment in my life,” said Mr. Johnson. “The debt we owe our ancestors we repay by looking after our children; it’s a sacred obligation.”

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Can Astroturf Campaigns Reverse Climate Change?

Originally published in Free Press Houston on September 22, 2014. By Perry Graham.



Yesterday, over 300,000 people gathered in New York City for the People’s Climate March. Organizers for the march billed it as an “historic” event and “the largest rally about climate change in human history.” But don’t be fooled: although filled with people from the grassroots, this was not a grassroots-led event. And that matters, because it determines what possibilities are open to the movement going forward.

From the outset, and Avaaz dominated the march organizing. Despite the rhetoric of “participatory, open-source” planning and “being led by frontline communities,” these big NGOs kept their hands firmly on the wheel (and on the pocketbooks with millions of dollars to spend). They had the most to gain from large numbers of people turning out to the march – in the form of personal advancement and increased organizational funding from private foundations – and so the call for an inclusive, apolitical (no clear demands or political targets), “family-friendly” march is better seen as coming from a place of self-interest rather than a place of mutual respect for and solidarity with all the people and organizations involved.

The political logic behind this approach is that demonstrating broad and diverse support for climate action creates space for politicians to support it. The practical effect is that the NGOs have managed to constrict and contain dissent to the point where there is no interruption to business as usual for the UN. The more radical Flood Wall Street action is planned for Monday, the day before the UN meets, out of logistical necessity (that’s when people will still be in town after the march), yet has received not a word of acknowledgement, let alone support, from the big green groups. The NGOs prevent the UN Summit from being disrupted, and in return, is one of four US-based NGOs that is even allowed to sit in on the summit. While I’m sure this arrangement was not reached in such a cut-and-dry manner, it is impossible not to notice how convenient this arrangement is. Furthermore, there is no incentive for the UN to do anything differently than they might if the march had not happened.

Activists "Flood Wall Street" day after People's Climate March

Activists “Flood Wall Street” day after People’s Climate March

To further understand the disconnect between the NGOs and grassroots communities, let’s consider the theme of the march: “Action, Not Words.” Not all climate action is created equal, and the only action the UN seems prepared to work towards this week are carbon pricing schemes. While there may be some people claiming to be environmentalists who support these “market-based solutions,” climate and environmental justice advocates have long known that these false solutions only serve to allow corporate profiteers to continue business-as-usual while making an extra buck off “climate action.” These schemes have the unfortunate tendency of giving the biggest polluters the most credits, which they can sell for profit, as well as creating perverse incentives for corporations to pollute more just so they can be paid to reduce emissions. In the context of the vague, apolitical “demands” of the Climate March, the UN Summit could announce a commitment to a carbon pricing scheme and the NGOs would find cause to celebrate, while frontline communities realize that they would continue to suffer under such a policy.

Finally, let’s look at where these organizations are going with their strategy. Both Avaaz and have already started making noise about the UN climate change meeting happening in Paris in 2015 (called Conference of Parties, or COP-21). COP-21 is ostensibly important because it is where the world is expected to commit to a legally binding agreement on climate action, although the details of the agreement are not yet written. However, anyone who knows the history of UN climate negotiations realizes there is an odor of futility to them; a similar agreement was supposed to be made at COP-15 in Copenhagen in 2009, but that failed to happen. Why, then, would the big NGOs be echoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in putting all of their hopes for decisive climate action into this one meeting?

Perhaps more importantly, why are the NGOs ignoring COP-20, scheduled for this December in Peru? Could it be because of the People’s Summit on Climate Change, scheduled to run concurrently to the COP as a grassroots alternative?

If the COP negotiations carry the scent of futility, then the People’s Summit and related efforts (such as the Social PreCOP, scheduled for this November in Venezuela) are a breath of fresh air. This alternative track of meetings, which trace back to the 2010 World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, represent a global grassroots organizing effort of environmental and climate justice communities struggling to “change the system, not the climate.” They understand that climate change is the product of social relations of domination and exploitation, and that coordinated grassroots efforts on a massive scale are the best antidote to a system hell-bent on destroying people and the planet in the pursuit of profit.

To, Avaaz, and the other big green NGOs: here is the frontline grassroots leadership you profess to care so much about. It’s time for you to step back and follow their lead if you really want to see global action on climate change. Climate justice demands it.

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Beyond the People’s Climate March: Where Were You During the #Flood?

This piece was written by a Boston-based group of 13 young people who were arrested in #FloodWallStreet. The Tar Sands Blockade collective did not write this piece, but we believe this is an important conversation.


Recognizing this crucial moment in history, people, especially privileged youth, came out in droves from across the country to the People’s Climate March. They were there to tell a story en masse: that change will come if enough of us demand climate action from our leaders. Yet when it came time to tell the more honest story, that those at the root of this crisis are the corporations and Wall Street profiteers making fortunes off of the suffering of billions, we lost almost everyone. We went from 400,000 at the People’s Climate March to 3,000 at #FloodWallStreet. When it finally came time to stand our ground, to sit on Wall Street and put our bodies on the line, our numbers dwindled from 3,000 to 102.

102 were arrested at the intersection of Broadway & Wall Street

We do not aim to devalue what was accomplished at #FloodWallStreet. We have so much love and gratitude for the organizers that put tireless work into the action, and everyone that showed up. It was incredibly powerful and effective to shut down a major intersection in the heart of the most important financial district on the planet. But it’s too easy to walk away from this patting ourselves on the back and waiting for the next big mobilization. This isn’t about making anyone feel guilty. Our intent is to push everyone, including ourselves, to think about what it will take to really live up to Frederick Douglass’s oft-quoted truth: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.”

We feel frustrated that #FloodWallStreet fell short of its potential to be a game-changing moment in the climate justice movement. We felt that it was a mistake for the organizers to declare the action a success a few hours after taking the street, telling folks: “feel free to go home. We did what we came to do.” But we hadn’t — the action was about disrupting business as usual at the NY Stock Exchange, or if that was not possible, escalating through civil disobedience. Instead, much like the People’s Climate March, folks were ready to call it a day after a couple of hours of chanting in the street.

One reason people actually stayed is because some of us and others mic-checked to the crowd: “from the looks of it, we’re now flooding Wall Street. This is our target. Let’s stay until we are forcibly removed!” When the dispersal order came shortly thereafter, most of the remaining folks left. When the arrests started, only 3% of the original 3,000 of us remained. The crowd of spectators was three or four times larger than the bloc actually risking arrest. Many protesters who soap-boxed with mic-checks abandoned the fight when they were called upon to match their words with actions.

We understand that there are critical support roles for arrestable action, that it takes privilege to voluntarily risk arrest, and that there were many who could not afford to do so. But #FloodWallStreet was framed as a direct action against climate profiteers, and over 1,000 people specifically signed up to commit civil disobedience. It happened between the biggest climate march in history and a major UN Climate Summit, in a city that was, at that moment, hosting a historic number of climate activists. We were in the belly of the beast, the epicenter of global capitalism, at a crucial moment to indict Wall Street for fueling the climate crisis and environmental racism. Could there be a more appropriate moment for thousands of people to put their bodies on the line for climate justice?

While being processed in jail, some comrades next to us were a 17 year-old high school student and woman of color, and a 63 year-old man from Chicago, IL who missed his flight as we sat over-night in jail. We shared cells with women who would have to fly back from Oakland, CA and New Orleans for their court date. Where were the thousands of privileged college students from the Northeast who work for “climate justice” on campus? Where were the devoted organizers of dozens of climate nonprofits who claim this to be the final window for climate action? Where were the local NYC organizers who called for this action and prompted so many to risk arrest? Standing on the sidelines or watching the livestream from home at those key moments won’t cut it. Proclaiming our solidarity with frontline communities and denouncing capitalism is meaningless if we are not willing to make sacrifices for those beliefs. Particularly when those who’ve faced the most devastation have been at the frontlines of resistance for years.

We’re saddened by the dramatic dissonance between the magnitude of the climate crisis and the level of radical resistance on the ground, particularly from activists who we know care deeply. As we spent all day at the People’s Climate March handing out fliers and spreading the word about #FloodWallStreet, we heard the same excuses from our allies: “I can’t miss class.” “I have work.” To our privileged peers who know they can take a day off and survive: do we really think we will ever get the change we need by conveniently fitting protests into our weekend plans? If we are not willing to give up a single day of class or work to take action against the global profiteers of injustice, how the hell do we expect to change anything?

Over the coming decades, as frontline communities continue to bear the brunt of the climate crisis, as cities drown and droughts leave dinner tables empty for the most vulnerable, how will we look back at our role in this crucial moment? The days of work and classes missed will mean nothing. Our only regrets will be our failures to act courageously when we had the chance.

So let’s recognize those rare moments when we’re in the right place at the right time and we have power–and seize them. If the 3,000 people that came to #FloodWallStreet had stayed when the time came to face consequence, there would have been too many of us to arrest. Imagine if thousands of us continued to hold Wall Street through the UN Climate Summit. Only then would the story grow beyond the scuffle with the cops and that one polar bear who got arrested. Only then would the story of how capitalism = climate chaos be pressed onto the world stage.

If our generation wants to see climate justice in our lifetime, we need to step it up. We must work together to take advantage of high impact moments, and be willing to make real sacrifices when the opportunity is ripe. Coming home from NYC, let’s continue to organize, to build deep relationships and resilient communities to weather the storm. But let’s also remember that to end this madness it’s going to take privileged people putting their bodies on the line, again and again and again.


Emily, Martin, Abbie, Noah, Marisa, Shea, Evan, Bobby, James, PJ, Andrew, Kristina, Naveh



Note: After publishing this piece, others have voiced their own perspective. If you have a response, let us know on twitter @kxlblockade.

Floods of Courage, Floods of Vision – Maypop Collective for Climate and Economic Justice

I appreciate all those arrested at #FloodWallStreet, and the points made in “Where Were You During the Flood,” for prompting us to think about these important questions. I unequivocally agree with you that we need a deeper level of personal sacrifice if we hope to succeed. My addition is twofold: (1) Supporting each other to make sacrifices will require a lot of skilled emotional work, and (2) Many more people will be willing to sacrifice if their sacrifices are in the service of a viable long-term strategy.


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