FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Designer Protests and Vanity Arrests in DC

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

The scene was striking for its dissonance. Fifty activists massed in front of the White House, some of them sitting, others tied to the iron fence, most of them smiling, all decorous looking, not a Black Blocker or Earth First!er in the viewshed. The leaders of this micro-occupation of the sidewalk held a black banner featuring Obama’s campaign logo, the one with the blue “O” and the curving red stripes that looks like a pipeline snaking across Kansas. The message read, prosaically: “Lead on Climate: Reject the KXL Pipeline.” Cameras whirred franticly, most aimed at the radiant face of Daryl Hannah, as DC police moved in to politely ask the crowd to disperse. The crowd politely declined. The Rubicon had been crossed. For the first time in 120 years, a Sierra Club official, executive director Mike Brune, was going to get arrested for an act of civil (and the emphasis here is decisively on civil) disobedience.

Brune had sought special dispensation for the arrest from the Sierra Club board, a one-day exemption to the Club’s firm policy against non-violent civil disobedience, The Board assented. One might ask, what took them so long? One might also ask, why now? Is the Keystone Pipeline a more horrific ecological crime than oil drilling in grizzly habitat on the border of Glacier National Park or the gunning down of 350 wolves a year in the outback of Idaho? Hardly. The Keystone Pipeline is one of many noxious conduits of tar sand oil from Canada, vile, certainly, but standard practice for Big Oil.

The Sierra Club has an image problem. Brune’s designer arrest can be partially interpreted as a craven attempt to efface the stain of the Club’s recent dalliance with Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest natural gas companies on the continent and a pioneer in the environmentally malign enterprise of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. Between 2007 and 2010, Chesapeake Energy secretly funneled nearly $30 million to the Sierra Club to advocate the virtues of natural gas as a so-called “bridge” fuel. Bridge to where is yet to be determined. By the time this subornment was disclosed, the funders of the environmental movement had turned decisively against fracking for gas and the even more malicious methods used to extract shale oil. The Sierra Club had to rehabilitate itself to stay in the good graces of the Pew Charitable Trusts and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had lavished $50 million on the Club’s sputtering Beyond Coal Campaign.

As the cops strolled in to begin their vanity arrests, they soon confronted the inscrutable commander of these delicately chained bodies, Bill McKibben, leader of the massively funded 350.Org. McKibben had repeatedly referred to this as the environmental movement’s “lunch counter moment,” making an odious comparison to the Civil Right’s movement’s courageous occupation of the “white’s only” spaces across the landscape of the Jim Crow era, acts of genuine defiance that were often viciously suppressed by truncheons, fists and snarling dogs.

But McKibben made no attempt to stand his ground. He allowed the PlastiCuffs that tied his thin wrists to the fence to be decorously snipped. He didn’t resist arrest; instead he craved it. This was a well-orchestrated photo-op moment. He was escorted to the police van, driven to the precinct station, booked, handed a $100 fine and released. An hour later, McKibben was Tweeting about how cool it was to be arrested with civil rights legend Julian Bond. But are you really engaged in civil disobedience if you can Tweet your own arrest?

Beyond the fabric of self-congratulation, what’s really going on here? The mandarins of Big Green blocked nothing, not even entry to the White House grounds. It was a purely symbolic protest, but signifying what? Directed at whom? Even Derrida would have a hard time decoding the meaning of a demonstration that so effusively supported the person it supposedly targeted.

Of course, Obama, who was in North Carolina during the designer arrests, had no such problem. He correctly divined the impotence on display. In a matter of weeks, he delivered a State of the Union Address pledging to expedite oil and gas drilling on public lands and off-shore sites, nominated pro-nuke and pro-fracking zealots to head the EPA and Department of Energy.

Predictably, the Sierra Club, which now functions as little more than an applause machine for the administration, praised both the State of the Union address and the dubious appointments to EPA and Energy. Here we have what Jean-Paul Sartre called “the mirage of an opposition.”

Then the coup de grâce: the State Department issued its final report endorsing the pipeline an ecologically-benign sluice toward economic prosperity. This was swiftly followed by an order from the White House to the EPA demanding that the agency withdraw the stern new standards on greenhouse gas emissions from powerplants.

So Obama is set to screw Gang Green on the Keystone XL Pipeline. But, like Pavlovian Lapdogs, the Enviro Pros will lick their wounds, cash a few checks and within two weeks be back to issuing press releases touting him as the Greenest President of All Time. Rest assured, Obama feels terrible about these setbacks and will move decisively to fix them in his third term.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book (with Joshua Frank) is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 31, 2016
NEVE GORDON - NICOLA PERUGINI
Human Shields as Preemptive Legal Defense for Killing Civilians
Jim Kavanagh
Turkey Invades Syria, America Spins The Bottle
Dave Lindorff
Ukraine and the Dumbed-Down New York Times Columnist
Pepe Escobar
Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, a Woman of Honor, Confronts Senate of Scoundrels
Jeff Mackler
Playing the Lesser Evil Game to the Hilt
Steve Horn
Dakota Access Pipeline Tribal Liaison Formerly Worked For Agency Issuing Permit
Patrick Cockburn
Has Turkey Overplayed Its Hand in Syria?
John Chuckman
Why Hillary is the Perfect Person to Secure Obama’s Legacy
Manuel E. Yepe
The New Cold War Between the US and China
Stephen Cooper
Ending California’s Machinery of Death
Stacy Keltner - Ashley McFarland
Women, Party Politics, and the Power of the Naked Body
Hiroyuki Hamada - Ikuko Isa
A Letter from Takae, Okinawa
Aidan O'Brien
How Did Syria and the Rest Do in the Olympics?
David Swanson
Arms Dealing Is Subject of Hollywood Comedy
Jesse Jackson
The Politics of Bigotry: Trump and the Black Voter
August 30, 2016
Russell Mokhiber
Matt Funiciello and the Giant Sucking Sound Coming Off Lake Champlain
Mike Whitney
Three Cheers for Kaepernick: Is Sitting During the National Anthem an Acceptable Form of Protest?
Alice Bach
Sorrow and Grace in Palestine
Sam Husseini
Why We Should All Remain Seated: the Anti-Muslim Origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Richard Moser
Transformative Movement Culture and the Inside/Outside Strategy: Do We Want to Win the Argument or Build the Movement?
Nozomi Hayase
Pathology, Incorporated: the Facade of American Democracy
David Swanson
Fredric Jameson’s War Machine
Jan Oberg
How Did the West Survive a Much Stronger Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact?
Linda Gunter
The Racism of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Bombings
Dmitry Kovalevich
In Ukraine: Independence From the People
Omar Kassem
Turkey Breaks Out in Jarablus as Fear and Loathing Grip Europe
George Wuerthner
A Birthday Gift to the National Parks: the Maine Woods National Monument
Logan Glitterbomb
Indigenous Property Rights and the Dakota Access Pipeline
National Lawyers Guild
Solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against Dakota Access Pipeline
Paul Messersmith-Glavin
100 in Anarchist Years
August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail