FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Designer Protests and Vanity Arrests in DC

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).

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 15, 2019
David Altheide
The Fear Party
Roger Harris
UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Bachelet’s Gift to the US: Justifying Regime Change in Venezuela
John Feffer
Pyongyang on the Potomac
Vincent Kelley
Jeffrey Epstein and the Collapse of Europe
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Hissy-Fit Over Darroch Will Blow a Chill Wind Across Britain’s Embassies in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
Juggling with the Authoritarians: Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Fake Book
Dean Baker
The June Jobs Report and the State of the Economy
Michael Hudson – Bonnie Faulkner
De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire
Kathy Kelly
Remnants of War
B. Nimri Aziz
The Power of Our Human Voice: From Marconi to Woods Hole
Elliot Sperber
Christianity Demands a Corpse 
Weekend Edition
July 12, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Skull of Death: Mass Media, Inauthentic Opposition, and Eco-Existential Reality in a Pre-Fascist Age of Appeasement
T.J. Coles
“Strategic Extremism”: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule
Rob Urie
Toward an Eco-Socialist Revolution
Gregory Elich
How Real is the Trump Administration’s New Flexibility with North Korea?
Jason Hirthler
The Journalists Do The Shouting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pâté Politics in the Time of Trump and Pelosi
Andrew Levine
The Electoral Circus as the End of Its Initial Phase Looms
David Swanson
Earth Over the Brink
Ron Jacobs
Presidential Papers
Robert Hunziker
The Flawed Food Dependency
Dave Lindorff
Defeating the Trump Administration’s Racist, Republican-Rescuing Census Corruption
Martha Rosenberg
Pathologizing Kids, Pharma Style
Kathleen Wallace
Too Horrible to Understand, Too Horrible to Ignore
Ralph Nader
An Unsurpassable Sterling Record of Stamina!
Paul Tritschler
Restricted View: the British Legacy of Eugenics
John Feffer
Trump’s Bluster Diplomacy
Thomas Knapp
Did Jeffrey Epstein “Belong to Intelligence?”
Nicholas Buccola
Colin Kaepernick, Ted Cruz, Frederick Douglass and the Meaning of Patriotism
P. Sainath
It’s Raining Sand in Rayalaseema
Charles Davis
Donald Trump’s Fake Isolationism
Michael Lukas
Delisting Wolves and the Impending Wolf Slaughter
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Shaking Off Capitalism for Ecological Civilization
Julian Vigo
North America’s Opioid Addiction Problem and the Institutional Machinery Keeping It Alive
Russell Rickford
Lights of Liberty Vigil Remarks
Stansfield Smith
Bernie Sanders’ Present Fight against Corporate Rule vs. the Bernie of 1989
Steve Early
A Plant Closing War, Viewed From Inside
Jill Richardson
The Good News About Trump’s Very Bad Environmental Speech
John Kendall Hawkins
The Language of Languishing: One Kurd’s Journey Into Mythopoesis
Monika Zgustova
Russia and the Manipulation of the Past
Binoy Kampmark
Out of Kilter: National Security and Press Freedoms in Australia
Robert P. Alvarez
Return of the Poll Tax
David Macaray
A Hideous Ending
David Barsamian
The Slide to War with Iran: An Interview with Nader Hashemi
Graham Peebles
Breaking the Spiral of Hate and Intolerance
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail