Tons of Californians arrested at White House climate change protest

Shortly before 1 p.m. West Coast time Wednesday, 48 environmental activists — including a ton of Bay Area residents including San Franciscans like Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune and Adam Werbach, St. Mary’s College professor Brenda Hillman and her husband UC-Berkeley professor and former poet laureate Bob Haas — were arrested after chaining themselves to a fence outside the White House to protest the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

We told you this invite-only civil disobedience demonstration was coming a couple of weeks ago. It’s news in that Obama’s liberal base is increasingly ticked off at him about his inaction on climate change. (And it was the first time in its history that the Sierra Club OK’d nonviolent civil disobedience as an organization.)

And yes, while Obama launched more climate change promises in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, a lot of enviros want to see Obama’s actions back up his words. And they’re taking a stand on the pipeline.

Just spoke with Werbach, the former Sierra Club leader, about protesting outside the White House after being involved in so many meetings inside over several Administrations. (He called after being released after his arrest for refusal to obey a lawful order, a $100 infraction.) It was his first arrest and as he pointed out, his fellow demonstrators “aren’t a bunch of radicals.”

“I’ve been working on these issues since 1990 and nothing has changed. Something had to be done,” said Werbach, who will remain in D.C. for Sunday’s protest. “Our message wasn’t just to the President, but to the Congress and the American people.”

Brune, who will speak at a major climate change rally Sunday in DC, told me that demonstrating against an Administration that he generally supports “was like telling someone in your family that you love them but you wish they would do something different.”

Brune felt that Obama’s State of the Union comments were “sincere” about climate change and that he was “cautiously optimistic” that Obama would not approve the Keystone Pipeline. After talking up climate change in his second inaugural address and the SOTU and investing a lot of resources in his Organizing for Action (which lists climate change as a priority), “he can’t approve it now. It wouldn’t make sense.”

This crew included a lot of folks who have never been arrested before. Other Californians collared after being unshackled from the East Gate of the White House include Danny Kennedy, founder of the Oakland solar power firm Sungevity, Berkeley’s Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks; Michael Kieschnick, president and co-founder of San Francisco’s Credo Mobile; Andre Carothers, board chair of San Francisco’s Rainforest Action Network; Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Oakland’s Green for All and Ellie Cohen, President and CEO of PRBO Conservation Science in Petaluma.

Other headline protesters will be actress Daryl “Splash” Hannah and author and activist Bill McKibben, of, the climate change-focused enviro group that put this together and has a lot of organizational roots in the Bay Area.

As such things go with a choreographed protest like this, Kieschnick was ready with a post-arrest statement:

“As a CEO my job is to make tough decisions ignoring special interests and taking the path that is best for all. President Obama’s decision on Keystone should be easy if he ignores the conventional wisdom that he can trade something else and tune out the legions of lobbyists spreading lies about the consequences.”

On Sunday there will be a mass demonstration in Washington — and here in San Francisco — on the same topic. The details are here. The DC gig is expected to be the largest climate change demonstration ever, featuring tens of thousands of folks.

Joe Garofoli

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