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“Keep the Tar Sands where they are; Climate change has gone too far!”

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Sit-in to oppose Tar Sands Pipeline, State Dept, 8/12/13

Those words were chanted by more than 200 people in a vigorous protest I took part in on Aug 12, 2013, at the State Department in Washington, DC, against the Tar Sands Pipeline. The action was organized by CREDO Action, the Rain Forest Action Network , and The Other 98%. The Shalom Center and Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC) endorsed the protest, and our readiness to risk arrest.

We ranged in age from 18 to 79 – students, grandparents, clergy, former Obama volunteers, farmers – among whom were 60 of us who sat down, blocking the main entrance of the State Department. We were protesting its profoundly mistaken affirmation that the Pipeline is no danger, and asking Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama to rule the Pipeline out.

We expected to be arrested, but the police were under orders: No arrests. After two hours of sit-in, during which the organizer staff were told there would be none, we marched to a side entrance. On the way, I asked a leading officer, “What would we have had to do to be arrested?” Stolidly, he answered: “Not today.”

I think the unwillingness to arrest us was already a measure of our growing power. The President’s words and tone about the Pipeline have markedly changed in the last three months, as opposition has grown. More than 70,000 people have signed a Pledge to Resist with nonviolent civil disobedience if the Pipeline is approved, and this action was “early warning” of our readiness to carry out that commitment.

Each of the 60 who risked arrest carried a sign saying, “Another —- Against the Pipeline,” and we called out our reasons, one at a time. My sign (as you can see in the photo above) read, “Another Rabbi Against the Pipeline,” and I explained I had two reasons to oppose it:


“One from the past – 3,000 years of clear religious wisdom that it is a sacred obligation of humanity to honor, protect, and heal the Earth of which we are a part – and one from the future: I have five grandchildren. I love them, and I would love them to grow up in a world that’s as healthy, as beautiful, as abundant as the one I gr
ew up in.”

I think because I was speaking as a Rabbi, several of the many reporters present interviewed me, including the Huffington Post. Its article today (see across the page on our website) does quote me.

Among the chants that shook the air around the bu
ilding were:

“Keep the Tar Sands where they are;
Climate change has
gone too far!

“Hey Obama —-
We don’t want no pipeline drama.”

“We are unstoppable:
Another world is possible!”

At the very end, I spoke directly to the police with words of respect for their commitment to uphold the law, and pointed out – “The Pipeline is a much worse crime than anything we might have done today – because it will poison the Earth and endanger the human future. You are parents & grandparents. – So to prevent that crime and to protect your kids, we welcome you to join with us in building an even
broader movement.”

That is the welcome we should be offering all our neighbors: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.” (A. Lincoln)

And with “the fierce urgency of Now.” (M. L. King) Knowing that time is short — for the God Whose many Names all point to the Interbreathing Spirit of all life is already choking, choking, on the flood of CO2 that we have allowed to be loosed upon our planet.

Member since 2010
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., founded (1983) and directs The Shalom Center https://theshalomcenter.org In 2014 he was honored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights with their first Lifetime Achievement Award as a “Human Rights Hero.” In 2015 he was named by The Forward one of the “most inspiring” American rabbis. Beginning in 1969 with writing the original Freedom Seder and continuing with his seminal work as editor of New Menorah magazine and author of Godwrestling (1978) and Seasons of Our Joy (1982), he has been a leader of the movement for Jewish political and spiritual renewal. Waskow pioneered in the development of Eco-Judaism in theology, liturgy, daily practice, and activism -- • through his books Seasons of Our Joy; Godwrestling – Round 2; Down-to-Earth Judaism; Trees, Earth, & Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology; and Torah of the Earth: 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought; • as author of a pioneering essay on “Jewish Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah,” in Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality (Elliot N. Dorff and Jonathan K. Crane, eds.; Oxford University Press, 2013); • through the Green Menorah organizing project of The Shalom Center; • through the Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth and a number of climate-focused public actions drawing on and transforming traditional liturgies for Tu B’Shvat, Passover/ Palm Sunday, Tisha B’Av, Sukkot, and Hanukkah; • as a candidate for the World Zionist Congress on the Green Zionist Alliance slate; • as a participant and speaker in the World Interfaith Summit on the Climate Crisis called by the Archbishop of Sweden in Uppsala in 2008; • as a founding member (2010-2013) of the stewardship committee of the Green Hevra (a network of Jewish environmental organizations); • as a member of the coordinating committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate; • and as a practitioner of nonviolent civil disobedience who has been arrested in climate protests in the US Capitol, at the White House, and has undertaken civil disobedience at Philadelphia conclaves of fracking corporate leaders.
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