Arresting Fear with Hope: Protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline

A little over a month ago, I disobeyed police orders to move from in front of the White House and was arrested, along with 110 others on that day, and over 700 over the course of the ten preceding days.

My mother says I was never afraid of anything as a child. I would run laughing into huge waves on the beach and climb trees so tall it made my brother dizzy to follow. And yet, as an adult, I live every day with fear. It is a deeply personal, but also political kind of fear. Climate change threatens my future and the future of the people and places I love, and I find this terrifying. And I find it terrifying that our country has been so helpless (and in denial, and backwards, and corrupted) in response to the threat.

I usually deal with this diffuse sense of fear and helplessness in self-consciously quirky ways, like practicing survival skills and learning first aid, navigation, and other useful post-apocalyptic strategies. I also try not to think about it too much. On that day in September, however, I did think about it. And on the night before my arrest I talked about my fear.

Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood

At Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, over one hundred people gathered for a peaceful action training. We had come from all over the nation, but shared a common purpose: to gather in front of the White House and remind the President of his promise that we would be “the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil.” We had come to witness to Obama that the Keystone XL pipeline is a continental fuse to burn the dirtiest oil bomb the world has ever known, and that authorizing it would mean he had crossed a line in the sand.

As we role-played, filled out legal forms, and prepared for the risk of arrest, I spoke with my “jail buddy,” Kathy. Kathy had come from Texas with her husband after an illegally placed natural gas pipeline blew a leak under her property and destroyed the creek her children had grown up playing in. She and Steve were disgusted with how unethically and illegally the gas company had behaved and were horrified to learn that the 36″ wide Keystone pipeline was slated to run through the middle of their county, carrying corrosive bitumen fuel from Alberta’s tar sands. Neither of them had ever risked arrest. Neither had I.

As we spoke together about why we were there that night, I found myself crying. Obama and the State Department have sole approval power over this enormous pipeline project. We were there to learn how to peacefully tell the President how much this matters, to “use our bodies as collateral” in the words of Bill McKibben. We were there to testify about the impact of tar sands and bitumen transport on frontline communities, and to share our vision for a future without tar sands.

I thought and spoke about what really scares me. I am afraid that rising average temperatures, loss of clean water, and rising sea levels will exacerbate hunger and conflict around the world. I am afraid that storm surges and more powerful hurricanes will destroy Miami, the beautiful place I still call home. I am afraid of losing the beauty of familiar species and the mystery of rare ones. I am afraid for the health of the oceans, our planet’s lungs.

And when I let myself think about all this too hard, I get angry. My fear and the anger that comes with it were what brought me to the church to speak and cry with Kathy. Yet as I stood in the heat in front of the White House the next day, and chanted and sang with 110 other demonstrators prepared to risk arrest, I began to feel something new: hope. We asked Obama which side he was on, and I knew which side I was on. I was on the side of the protestors, the Wyoming rancher afraid of losing his land, the Texans fearful for their water supplies, the Native activists who had lost loved ones to mining trucks. I was on the side of the hundreds of people from around the country who stood on the other side of the police barriers and cheered for us as we were arrested, one by one, for three hours.

Later, the industrial strength zip ties cut into my wrists and my shoulders ached as I sat on the hot police bus. But the police were respectful and even friendly, doing their jobs and taking their part in the action, too. I was processed and released after two uncomfortable hours.

One protester said to a SWAT member, “I appreciate what you do.” He looked at her and responded, “I appreciate what you do.”

It’s good to appreciate and it’s good to find even a small glimmer of hope.

Eliza Cava

Eliza will be joining Tar Sands Action again on November 6th in Washington, DC, one year before the next Presidential election, helping to encircle the White House in a giant human ring and remind the President, again, of the importance of this issue. Visit her website at:

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  1. Pingback: “Arresting Fear With Hope” Published in SAGE Magazine! « Eliza F. Cava

  2. I am excited and anxious about the activism of our young people. Excited that they have hope and anxious that it might not be realized. I am proud of Eliza for her courage, eloquence and leadership.

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