Flora from Salt Lake: "Don't go back to sleep"

Why I am coming to DC — the tar sands action team August 10, 2011 at 11:24 am

Flora Bernard is co-director of Peaceful Uprising in Salt Lake City, an organization co-founded by Tim DeChristopher and friends after his initial arrest in 2008. Flora will be at the tar sands action to continue their fight, and will be traveling to West Virginia soon after. To join her and hundreds more of us, sign up by clicking here.

My heart was shattered when Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in prison on July 26th. But something else also shattered—something that was keeping me from realizing my own potential as a powerful agent of change. That was Tim’s gift to me. That is why Tim was willing to make this sacrifice: to empower ordinary people to do whatever it takes to defend our world and our future. We left the courtroom singing, and once outside the courthouse, a handful of us used sturdy plastic zip ties to bind our wrists to one another and to the railing of the steps. Others saw what we were doing, and suddenly our initial group of six swelled to a dozen. Shortly we were informed that even more supporters had joined us, and had peacefully blockaded the other courthouse door.

The federal courthouse officers said they were going to “wait us out,” and make no arrests. When the rest of the group declared that we needed to escalate the situation, I realized that I was far from alone in that wholehearted sentiment. I can’t express the degree of ongoing, much-needed hope and gratitude that came with this knowledge. We moved our occupation to the adjacent intersection and spread out to block traffic, including a TRAX train. I was deeply moved when a family who stepped off of the train we blocked joined our circle when they recognized why we were demonstrating. 26 of us were arrested outside the courthouse on July 26th, and taken to jail—singing all the way.

When I heard Tim’s sentence, it had a strange effect on me: my heart was broken, but something else was broken as well. For the first time in my life, I felt no fear, and no hesitation. Through my sorrow and my outrage, I knew we needed to communicate a message to the Prosecution, to the federal government, and most importantly, to the climate justice movement Tim is dedicated to encourage and empower: we will not be intimidated by an unjust system. We will not be bullied by powerful, but cowardly, vested interests and corporate controllers. In the fight for a livable future, we are committed to doing whatever it takes—and we will NOT be deterred.

We must not let that commitment end with Tim’s incarceration; instead, this must be a new beginning. We must continue to fight. At the end of August, I am traveling to D.C. to participate in the Tar Sands Action. Targeting the Keystone XL pipeline proposed by Secretary Hillary Clinton (with intention to fuel the United States with the toxic fruits of the nightmarish Canadian tar sands), the action could turn out to be the largest ongoing collective civil disobedience in the history of our movement. This Action will be a turning point for the climate movement, and I can’t possibly miss out on this historic moment.

From the Tar Sands Action, I am going to Appalachia to support my friends and allies at The RAMPS campaign. On Coal River Mountain, two brave women, Catherine-Anne MacDougal and Becks Kollins, have halted blasting for over three weeks; the longest cessation of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia, ever as a result of a direct action. I want to do whatever I can to support these courageous, creative, committed people.

When asked what he wants to see from other activists in this movement, and from the ordinary people he has awakened and inspired, Tim often quotes the poet Rumi: “Don’t go back to sleep.”

July 26 scarred my heart and filled me with unprecedented personal sorrow. July 26 was also one of the proudest and most hopeful days of my life. I will mark July 26 as a brave new beginning, and carry Tim’s gift—the gift of power, hope, and joyful resolve—with me through the rest of my years. I will not go back to sleep. I am committed to facing the whole, unvarnished truth about the climate crisis. I am committed to awakening others to the urgency of our fight, and to the hope and joy that principled nonviolent action can bring to their lives. I hope that you will join me. Stay awake. Together, we will create the just and healthy world we want and need to see.

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