By now we know that Occupying was a brilliant tactic -- if you go someplace and just stay there long enough, eventually your message starts getting out. Persistence is the first great attribute of organizing success, as I wrote the other day in the (quite wonderful) Occupy Boston Globe.
But there are places you can't really occupy, and one of them is the grounds of the White House. They have a fence, they have the Secret Service, and my guess is there are some Marines in there somewhere, too. And anti-aircraft guns. So when you can't #Occupy, maybe the next best alternative is #Surround.
Next Sunday we'll be circling the White House with people -- a kind of ring-around-Obama designed to remind him that he has serious support for blocking the Keystone Pipeline. I don't know if the White House has ever been ringed quite this way before; we've been using Google Earth to try and figure out how many people it will take. The answer appears to be: a lot (it's hard to figure because we don't know for sure how wide the police will make the security perimeter). But if we can do it, the image should be kind of beautiful.
Depending on your mood, it will look either like a big O-shaped hug for a guy who's had a hard time from Congress and now with this pipeline decision can finally do the right thing all by himself -- or like a kind of symbolic house arrest for the guy who's already opened the Arctic to oil drilling and is now poised to bust the carbon ceiling wide open with tar sands oil. For most of us, torn between hope and fear, it's probably a little bit of both.
The signs we'll be carrying are ambiguous too, just quotes from Barack '08: "time to end the tyranny of oil," say. They're reminders of the great movement that brought him to power -- and of the disappointment that looms if it turns out he's really sold himself to big oil. Some of us thought we'd kind of succeeded in occupying the White House with Obama's inauguration; we were naive, and the only question is, how naive? Is the fire that powered that epic campaign entirely gone, or are there embers we can blow back to life?
The pipeline is clearly the biggest environmental flashpoint in many years. We've been able to draw a line in the tar sands, and say: this far and no further. On Sunday, that line will loop around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Come #surround with us on November 6.
Follow Bill McKibben on Twitter: www.twitter.com/billmckibben