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Jessy Tolkan

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From White House Meetings to White House Arrest

Posted: 09/07/11 11:42 AM ET

Nearly three years ago I lined up in front of the same White House fence I was arrested in front of yesterday. It was weeks after President Obama's inauguration that I waited in great anticipation of my first-ever meeting inside the White House. I can't tell you how excited I was in early 2009 to work with this president and his administration to build a clean and just energy future in America.

I had worked endlessly with my peers to get President Obama elected, worked even harder to be his partner in ushering through policies that would build our economy and sustain our environment. At the end of the day, too much of my advocacy and the advocacy of hundreds of thousands of us has fallen on deaf ears.

I'm not a multi-billion dollar corporation that has the ability to to give endless amounts of money in this next election, and sadly, despite being part of one of the biggest voting blocks in America, I don't really have the ear of my political representatives or the White House.

I felt the responsibility to elevate my tactics -- to stand up and do whatever possible to get this president's attention. So yesterday morning I chose to be arrested in front of the White House, in hopes that perhaps weeks of sustained arrests might help this president take notice that he has the power, all by himself to make a very smart decision -- to deny the permit for the horrific Keystone pipeline that would travel from Canada straight though the middle part of our country -- carrying the dirtiest of fuels from the Canadian tar sands.

I've seen firsthand what happens when a country and it's corporations ignore the opportunity to advance in the direction of a clean energy future. This short-sighted mentality leads to companies like General Motors going bankrupt as it didn't see the trend of smaller more efficient cars. It can lead to hardworking people like my own family losing their small business. There is race in progress to see who will the clean energy future, and winning that race is crucial to long term economic stability. A pipeline takes us directly in the wrong direction.

President Obama can deny this pipeline and instead put our country on a path to winning the clean energy future, investing in real solutions like wind, and solar, and preventing the catastrophic risks associated with this pipeline traveling through the heartland our country.

In the days of deciding whether or not to risk arrest, I found myself contemplating the implications on my future ... Would I potentially be omitted from job opportunities? Would I lose respect from my colleagues and peers in the movement? Would I jeopardize the access I've worked so hard to build in this troubled city of Washington, DC? These questions I imagine are quite normal, but seem so insignificant when weighted against what it is I supposedly have devoted my career to fighting for ... That's perhaps one my biggest takeaways form participating in this action. We need to think so big, and need to be willing to go so far in this fight if we have any chance of winning. We must dig deep into ourselves and ask hard questions about the approach that has landed us in the current predicament of so little power in the face of such great problems. May these past 12 days be an invitation to us all to think about how our movements MUST escalate in the days and weeks and months ahead.

Even the impressive 1000+ arrests that have taken place throughout the past 12 days of this historic protest make come short of our intended outcome of stopping this pipeline -- but something is forever changed in me and many others as a result of these past 12 days. We are seeing a shift and a recognition that the stakes are too high to merely lobby and write letters and clog phone lines. Our activism simply must match the scale of problems we are fighting, and in a post-Citizens United era that has attempted to diminish or eliminate the voice of everyday people we have no choice but to get louder, fiercer, and more aggressive than ever before.

I stood in front of the White House yesterday, not only with the hopes of making a point on the issue of the Tar Sands Pipeline but with a larger hope of reminding this president who he is accountable to. Our country is facing some of the most significant challenges we've seen in generations, and it requires the highest degree of leadership and courage from our president. It's time that President Obama use his executive authority to do what a broken congress and battered political system isn't doing -- to stand up to true injustice. As I scan the landscape of issues I'm in awe of how much this president could do to stop the suffering and get us back on the right track -- from issuing a moratorium on deportations of young immigrants eligible for the Dream Act to stopping this pipeline to bringing his vision from the campaign into concrete policies generating from his own office -- we need his courage and we need it now.

I never thought as I danced in the streets on the night President Obama was elected, that I would find myself getting arrested in protest to earn his administration's attention. How could I have predicted that would be necessary? My generation's vote elected him to office -- we were supposed to have power the power, that was the change I thought I could believe in. Just because my "hopes" for a different political reality haven't been realized, I won't sit ideally by, I'll continue to fight, and take whatever means necessary for the promising future I know our country is capable of building.

 

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