Update: Read Jim Antal's column on his arrest in the Sojourners Blog, God's Politics:
To Dust You Shall Return: In the Meantime — Acting With Gratitude and Conviction, Feb. 15, 2013
Massachusetts Conference Minister and President Jim Antal was one of 48 environmental activists arrested in front of the White House on Wednesday as part of an act of civil disobedience calling on President Barak Obama to block a proposed oil pipeline.
Others arrested included author and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Civil Rights Activist Julian Bond and actress Daryl Hannah. It was the first time in it's long history of environmental activism that The Sierra Club had engaged in civil disobedience. (Read the United Church News coverage of the arrest.)
This was the second time Antal was arrested protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline proposed to run from Canada to Texas - the first time was in August, 2011, when he was arrested with 1250 other people and held for three days.
Antal said doing the protest on Ash Wednesday this year lent it special significance, as he told the group of protesters when they gathered in Lafayette Park prior to their demonstration at the White House fence.
"I reminded people that it was Ash Wednesday, a day of conscience, conviction and repentance," Antal said. "I told them those three words certainly applied to what we were doing there that day."
Antal then told those gathered that he was available with ashes for any who desired to receive them before the protest. He said a number of those who planned to be arrested, including Kennedy and McKibben, received ashes, followed by others in attendance.
"I got an incredible response from people – people who had no background to even know what Ash Wednesday was," he said, adding that many said they never imagined they would see a clergy member take part in the protest.
After the gathering at Lafayette Park, the group walked to the White House and used plastic handcuffs - emblazoned with No KXL (No Keystone XL Pipeline) - to cuff themselves to the wrought iron fence in front of the White House. Police warned the protesters to leave, then cut off the plastic cuffs, arrested the protesters and loaded them into police vans for a four mile ride to a processing center. Antal said he spent about 90 minutes cuffed to the fence, as he was one of the last arrested. He then spent another two hours, hands cuffed behind him, sitting in a police van.
But, he said, he didn't mind that experience as he spent the entire time sitting with famed Civil Rights Activist Julian Bond.
"Julian and I got to review the whole civil rights movement," Antal said. "I was overwhelmed with a sense of privilege to be in handcuffs sitting next to Julian Bond."
Once they were let out of the police vans, those arrested spent about 45 minutes being processed, paid their $100 fines, and were released.
Antal regards the protest as a success.
"The goal was to provide an important media opportunity that would connect the dots between the State of the Union address the night before, and the largest climate rally in history taking place this Sunday," he said. Antal said he counted 40 news cameras at the event, and said reporters representing organizations from the Washington Post to Fortune Magazine were there.
On Sunday, Feb. 17, buses will bring as many as 20,000 people to Washington D.C. for what activists believe will be the largest rally on climate change. The effort will protest construction of the pipeline, which climate activists say would do great harm to the environment.
As he said in a piece (Ash Wednesday: A good day to be arrested, Feb. 13, 2013) written just before the protest:
"By our actions, we challenge President Obama to match rhetoric with reality. Last night, in his State of the Union address, President Obama declared, “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.” Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline is one such action."