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Sierra Club Plans Civil Disobedience Action

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Tar sands protesters rally outside the White House on Nov. 6, 2011.

CREDIT: Flickr/Tarsandsaction

The Sierra Club board of directors shocked the environmental community last month by announcing the organization plans to employ civil disobedience for the first time in its 120-year history.

“For civil disobedience to be justified, something must be so wrong that it compels the strongest defensible protest,” Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director, said in a press release.

The Board’s announcement came as the Sierra Club warms up for its Forward on Climate Rally, planned for Feb. 17 in Washington, D.C. Working in tandem with 350.org, the Club hopes to draw thousands to the capital to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and the lack of action to seriously slow global climate change.

Maggie Kao, national press secretary for the Sierra Club, told Campus Progress that the civil disobedience action will occur separately from the Feb. 17 rally. The date and time of the action have not yet been released, but Kao said it will take place in D.C. and will address the Keystone XL pipeline and the burning of tar sands specifically.

“Time is running out, and the stakes are enormous," Kao said. "We can’t afford to lose a single major battle. And the burning of dirty tar sands crude is one of those major battles.”

The suspension of its long-standing ban on this form of protest is a major step for the organization. Sierra Club President Allison Chin said in the press release that it was a tough, but necessary decision.

Tar sands production is among the largest and most heated environmental battles currently taking place in the country. At the head of this debate is the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if approved, would pump the substance 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico for export.

With its recent announcement, the Sierra Club is stepping up its involvement in the struggle, bolstering an ongoing international protest to block the construction of the pipeline—a protest largely powered by young people. Brune explained his organization’s position in a recent interview with Mother Jones:

“The civil disobedience just offers us one mechanism that should be used under extraordinary circumstances to try to break impasses when we see them. I think civil disobedience is only effective when it's used as a last resort, or if it's seen as an extraordinary thing,” he said. 

Cody Bond is a reporter with Campus Progress.

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