Thousands of people are descending on the White House for a weeklong climate protest

Climate activists, led by Indigenous people, are risking arrest to tell the Biden administration to cut pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 12: Climate protesters march to the White House on October 12, 2021 in Wash...
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Tuesday was the 89th birthday of author and activist Rabbi Arthur Waskow. He spent part of it in handcuffs. He had plenty of company, though: He and hundreds of others were protesting outside the White House as part of a climate change demonstration. The protesters, Rabbi Waskow among them, made their way to Washington, D.C. to tell the Biden administration that its Build Back Better agenda cannot include fossil fuels.

The arrests were a stark visual at the end of the second day of sustained climate activism outside the Capitol, part of a week-long mobilization effort dubbed People vs. Fossil Fuels. Thousands of people are expected to participate in the week-long protest movement, which started Monday with a celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and will end on Friday with a rally led by youth activists.

A coalition of groups, organized under the banner of Build Back Fossil Free, is leading the ongoing demonstrations. Among them are Indigenous, Black, environmental, climate justice, youth, and social justice organizations — all come together to deliver a unified message that it’s time to ditch fossil fuels for good.

The activists have some ideas about how to achieve that goal, too. They are asking President Biden to act swiftly and use executive authority to declare a climate emergency — a move that is supported by a number of progressive politicians, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Thirty-five other countries and more than 2,000 cities, counties, and other jurisdictions around the world have already declared a climate emergency. In joining them, the White House would have much more power to combat climate change, including the ability to mobilize American manufacturers to ramp up the production of clean energy infrastructures like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles.

In addition to officially recognizing the crisis at hand, the activists are also calling on Biden to use his executive power to end new fossil fuel projects, including the expansion of oil pipelines like the Line 3 pipeline that started operation in October with the approval of the Biden administration. The pipeline, which was protested by activists, passes through tribal lands in Minnesota and runs near essential watersheds utilized by Indigenous populations. It will also carry oil that, when burned, will produce the equivalent of 38 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Indigenous people and marginalized minority communities have been central to the People vs. Fossil Fuels protests, calling on Biden to keep his word on environmental justice. The protests, while non-violent and peaceful, have led to some tense moments and standoffs with law enforcement.

Protesters painted “Expect us” on a statue of former President Andrew Jackson, who was responsible for the forced removal and killings of Native people. Police at one point reportedly deployed a long-range acoustic device that plays a high-pitched noise in an attempt to force protesters to disperse, according to The Independent. U.S. Park Police cited 156 people who ignored warnings and refused to move away from the gates in front of the White House. Those arrested were issued citations for obstructing traffic and released, according to The Washington Post.

Despite the arrests and pushback from law enforcement during the demonstrations, the protesters aren’t going anywhere. Additional action is planned for the rest of the week. It might lead to more arrests, but many of the protesters are willing to accept that risk to convey an essential and urgent message. The future of the planet is at stake; the time to act is now. And that is exactly what the protesters are doing.