Indigenous and climate activists organize week of action in US capital

More than 300 arrests were made between in the first three days of a week-long action by a coalition of indigenous groups and climate activists, demanding an end to fossil fuel projects and other polluting industries

October 14, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Day 3 of the demonstrations at Washington DC on October 13, 2021, included testimonies and petitions against Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline project. Photo: Resist Line 3/Twitter

Hundreds of climate activists and Indigenous rights advocates have mobilized this week in front of the White House, calling for the Joe Biden administration to halt fossil fuel projects. The protests are part of a week-long series of direct action in Washington DC, under the banner of “People Vs. Fossil Fuel: Biden’s Test,” organized by Build Back Fossil Free coalition between October 11 and 15.

The ongoing movement is push for president Biden to fulfill his campaign promises on climate change and polluting industries. The demonstrations began on the same day as the United States observed the first-ever Indigenous Peoples’ Day and received broad support from social movements.

Every day protesters have gathered at the McPherson Square in Washington DC, after which they take the demonstration outside the White House, which often ends in mass detentions. According to Common Dreams, a total of 345 arrests were made between October 11 and 13.

Each day’s action is guided by a theme, on Wednesday, October 13, the theme was “Climate chaos is happening now”. The demonstrations will culminate in a youth-led action on Friday, October 15, coinciding with weekly climate strikes that have been taking place around the world.

“As fires burn, oceans rise, and cities flood, we’re mobilizing to Washington DC to demand that President Biden act on climate justice right now,” Common Dreams quoted Joye Braun as saying. Braun is a part of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the Build Back Fossil Free coalition participants.

On Monday, the very first day of the demonstration, the news of protesters facing arrests outside the White House by law enforcement officers prompted hundreds of supporters to come out in solidarity. The arrest of the activists, many of them advocates of indigenous rights, also exposed the Biden administration’s double standards on both climate change and indigenous rights.

“Despite President Biden’s climate rhetoric, his administration has failed to stop major projects like the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, defended oil drilling in the Arctic, promoted fossil fuel exports, and allowed drilling, mining, and fracking to continue on Native and public lands,” added Braun.

“We showed up to vote (for the 2020 presidential election), and we will continue to show up to make him uncomfortable in his inaction until the drastic needed steps are taken to mitigate climate change and protect Mother Earth.”

Activists also criticized the government’s inaction and how it is impacting lives and communities. Mario Atencio of Diné CARE highlighted how the oil and gas extraction around Navajo Nation communities has impacted children’s health and stated that this “is the consequence of the inaction: The little ones are being hurt because Biden can’t fulfill something he promised.”

Each day of the demonstration, frontline activists and organizers of movements presented testimonies. They talked about the impact of fossil fuels, mining, and other polluting projects on communities such as  Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, the pollution by Formosa Plastics in St. James Parish in Louisiana — also called the “Cancer Alley” due to high rates of cancer cases —, and the proposed 303-mile (488 km) long fracked oil pipeline between West Virginia and Virginia.

Other actions, such as submitting a petition against the Line 3 pipeline project with over a million signatures to the US Army Corps of Engineers, were also undertaken.

The timing of these demonstrations is also significant considering that the US Congress is in the middle of arriving at a deal for the upcoming spending bill. With slogans like “No Climate, No Deal,” activists have demanded that declaration of a climate crisis and measures to mitigate it should be at the heart of any deal.

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