and start turning that big wheel? One of your videographers
said that it was “shockingly easy.”
Annette: It felt joyful. Alice Walker says that resistance is the
secret of joy, and I have found that to be so true.
Leonard: I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get the valve
closed before sheri=’s deputies arrived. I really didn’t get in touch
with the joy until I was actually able to get the valve closed. I felt a
deep sense of peace while I waited for law enforcement to show up.
Michael: I remember just feeling amazed that I was seeing a
sign that said KEYSTONE PIPELINE, and that I was going to turn it o=.
I’ll never forget how long it took to turn that giant wheel, and I
wished I’d been doing some upper-body training. But we turned
it o=. You know, that was 590,000 barrels per day, going under
my feet. Then none at all.
Ken: I remember thinking, “We are alive! There is no part of
us that has to shut down. We are psychically free!” It was a wonderful sense of freedom. I had been working for forty-odd years
on climate change, all the time pretending that the work was
making a di=erence. When I shut the valve, I felt a significant
change. Nothing I had done on climate change up until that time
was as much fun as turning this one damn knob.
Kathleen: I think that you are talking about what the French
existentialist philosophers called “bad faith” — lying to ourselves,
pretending that we are good people while we are doing so much
harm and letting so much harm happen around us. There’s a
terrible imprisonment in hypocrisy. The joy of true freedom
comes when we face the truth squarely and take ownership of
our responsibilities. You have felt that joy, Ken, as the rest of us
perhaps have not.
Ken: Maybe so. My hero Václav Havel said something about
“living in truth.” You remain engaged with the reality of what is
happening, you don’t hide yourself from the su=ering of it, and
you do the best you can to address it. So as painful as it is, I prefer to stay tightly connected to reality, and then act appropriately.
Kathleen: The Beautiful Trouble website says that direct action
can have many goals: “To shut things down; to open things up; to
pressure a target; to re-imagine what’s possible; to intervene in a
system; to empower people; to defend something good; to shine
a spotlight on something bad.” What were your goals?
Michael: To stop the river of poison for once, and get caught.
To be arrested. To go to trial and prove that defending life as we
know it is no longer a crime. It is a necessity.
Kathleen: You were willing to go to jail in order to have a
chance to make a necessity defense?
Leonard: Right. It wasn’t just shutting down the pipelines
that we hoped to accomplish. We planned from the outset to
go forward with jury trials. That would give us something like
a year to communicate the emergency, using the action and
courtrooms as a platform for getting the message out.
Annette: We all plan to use the necessity defense, which is a
long shot. It’s saying that we had no alternative but to do this,
that it was an emergency. Yes, we committed a crime, but it was
a lesser crime than what is being committed against the planet.
Michael: If you are walking down the street and you see a
house that is on fire and you hear a baby inside, what do you do?
You don’t say, oh dear, it’s against the law for me to break into
the house. You “bust out the windows and jimmy the door,” as
Emily says in one of her poems, and you get the baby out. If you
are arrested for breaking and entering, the necessity defense is
that the harm you did was necessary to prevent a greater harm.
Emily: To make a necessity defense, you have to show, first,
that you have exhausted all other options; second, that the harm
was not one that you created yourself; third, that the harm was
imminent; and fourth, that you had a reasonable belief that what
you were doing would stop the harm.
Kathleen: So let’s take these one by one. Have you exhausted
all the other options?
Annette: I am sixty-four years old. I have signed petitions, I
have testified at hearings. I have personally met with politicians
at all levels. I have marched in the streets — in short, I have used
every legal means available to me. But what I have learned is that
our political system is utterly unresponsive to the grave threat to
our existence that climate change represents, so it is up to us to
stop the fossil fuel industry from continuing to conduct business
When I look my grandchildren in the face, I want to be able
to say that I did everything in my power to make sure they have
a future. It won’t do to say, “I ine=ectually petitioned my political
Emily: There has never been a movement for social change
that succeeded by people simply being good people and attending to their daily lives. To the degree that we are able, we all have
to take risks.
Kathleen: But what about working with the mainstream
Ken: I was a professional sta= person for Greenpeace and
the state Public Interest Research Groups for twenty years, and I
was cofounder and president of the National Environmental Law
Center. I believe that a great deal of the fault for where we are is
because those of us who had a professional responsibility to create the fight early on avoided an immense challenge.
We held a series of polls in the late ’90s. Twelve or so environmental organizations paid for this. The pollsters said that people
don’t really want to think about climate change and when you