Letter from a Reader:

People vs. Fossil Fuels: 655 Arrested in Week of Actions in Washington, DC

Between October 11 and October 15, hundreds took to the streets in Washington, DC, spoke out, occupied buildings, and committed civil disobedience in response to the climate crisis. President Biden was specifically targeted for continuing dangerous fossil fuel projects that threaten communities and are burning the planet.  These protests were particularly significant in light of the global climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, in a few weeks.

Approximately 655 people were arrested during the five-day long “People vs. Fossil Fuels” mobilization organized by Build Back Fossil Free, a coalition of hundreds of Indigenous, Black, environmental, climate justice, youth, and social justice organizations. The information in this report comes largely from the People vs. Fossil Fuel website.

People protesting in Washington, DC on Indigenous Peoples Day.


Indigenous leaders sitting in at the White House fence.    Photo: peoplevsfossilfuels.org

Day 1: On Indigenous Peoples' Day, hundreds took part in a protest at the White House to demand that President Biden stop the fossil fuel projects that are threatening Native communities. 155 people were arrested for sitting in at the White House fence. The last people to be taken away by the police were  Indigenous women and grandmothers. “We are going to put our bodies on the line there. If we have to be arrested in order to call attention to what the crisis is and that we need a climate emergency declared, we’ll do that,” said Casey Camp Horinek, a tribal elder and environmental ambassador for Ponca Nation.

Faith leaders outside the White House for Indigenous Peoples Day.


Faith leaders outside the White House.    Photo: peoplevsfossilfuels.org

Day 2: The second day of protests highlighted the fight against fossil fuel projects in communities across the United States, from Appalachia to New Mexico to Alaska. Protesters said that Biden could stop these projects with a stroke of his pen. A large interfaith delegation made up most of the 155 people who were arrested at the White House. “I’m here because the earth is a sacred gift and fossil fuels are absolutely destroying it… People of faith are increasingly impatient with the lack of moral leadership and the equivocation that the administration is showing,” said the Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest.

Under a large banner that read “Biden: Our Communities Can’t Wait,” hundreds of people marched to the White House.


Under a large banner that read “Biden: Our Communities Can’t Wait,” hundreds of people marched to the White House.    Photo: peoplevsfossilfuels.org

Day 3: Under a large banner that read “Biden: Our Communities Can’t Wait,” hundreds of people marched to the White House to highlight the dangerous ongoing impacts of the climate crisis across the country and the world.  Speakers from Alaska, Louisiana, California, North Carolina, Texas, and beyond gave testimony to the climate disasters that are threatening their communities. An organizer from “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana called Biden out: “You promised that you would do something for Death Alley. We haven’t seen anything yet.”

Indigenous leaders occupying the Bureau of Indian Affairs.


Indigenous leaders occupying the Bureau of Indian Affairs.    Photo: peoplevsfossilfuels.org

Day 4: Indigenous leaders from various fossil fuel fights occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs in DC for the first time since 1970. Police responded viciously tasing at least two people and hitting others with batons. Fifty-five people were arrested during the occupation. A statement said, “For the land, for our waters, for our future– we must fight now so our young will thrive.  You can arrest us, tear gas us, poison us but there will always be more hearts to continue the song until we are all free. Another world is possible.” In addition to those arrested at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 135 were arrested again for civil disobedience at the White House.

Indigenous leaders and supporters stage sitdown at U.S. Capitol.


Indigenous leaders and supporters stage sitdown at U.S. Capitol.    Photo: peoplevsfossilfuels.org

Day 5: Ninety people were arrested on a youth-led march to the Capitol on the final day of protests. Isabelle Marie Knife, a 22-year-old Indigenous youth leader said “It takes youth to be on the frontlines to make our voices heard. We are the generation that says enough is enough, we will be heard, we will have a seat at the table. They tell us lies, they come on our lands, they promise this, they promise that. Well, I promise you, we’ve got a new generation coming and we’re not stopping.” A 14-year-old who participated in the action said, “I entered high school earlier last month and I am here with other high schoolers. I have met an 8-year-old who is here fighting. It is a shame that we still have to be here. It is a disgrace. How has this been going on so long? It has been going on because corporate greed has taken priority over the value of people in this country.”


In the face of the catastrophic course that the world is on, these actions, from within the belly of the largest contributor to climate change, are extremely important. 


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