What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Risk Arrest


In 2011 I signed up to be part of Tar Sands Action. It was a choice I made because I was at the point in my life where I thought this was a risk I could and should take and the consequences would be something I was willing to face.  You can read more about the thoughts in my 19-year-old head in this blog that I wrote the summer before the action.

Looking back 3 years later, I hope my writing has improved a bit.  There are lots of people who have written about why they participated in Tar Sands Action, but not a lot who have written about their experience during and afterwards.

Photo: Project Survival Media.

Let me tell you more about how things go down. First, you arrive at Lafayette Park with nothing but an ID and $100 in your pocket, you march to the picture zone (the place in front of the White House where all the tourists take photos on their seg-ways), and after you sit or stand for longer than it takes to take a photo, a police officer gives your group 3 warnings to move from that area.  If they are all ignored, the police draw a barricade around you with fences and arrests begin. Women first, then men are handcuffed in zip ties. You say goodbye to your friends, albeit without waving. Then you’re brought to a photo booth pop-up tent — still in front of the White House, and you’re you’re loaded into wagons as your friends cheer you on.  And then you’re brought to Anacostia for processing. I never saw the inside of a cell, just the lobby of a parks building, and I had already wriggled out of my zip ties in the van.  I paid the $100, signed the ticket, and my arrest was complete.  I hopped on the Metro at the Anacostia Station, got home around 3pm and ordered take-out.

Below is a copy of my arrest ticket; the level of civil disobedience committed is pretty low, on par with walking a dog without a leash or improper refrigeration of food.

It’s not a felony, it’s not a misdemeanor, and for most people it will not have any effect on their future job prospects.  That’s not to discount folks who choose not to take part; everyone has different circumstances that lead them to a decision on civil disobedience.  They may be financial or racial, based on your citizenship or age, maybe a disagreement of tactics, or because of a future job that might not like the sight of this on a background check.  Regardless of your motivations behind abstaining or partaking in direct action, it’s important to know what will happen, so you can make the right choice.

This is what you should expect if you sign up for XL Dissent, a $100 ticket, and a few hours in police custody.  Yes, you might be out a few bucks for your travel and citation, but you gain something that can’t be priced, a place in the Keystone XL fight, a story to bring back to your community so you continue to educate and agitate to stop KXL and a creeping tar sands infrastructure, and a sense of being part of something bigger than yourself.  I have never for one second regretted getting arrested at Tar Sands Action, I’m proud of it, and it propelled me to where I am today. I hope the same happens to you, and I hope participating in this action is just the beginning of a fight to stop the expansion on the tar sands.

**Questions about all of the legal ramifications of participating in XL Dissent can be answered by coming to the Direct Action training at 5pm at the Thurgood Marshall Center on March 1, 2014.