or Whoremonger against the Tar Sands.
Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.
The 18-hour bus ride from Toronto to Washington was exquisite torture - out-of-date coaches with out-of-date seats - I was crippled for my first day in Washington recovering. Devolution is everywhere evident. The bus service in rural Brazil is only about 200% better. It is determined somehow by airline propaganda I guess - even at the protest people say to me, "Well, why on earth didn't you fly?!"
But riding along the 'parkway' approaching Washington well past midnight, seeing clearly the squandering of resources that is highway life led to thinking of: Peter Pan - 'the myth', applied to Peter Pan - 'the bus line' and the country it travels through, so I made a short film: The Peter Pan ride to Washington. (35 sec.).
Day 13: We sat (or stood) ourselves down in front of the White House - home of Barack Obama and his family - on Labour Day, September 1. A symbolic action on a symbolic date - wheels within wheels.
These pictures are around me - but the important thing coming out of it is that I now know a few, some, individuals, by face and by name and with the beginnings of an appreciation of their characters; and they know the same about me. This is exactly the physical network of agapé I have been going on about week after week - see here: A Secular Age, Chapter 20 Conversions, Section 2 by Charles Taylor (the philosopher, not the Liberian war-lord).
The men standing on both sides of me are (these links go directly to the Tar Sands Action Flickr pages): Benjamin Green (just off camera to the left) & is led away, Taylor Gunsauley is led away, Ron Eberhardt is led away, Jeffrey Frost is led away, David Clausen (also from Canada) is led away, myself (led away just below), Jim Sconyers is led away (without his new back-pack being confiscated), and Dillon (for whom I can only find an arrest shot, not a mug-shot) who was important to me because he knows how to navigate the Washington subway system and directed me when we had been released - at a moment when my brains were both literally and figuratively fried.
And some others who were important because we shared a paddy-wagon ride together: Charles (Charlie) Barrett is led away, Haywood Martin is led away, and Charles Spencer is led away. Charlie and I both had great difficulty getting in and out - for obvious reasons.
And a host of others. This was the thirteenth day of protest. We were the Lucky Thirteeners and there were more than 135 of us.
I would bet big money, even single-malt scotch, that the bonds we created during this action will remain until they are strengthened.
There was fear, and there was pain; and then Mr. Watkins smiled when I said, "I thought you'd never ask." Later on we shared a real laugh over some of the nut-bars who congregate around the White House fence to shout complaints at Mr. Obama. He did not consider us (the Tar Sands Action) to be nut-bars. You can see this plainly if you browse through the Flickr photographs and take notice of his demeanour (and not just Mr. Watkins - many of the Park Police).
So. Human contact. Flesh on flesh. A network of agapé that will not soon be broken.
Oh, and the notion that this 'arrest' will prejudice future border crossings appears to be bogus nonsense - an excuse invented by the self-interested and self-important. I could be wrong, but whatever 'the risk' is, it is relatively low.
Oh, and the notion that these Park Police will humiliate us by forcing us to wet our pants in public is nonsense too. There is a port-a-potty in the Anacostia Station receiving room which was very clearly not installed any time recently, and when I ask one of the guards what it is for he says with a smile, "Well, what do you think it is for sir?"
The highlight was meeting Brigette DePape and being able to tell her in person how much I admire her. The guy who took this photograph for us told me we should step out into the sun - but I didn't believe him. Doh!?
An ambiguous & ambivalent story came out of it though: She mentioned that Maude Barlow was organizing a separate action at the Canadian Embassy in the afternoon. My feet were sore and I had to get off them - but as I was leaving to take a short nap I decided to go the extra mile and that I would wake early and attend. So I turned back to the park and found her. But she didn't know the address of the embassy. I spied Maude herself and went over to ask at the source (so to speak). I was apparently not polite enough in my approach. I sincerely do not know what set her off. When she didn't know the address either, saying to me, "I have staff who know that kind of thing," and when I allowed (with a smile) that maybe she should know where she was going to be two hours hence, I got a loud tongue lashing from her defensive consort who went so far as to wish bad luck upon me - gratuitously I thought. I sure hope it doesn't stick - good thing I am not superstitious. Anyway, I didn't go to the embassy and it was probably just as well - my feet were still hurting the next day.
Another highlight was meeting these three beautiful Canadian women, one of whom comes from a neighbourhood of Toronto and a street that I happen to know very well. What a pleasant surprise!
And Marie, who opened her mind and shared some of her thoughts with me and who is afraid neither of despair nor of ideas she does not agree with.
And Paul & Haywood who are not afraid either.
And Gitz Crazyboy aka Ryan Deranger, from Fort Chipewyan, who tells that part of the story with such eloquence and clarity and force that it will not be possible (I believe) for anyone to walk around it. If you search 'Gitz Crazyboy' on YouTube you will find his encounter with Ezra Levant which reveals our Ezra as the quintessential k-k-Canadian sleveen.
And Dylan Schneider of Peaceful Uprising with first-hand news of Tim DeChristopher.
And there was a woman who can really sing. And a guy who is not quite a ringer but who definitely brings Jack Layton to mind ... And And And ...
I have to stop ... my cup runneth over.
Denouement: Start Loving aka Jay McGinley is hard to miss if you are anywhere around the White House. He has a speaker system and plays various speeches by people such as Lester Brown (I think), and his own opinions on all and sundry; and unless you listen and pay attention you can find it distracting. Indeed, it is possible to become annoyed.
Something in the acid blue of his eyes caught me. I overheard various of the 'organizers' trying to figgure out how to make him stop - and I gather that they eventually just asked him because he did turn off his speakers during the action.
So before I left the city I wanted to talk to him. And he was willing - except that I could not make out his whisper. He raised his voice sufficiently for me to hear and I found, for the first time in a very long time, someone with whom I could about perfectly agree on our environmental brokenness.
There are a number of videos: trailer and Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5; and there is this article in the Washington Post: A Hunger For Justice from 2007 (and others like it that are easy to find).
But the videos and the news reports are just nothing like the man I met in front of the White House. Nothing like him. Not at all. I do not (for instance) happen to believe that Jesus has got anything to do with it - but that neither impeded our conversation nor lessened the effect of what he said to me.
I have been struggling with despair - and he could see that, and agreed with me that despair won't kill you, so ... Get on with it then. We don't have much time.
As for the top-down bureaucratic approaches like the one I was contributing to there in Washington at the time - I know they won't work, they are the merest setting out and their constant & pervasive correctitude, their hewing to the party line and no further makes them go off in wrong directions at times (if not most of the time, if not all of the time) - he called that kind of thing 'Henny-Penny' which hit the nail on the head for me.
So ... I guess you would have to go there and meet him to understand what I am putting out here.
I got into a discussion with one of the Tar Sands Action organizers - and he was literally steering people away from Start Loving, recommending that everyone avoid him entirely (although, of course, he had never spoken to him).
Au contraire Amigo: Go there and maybe he can help you light your fire, or show you how to light it, or show you that, yes, it can be lit ... or something ...
And you might like to check out Gentileza while you are at it, here: José Datrino, Profeta de Gentileza (in both English and Portuguese).
Whoremonger against the Tar Sands: If it had not been for Dick Cheney and his Halliburton I would not have learned Portuguese - my Portuguese lessons (of the highest quality) were delivered on his nickle. And if I had not learned Portuguese I would not have heard Betinho's story of the Lion and the Hummingbird (in last week's post). And knowing this story has changed me quite a bit.
As I was confessing (in a manner of speaking) my former sins in working with and for these kinds of people to my colleagues in the Washington action, I could see that some of them didn't like it. Others said to me, "Well, that goes to show how some people can change."
Because I hand out 350 buttons some people think I am associated with the .org of that name - which I am not. But people like you to be 'with' someone, some thing. So I thought of inventing 'Whoremongers against the Tar Sands' to have an organization to be 'with' - didn't do it, didn't invent it, but I thought about it and hummed a few bars of Sisters of Mercy ... maybe it turns out there is only one, oh well ... whatever.
On the night before we demonstrated there was 'training' at St. Stephen's church, and someone asked me why I had come. So I started to tell him the truth, which is sort'a complicated given what I think of Bill McKibben and given my despair & lack of hope. I could see his eyes glazing over and realized that what he wanted was a quickie, something easy-to-understand, a capital 'R' 'Reason'.
And you know, Canadians like to oblige, it's part of our culture (if we can be said to have one). So I said, "I have three grandchildren and I want to be able to look them in the eye." Perfect. Exactly what the doctor ordered.
1. A Hunger For Justice, Delphine Schrank, April 14 2007.
2. Tar Sands and the Carbon Numbers, NYT Editorial, August 21 2011.
A Hunger For Justice, Delphine Schrank, April 14 2007.
Forty-four days without food and counting, and he thinks his mind is starting to slow. There are days he is so nauseated, he can barely move. His legs, he says, have swelled up from a problem with his kidneys. His body doesn't give off heat anymore. But his resolve -- his heart, he would say -- hasn't faltered. If need be, he says, he'll take this to the end.
A few hundred yards away from a statue of Mahatma Gandhi on Massachusetts Avenue, 55-year-old Start Loving, a former business executive known to his friends and family as Jay McGinley, lives on the sidewalk in front of the Sudanese Embassy, a month into surviving on nothing but water and the will to stir the world into stopping genocide. Bearded, sunburned and dirty from weeks on the street, he could be another homeless wretch -- except that hanging like wings off his shoulders are two giant laminated orange placards that read "Darfur Hunger Strike March 1."
By night he is swaddled in a green sleeping bag, snatching a fitful few hours of sleep without lying flat, else he'd risk arrest. By day, he sits on a plastic crate on the sidewalk or in the street, a hair too close to the passing cars. Or he steps up and down on a couple of bricks, to expend more calories, he says. He is placid, unobtrusive, never looking passersby in the eye, sometimes huddled over a well-thumbed Bible.
"What I'm doing is not clever," he says. "It's exactly what Gandhi, what King, what Jesus did."
It is, in short, a cry to society's collective conscience. At least 450,000 people have died in the Darfur region of Sudan as a result of violence and disease, and millions have been displaced since 2003, when the Sudanese government responded to a rebel uprising by bombing villages and arming a militia known as the Janjaweed as part of a campaign of aggression that the U.S. government has called a genocide.
Driven by a newspaper article he read three years ago about the atrocities in Darfur, the man formerly known as McGinley gave up his job last May running a small retail outfit in Pennsylvania, moved to the streets of the District with $10 in his pocket and began a nonstop vigil, either forgoing food completely or on a semi-starvation diet of a few hundred calories a day, to protest the world's inaction.
"Babies are being killed. Women are being gang-raped, then mutilated. What kind of human beings are we if we don't respond?" he asks.
Only if thousands of people were willing to stand up, on a hunger strike, Loving says, would the U.S. government be prepared to risk its political capital and take meaningful action: Pressure Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir into softening his stance, and persuade China to stop its massive trade with the country in weapons and oil.
Loving posted himself in front of the Sudanese Embassy on March 13 -- a spot he was happy to discover was smack in the middle of Embassy Row and the daily commute of the diplomatic corps -- and slipped a letter under the door asking Bashir to "soften his heart" in return for Loving's life.
Before that, he held his vigil in Lafayette Square in front of the White House, where he befriended William Thomas, who for nearly 26 years has maintained a protest against nuclear weapons on a patch of ground he staked out long ago, complete with two yellow placards dense with text ("DON'T BE A LEMMING") and a rain canopy.
"If you starve yourself to death, people will write you off as a kook," Thomas said, sitting at his post in a drizzle. "I've been telling him each day, 'You should rethink this.' " Thomas and his wife, Ellen, supply Loving with his daily needs -- these days, now that he's not eating, mainly water. They also let him use the computer at their Washington Peace Center office to update his blog at Standwithdarfursudanembassy.blogspot.com. (He took a break from his embassy post on recent nights to update it and used the chance to freshen up, spend a night out of the cold and lie low from the Secret Service after stepping too close one evening to Vice President Cheney's convoy.)
Darfur, however, is not the first cause for which he has been ready to stake his life and livelihood -- causes that have cost him his family.
Born and reared in Short Hills, N.J., Loving graduated from Ithaca College in 1974, has an MBA from Syracuse and worked most of his professional life in the computer industry helping to turn around failing organizations. But he gradually came to realize that he felt empty "making rich people richer."
In 1997 he left his job as a vice president of a software company, enrolled in a graduate counseling course and took a job as a school counselor in the impoverished Delaware County city of Chester in Pennsylvania. In the fall of 2001, anguished by the plight of the children there, he left his wife of 27 years and their two sons, now 22 and 26, along with the bulk of his assets, moved into his car and put himself on a semi-starvation diet to express his outrage.
After reading about him in a newspaper, a suburban Philadelphia family, the Austins, took him into their home and gave him a job on the management team of their chain of stores, Relax the Back.
Loving says he has since gone into debt helping Timothy Phiri, a former anti-apartheid fighter in South Africa who was living in poverty in Chester with his family and unable to work until his immigration status was clear. Loving financed the family's asylum efforts, and paid much of the college tuition of Phiri's son, Obakeng.
Meanwhile, Loving remains largely estranged from his own family, although one of his sons, who asked not to be identified, visited him two weeks ago for the first time in a year and a half.
"He's always been a person of very strong conviction. And I believe he truly believes in his cause," said his ex-wife, Cathy. But, she adds, "it's been very painful."
Mary-Rachel Austin, 26, who has been a close friend of Loving's for five years since her husband's family took him in, said, "He's done it because more than anyone I know, he experiences others as his own family. When he thinks about those people in Darfur, he thinks they're his family. He has that without needing to meet them."
"I don't know for sure about the impact," said Phiri, who now works in the Bryn Mawr store of the Austin family's chain, "but someone must do something. There must be someone putting the first brick or cornerstone down."
For Phiri and Austin, there is something almost saintly about Loving. Steeped in the literature of nonviolent protest, he can expound at length on the importance of the heart. Citing the Jesuit thinker Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, he says: "After we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Then for the second time in history, man will have discovered fire." Or, explaining his penchant for the New Testament: "If you take the deity out of Jesus, you get Gandhi."
Loving -- the emotion, not the man -- is the missing ingredient in the struggle to end suffering in Darfur, he avers, because with it comes the willingness for self-sacrifice.
"Our hearts know what to do with Darfur. . . . We have to stop thinking, stop talking and start loving. And then," he says, pulling back the hood of his orange sweat shirt to reveal a monklike expanse of shiny pate, "I always wondered what this was for. My entire life mission is this. So it was just, duh!"
And so, struck by the epiphany a week into his fast, Jay McGinley dubbed himself Start Loving (call him Start) and had the words emblazoned in a cross on his forehead, courtesy of a downtown tattoo parlor that offered the service free.
Since March 1, he estimates he has lost about 30 pounds, or three-quarters of a pound a day, from his 170-pound, 5-foot-8 frame. On water alone he held out until Tuesday, returned to a semi-starvation liquid diet for a couple of days, and is now back on no food. Taking in a few hundred calories occasionally, he hopes to stall the weight loss a little to let him last until late June. Better to bear witness over a longer period, he says, than just "winking out" before the United States will have had a chance to preside over the U.N. Security Council next month and have a final stab at action.
Sudanese Ambassador John Ukec Lueth Ukec, who has Loving's letter in a stack of papers on his office desk, said that Loving is on public property and breaking no laws, and that he has no official comment. "That doesn't mean we don't sympathize with his feelings," he said. "He is a human being and he has a right to protest. I'm sorry that he is very much misinformed. Otherwise several Darfuris would be with him.
"There are so many other ways to reduce the pain of others without inflicting pain on himself," the ambassador said, adding that he would be willing to give Loving a visa so that he could visit Darfur as a social worker. Loving could also witness the complexity of the situation in a place where, he said, securing a lasting peace has been complicated by infighting among rebel factions.
Told of the offer, Loving smiles and turns away. He reiterates that if others were to join him, they could fan out first to the Chinese Embassy, then to the Indian, and finally back to the White House, the better to cause enough commotion to plant the seed of action in President Bush's heart.
But he has no illusions that his lone protest will make a difference. "I'm here because my brothers and sisters are being killed. It's not my responsibility what others do. It's only my responsibility what I do. I can do nothing less in the face of this atrocity." He pauses to swallow his welling tears. "I wish I had thousands of lives to give. But I have mine and this is how I choose to spend it."
Tar Sands and the Carbon Numbers, NYT Editorial, August 21 2011.
This page opposes the building of a 1,700-mile pipeline called the Keystone XL, which would carry diluted bitumen — an acidic crude oil — from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast. We have two main concerns: the risk of oil spills along the pipeline, which would traverse highly sensitive terrain, and the fact that the extraction of petroleum from the tar sands creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production does.
The Canadian government insists that it has found ways to reduce those emissions. But a new report from Canada’s environmental ministry shows how great the impact of the tar sands will be in the coming years, even with cleaner production methods.
It projects that Canada will double its current tar sands production over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels a day. That rate will mean cutting down some 740,000 acres of boreal forest — a natural carbon reservoir. Extracting oil from tar sands is also much more complicated than pumping conventional crude oil out of the ground. It requires steam-heating the sands to produce a petroleum slurry, then further dilution.
One result of this process, the ministry says, is that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector as a whole will rise by nearly one-third from 2005 to 2020 — even as other sectors are reducing emissions. Canada still hopes to meet the overall target it agreed to at Copenhagen in 2009 — a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. If it falls short, as seems likely, tar sands extraction will bear much of the blame.
Canada’s government is committed to the tar sands business. (Alberta’s energy minister, Ronald Liepert, has declared, “I’m not interested in Kyoto-style policies.”) The United States can’t do much about that, but it can stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
The State Department will decide whether to approve or reject the pipeline by the end of the year. It has already delivered two flawed reports on the pipeline’s environmental impact. It should acknowledge the environmental risk of the pipeline and the larger damage caused by tar sands production and block the Keystone XL.