Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Philly mom of two arrested in act of civil disobedience at White House

Eileen Flanagan has come to realize that composting banana peels and taking shorter showers isn't enough. So earlier today, she stood with about 50 other activists outside the White House. Some chained themselves to the black iron fence.

Philly mom of two arrested in act of civil disobedience at White House

Eileen Flanagan is flanked by Amy Ward Brimmer (left) and Ingrid Lakey after her release in Washington, D.C. She was arrested during an act of civil disobedience outside the White House. All are members of the Earth Quaker Action Team, a Philadelphia group.
Eileen Flanagan is flanked by Amy Ward Brimmer (left) and Ingrid Lakey after her release in Washington, D.C. She was arrested during an act of civil disobedience outside the White House. All are members of the Earth Quaker Action Team, a Philadelphia group.

Eileen Flanagan has come to realize that composting banana peels and taking shorter showers isn't enough.

So earlier today, she stood with nearly 50 other activists outside the White House. Some chained themselves to the black iron fence.

They unfurled a banner: "Lead on climate. Reject KXL pipeline." And a few raised their fists.

When police asked them to move, they refused.

And so, as the activists had all expected, they were arrested.

It was pretty much a by-invitation-only event. Organizers of this kind of thing have to be careful no rabble-rousers come in and change the script. They wanted it to be dignified and peaceful.

The civil disobedience action was also notable because Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, was there. In the past, the Sierra Club has stuck to tamer forms of advocacy. Getting arrested just wasn't their style. But now, that has changed.

Also there were Bill McKibben, founder of the climate action group 350.org; former NAACP president Julian Bond, and prominent climatologist James Hansen. Plus parents, poets, farmers, landowners and actress Daryl Hannah.

Flanagan, 50, who lives in East Falls and has a teenaged son and daughter, said she was delighted to be the only person from Pennsylvania included.

She was representing not only herself.She's also a member of the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, and she said she was representing the Earth Quaker Action Team, a local group that has decided to revive the social activism of some of their earlier Quaker forebears.

“American Quakers have historically been at the forefront of civil and human rights issues, and climate change is no exception,” said EQAT executive director Amy Ward Brimmer, of Yardley, who was part of Flanagan's support crew.

For the past few years, the group has been demonstrating -- with some getting arrested -- outside PNC Bank branches. They opposed the bank's funding of mountaintop coal mining.

Flanagan was in the Peace Corps in Botswana from 1984 to 1986. "The predictions about how climate change is going to affect Africa are really horrific," she said.

Last summer, she went back to Botswana and South Africa. A writer, she interviewed people about climate change. "Every single person I talked to talked about how the weather has gotten weird, how low food production was, and I just came home with this real sense of urgency about how what we decide in the US affects the rest of the world."

More broadly, EQAT has "a particular concern for the people whose lives and land are disrupted by these extreme extraction techniques, whether it’s the tar sands or fracking or mountaintop removal of coal," she said.

"I’ve been thinking about Appalaccia, Alberta and Africa," Flanagan said. "People affected by the same forces, the greedy resources grab ... that is going to afffect all our children."

At the event, Flanagan's handcuffs were cut and replaced with plastic restraints, "which were a bit tight, that's my only complaint." She rode in a van with several other women, including a college student and a college professor. They talked about different movements and different generations.

The processing took a little over two hours. After Flanagan paid a $100 fine, she was released.

She considered it money well spent. "I could give $100 to an environmental organization to lobby on my behalf," she said. "But it felt like a good use of my time and my resources, because I have the luxury of both time and money. It’s a way of showing a deeper commitment than having a memberhsip card."

One thing that kept her motivated was a card her daughter gave her earlier. It read, "I’m happy you care this much about something that will affect the future of us all. Good luck.”

Flanagan will be back in D.C. on Sunday, along with several hundred others from the region and perhaps 20,000 to 25,000 overall, to demonstrate -- presumably without arrests -- against the pipeline and for action on climate change.

More information and the participants are listed on the site,  www.tarsandsaction.org

“Why am I getting locked up on February 13th?," posited Mike Tidwell, founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.  "I’m doing this for my 15-year-old son, Sasha, the best curveball-throwing, skateboard-riding, drum-playing, and full-hearted person I’ve ever known. I can’t bear how innocent he is. Sasha: I’m on it.”

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
About this blog

GreenSpace is about environmental issues and green living. Bauers also writes a biweekly GreenSpace column about environmental health issues for the Inquirer’s Sunday “Health” section.

Sandy Bauers is the environment reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked for more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. She lives in northern Chester County with her husband, two cats, a large vegetable garden and a flock of pet chickens.

Reach Sandy at sbauers@phillynews.com.

Sandy Bauers Inquirer GreenSpace Columnist
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