When East Falls resident Eileen Flanagan drove to Washington D.C. on Tuesday, she knew there was a possibility she would be arrested the following day.
She was one of the 50 environmental, civil rights and community leaders who protested at the White House on Wednesday, demanding President Barack Obama deny approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would transport oil from Canada to various locations in the United States.
The civil disobedience protest was organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org and the Hip Hop Caucus. Flanagan was there on behalf of the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), a Philadelphia-based Quaker group that typically advocates against mountaintop removal coal mining.
Flanagan says she woke up at 3 a.m. with a racing heart. More than the prospect of being arrested, she was nervous about the press the protest would get from all of the high-profile protesters.
“It felt like such a privilege for me to make this public statement with such an impressive group of people,” said Flanagan. Among those present were the head of Greenpeace USA, a woman who was trying to stop others from using coal in North Carolina and the former executive director of the NAACP, Julian Bond. The founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, actress Daryl Hannah, and climatologist James Hansen were also in attendance.
While some held signs of protest, Flanagan stood in the back row and handcuffed herself to the White House gate. After the police issued three warnings, those handcuffed to the gates were arrested. They each had to pay a $100 fine.
For Flanagan, it was a demonstration of how much she cares about the pipeline controversy for two reasons: her children’s future and the future of the students she taught in Botswana when she was a Peace Corps volunteer.
“If the change in the climate continues to accelerate…it’s just really scary to think about hurricanes like Sandy increasing and getting stronger and droughts becoming more frequent,” said Flanagan.
“The people who are going to bear the brunt of climate change are going to be poor people and people of color both locally and globally,” said Flanagan. “They are the people who can’t afford to move into a hotel for a week when their electricity goes out in Philadelphia. Globally, they are the people who have to skip a meal entirely if food prices go up, which is already happening in Africa,” she added.
Flanagan connects with the prospect of food shortages as an Irish-American with ancestors who left Ireland Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s.
“I feel this particular connection with people not having enough food and knowing the decisions that we make here in the United States, like the Keystone XL Pipeline, are going to have a disproportionate effect on people in other parts of the world,” said Flanagan.
When NewsWorks spoke with Flanagan on Thursday, she was sitting in a local Starbucks writing a blog post about her week. She made it back to Philadelphia that morning just in time to have a Valentine’s Day lunch with her husband.
She will be returning to Washington D.C. to protest the pipeline once again. This time at the Forward on Climate rally on the National Mall this Sunday. She’ll be joining 20,000 other protesters, including six busses of activists that EQAT is bringing from the Greater Philadelphia area.