Sue Kirby arrested for civil disobedience in protesting the Key Stone XL Pipeline. Credit Shadia Fayne Wood, tarsandsaction.

Guest author Sue Kirby
The First Church in Salem, Unitarian (MA)

On August 31, 2010 I turned sixty. I spent the morning of my birthday at Mt Auburn Hospital receiving a radiation treatment as part of a grueling 7-month treatment for breast cancer. I decided that this year I would mark my birthday in a way that expressed the life I now struggle to reassemble with my new expectations and a new sense of responsibility that has arisen from that experience.

I decided to celebrate my 61st birthday in Washington DC getting arrested to protest the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline. I have never been arrested before. It was a bold statement about the direction my life is heading in what now appears to be the last phase of my life.

I didn’t know that turning 60 would portend such a profound shift in my psychological, physical, and emotional outlook. Perhaps it’s because my cancer is such a reminder of the finiteness of life, or the fact that I was laid off and facing a “forced” semi-retirement, or perhaps it’s my sense of the increasingly apocalyptic dysfunction of the US and world governments, globalization, climate change, etc. that has forced me to reexamine my place and role in the scheme of things.

August 31st Tar Sands sit-in. Credit Shadia Fayne Wood, tarsandsaction.

Why Tar Sands?

The State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.

Tar sands oil extraction has wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease.

The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year.

These local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.

Keystone XL is an export pipeline. Gulf Coast refiners plan to refine the cheap Canadian crude supplied by the pipeline into diesel and other products for export to Europe and Latin America. Proceeds from these exports are earned tax-free. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers’ tanks.

I will cherish the memories I have of standing with the 130 fellow human beings who “risked arrest” to draw the world’s attention to such an important cause. In the end over 1,250 people were arrested in the 2-week action. Perhaps in 50 years a little one will say “My great grandmother was arrested at THE Keystone Pipeline protest in 2011”.  However many birthdays I have left I intend to celebrate them working to make a more environmentally sustainable and socially just world. Thanks to my friends and family for all the “atta girls”.

¯ Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to the planet, Happy Birthday to You! ¯

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  1. Karen Stucke

    Thank you for your activism. I wish you the best in your multiple battles!

  2. Carlo Voli

    Thank you Sue for choosing to spend your birthday in such a courageous way and for sharing your story.
    Not just a gift to the planet, but also to all of us who are inspired by your action, your stand, and newly found committment. Thank you!!

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