Gushing about the benefits of tar sands isn’t easy, or so I realized as I struggled to come up with credulous reasons for why we should extract the toxic sludge while poisoning indigenous communities to burn a carbon intensive fuel source. Even in character as a politician corrupted by the dirty money of the oil lobby—personified by a Tar Sands Monster—it didn’t make sense to me.
But the lunacy of exploiting tar sands was exactly what this street theater intended to display. As part of my fellowship with 350.org, I was tasked with planning a rally at the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers. In addition to some behind-the-scenes legwork, I volunteered to put together some fun, visually striking street theater for the event.
New England faces an invasion of Canadian tar sands. Though South Portland recently stopped a tar sands pipeline dead in its tracks, Big Oil continues to search desperately for ways to transport its disaster-prone product. The Tar Sands Free Northeast coalition staged the rally, billed as a People’s Conference, last Sunday to highlight just how far removed the wishes of the oil industry are from the popular reality. Our politicians are beholden to us, the People, and we sent them a message loud and clear: no tar sands in New England—leave it in the ground.
Speakers from the People’s Conference recognized the destruction that tar sands extraction wreaks on the land of indigenous people and once-pristine boreal forests. Tar sands cannot be transported safely by pipeline or rail, and the inevitable spill threatens water supplies, wildlife, and local economies alike. The speakers offered myriad reasons why the tar sands must be stopped. Then came the street theater.
Brushing aside such protestations from the crowd before me, I drank from the oily Kool-Aid that the Tar Sands Monster offered me (with monetary compensation, of course) and sang the praises—however unconvincing—of viscous carbon catastrophe. The longer I spoke, the tighter the monster’s grip over me became, literally, as it tied its tentacles around me. Doing what they do best, the crowd before me organized, taking it upon themselves to cut me from the clutches of the polluting lobby. As I came to my senses and saw the will of the people, the monster withered away. Thus redeemed, I agreed to work with my constituents to ban tar sands and plan infrastructure for a clean energy future.
Our politicians in real life likewise have a chance to listen to the people over the industry and end the tar sands invasion. We’ll make sure they do.