What can be done when elected (so-called) representatives stop representing the ones who elected them?

Let’s raise the stakes a little: what if their inaction and even refusal to represent their constituents constitute a threat to a community, a delicate ecosystem or even life on the planet itself?

In fact, according to a recent study at Princeton University, unless you are in the upper 10% of income “earners” (let’s face it, a lot of the economic “elites” did little to earn their wealth), CON-gress doesn’t give a tinker’s damn what you think or what you need. It confirms everything we knew was wrong about Citizens United. But it goes beyond that. Even President Obama, who ran on “Hope and Change,” is now showing his true colors as a corporate and Wall Street lickspittle. For example, his hell-bound determination to shove through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the latest in a two-decade long parade of (so-called) “Free Trade Agreements” that have been “Free” for powerful mega-corporations – but very costly to workers and the environment.

Then, there is the Obama Administration’s recent approval of Arctic drillinh, giving Shell Oil the go-ahead to start drilling for oil in Alaska. This approval was given despite widespread opposition to such an enterprise – not to mention dire warnings from the Department of the Interior that the chances of a major oil spill are 3 out of 4. This is the same President who recently said that he “believes we are going to have to transition off of fossil fuels” and claims he is “working internationally to reduce our carbon emissions and to replace over time fossil fuels with clean energies.”

People in Seattle have had enough, and are standing up to Big Oil in the only way that is even possible anymore. This week, a virtual naval flotilla of “kayaktavists” have paddled into Puget Sound, surrounding the rig that Shell plans to take up to the Chukchi Sea.

When that rig, dubbed The Polar Pioneer, arrived in Seattle on the 14th of May for final preparations, protesters paddling kayaks and canoes surrounded the structure.  So far, although Seattle police have been standing by, the protest has been peaceful. Meanwhile, it seems that Shell’s use of Terminal 5 is in violation of its permitted use as a cargo terminal. If corporate owner Foss Maritime does not obtain the proper permit or remove the rig and its tugboat, it faces fines of up to $500 per day.  This would create even greater delays in getting the rig to its ultimate destination – and that’s just fine with Seattle mayor Ed Murray.

Murray has long stood up to Big Coal and Big Oil. On his website, he posted a statement stating that refusal to give Shell a short-term lease for the Terminal is “an opportunity for the port and all of us to make a bold statement about how oil companies contribute to climate change, oil spills and other environmental disasters.”

Both civil disobedience on part of the protesters and the city council’s actions are frustrating tug boat workers and others who see Shell’s presence as an economic boon. The project would provide over 400 jobs in the region.

It is the eternal false choice that mega-corporations with vested interests continually present: economic growth vs. the environment. The Pacific Northwest as long benefited from Alaskan oil, but the vast majority want to see the transition to sustainable energy take place immediately (if not sooner). There is no excuse for it being otherwise; Germany, for example – hardly a sunny region – produced over 35 terawatts from solar panels in 2014, and renewables account for nearly a third of the country’s energy production. While solar energy in the U.S. has grown significantly in recent years, last years’ production was only 12,000 megawatts – a fraction of Germany’s figure.

The only thing preventing the U.S. from becoming a leader in renewables (which could provide millions of new jobs and still make people wealthy) is the choke hold Big Oil continues to have over the legislature – and the latter’s refusal to listen to the people.

Until that happens, the kind of civil disobedience that is happening in Seattle is our best chance not only to save democracy – it may very well be our best chance to save the world.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.