The Sierra Club seems like the kind of folks who button the top button, not the ones who hang out on the barricades. Until now.

For the first time in the hallowed green group’s 120-year history, it will be engaging in civil disobedience at the Feb. 17 Washington, D.C., rally against the Keystone XL pipeline. Is the Sierra Club really getting wild? Well, probably not. The group won’t say what the civil disobedience will be exactly, but it will be invite-only (!), it’s been approved by the board of directors, and it’s a one-time-only event.

A 2011 Keystone XL protest at the White House
A 2011 Keystone XL protest at the White House.

From the Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune:

Next month, the Sierra Club will officially participate in an act of peaceful civil resistance. We’ll be following in the hallowed footsteps of Thoreau, who first articulated the principles of civil disobedience 44 years before John Muir founded the Sierra Club.

Some of you might wonder what took us so long. Others might wonder whether John Muir is sitting up in his grave. In fact, John Muir had both a deep appreciation for Thoreau and a powerful sense of right and wrong. And it’s the issue of right versus wrong that has brought the Sierra Club to this unprecedented decision. …

The Sierra Club has refused to stand by. We’ve worked hard and brought all of our traditional tactics of lobbying, electoral work, litigation, grassroots organizing and public education to bear on this crisis. And we have had great success — stopping more than 170 coal plants from being built, securing the retirement of another 129 existing plants and helping grow a clean energy economy. But time is running out, and there is so much more to do. The stakes are enormous. At this point, we can’t afford to lose a single major battle. That’s why the Sierra Club’s board of directors has for the first time endorsed an act of peaceful civil disobedience.

The Keystone XL pipeline fight has seen all manner of extralegal resistance over the last year from far scrappier characters than the Sierra Club. But for some people, engaging in civil disobedience can be a transformative, radicalizing experience. They say it’s one-time-only now, but what happens after they get their first taste of pepper spray?