The crew uses today's powwow to psych each other up and quell fears. Dorian Williams, a 21-year-old evolutionary anthropology major at Brandeis, preps her comrades for a stay behind bars. A deep thinker with punkish blonde bangs that hang over her right eye, Williams has been bagged three times — twice in Washington, DC, for protesting climate change and TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, and once in West Virginia, where she spent 10 days in jail after chaining herself to a coal-mining truck.

Alli Welton, a Harvard sophomore, practices the lock-up with her colleagues.

Alli Welton, a Harvard sophomore, isn't afraid of the prospect of imprisonment. She and her comrades have bonded closely since first gelling as a unit at a four-day SJSF retreat in Medford last August — it was there that they decided to orchestrate a grand spectacle and to bring attention to the dangers posed by the extraction and refinement of tar-sands oil. They thought about going to protest in Texas, where part of the Keystone XL project is underway, but in late November they decided to act locally instead.

At 20 years old, Welton is one of the youngest of the bunch but carries herself with poise, often taking the lead on intellectual concerns. "The last thing we want to do is make villains out of the people who actually work in the TransCanada offices," she says. "We don't want people branding us crazy, clueless, radical kids."


With just a little more than 24 hours left before "go" time, the prospects for success are far from promising. Here in the basement of an activist crash house, with the equipment placed in piles on the cold concrete floor, reality finally registers, as do some minor issues that could jeopardize the operation. Most important: for each protester, they still need to fashion tailored chains that fit the ankles snugly. Until those are ready, they can't really practice, and they're running out of time.

Riester bought the wrong kind of saw blade to cut the ankle chains. Luckily for the team, an older Greenpeace vet in a rugged canvas coat stops by to check on them. This guy's done this before; within minutes, the experienced activist pulls a chain over a large stone and grinds through the links. As sparks fly in one corner, Welton and a few others gather on a dirty couch and work at their laptops, slapping the finishing touches on a website for their action. After about an hour, the shackles are all ready. Everybody crouches on the cellar slab, and they begin to stumble through a dry run.

Ben Thompson, a 22-year-old Boston University math PhD candidate, is lovable and lanky — and now both characteristics come in handy, as he demonstrates the punishing contortionist stunts that he's choreographed for his collaborators. He walks his friends through the motions like a rookie flight attendant, clumsily showing how the smaller chain loops around the instep, and how the Kryptonite locks clamp by the hip bone. Once they're bound, back-to-back, Riester tilts his head back and asks, "So — could you all sit like this for two hours or more with a diaper on?"

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Related: W. gets a B, Why so serious?, The Secret Life of Bees, More more >
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