The activists, clad mostly in black, flowed slowly and silently down Battery Street in Burlington. They carried signs proclaiming their opposition to tar sands and big oil, and when they reached the front of the Hilton hotel, they all laid down on the street, an amorphous configuration of hundreds of bodies. There were a few moments of silence. Then, faintly, a single female voice began singing the opening strains of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” The chorus swelled as police officers and hotel guests looked on.

This “human oil spill” took place at the end of July, scheduled to coincide with the 36th annual conference of New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers. Its goal was to call attention to a looming threat to the region: tar sands oil.

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