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More than 10,000 people encircle the White House asking the President to say no to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Liz Barratt-Brown

Posted November 6, 2011 in Moving Beyond Oil

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Nov 6 Pipeline Credit David Hawkins.JPG

photo by David Hawkins; see our video and slideshow here

One year from the Presidential election, over 10,000 citizens encircled the mile and a quarter circumference of the White House three times around with lots of people to spare.  They had come from all parts of the country, many from swing states wearing Obama buttons next to their Stop Keystone XL buttons.  They were all ages, from kids in strollers to seniors, all participating in the chants and linking arms along the line of people that stretched as far as the eye could see.  My kids carried hand-made signs that read “This is my future” with pictures of the pipeline contrasted with windmills. Cars along the perimeter of the White House honked their horns in support.  At one point, a line guard shouted “we expected 5,000, we’ve been told we have 12,000 here and that we have surrounded the White House.”  Huge cheers went up.   

An hour or so earlier, the event began with a big gathering in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.  Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org and TarSandsAction, who organized the event and did a brilliant job weaving the day together, started by asking the President to honor the commitments he made to tackle climate change.  Jestingly he said, “Where is the President?  No more of the stunt double in the White House.  We want the real thing”, recalling the words of the President who promised to “end the tyranny of oil”. 

John Adams, who co-founded NRDC, came back to the White House to exercise some of the advocacy the President had spoken of when awarding John the Medal of Freedom earlier in the year.  He asked where do the energy companies stop – citing deepwater drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf, mountain top removal, and fracking as well as digging up the vast Boreal forest of Canada for tar sands.  He called the thousand plus people who had been arrested in August heros for standing up and taking us from the deep dependence on fossil fuels into climate sanity. Along similar lines,  Mark Ruffalo, the Academy Award winning producer of the movie Gasland, said we have entered the era of extreme energy and finished with “we want the sunlight revolution to begin”.   

Naomi Klein, the Canadian author and activist, came out swinging, “We are so over the environmental movement versus the labor movement. We aren't killing jobs. It’s about reinventing the world economy from the ground up.” She also spoke about Canada’s threats to send oil to Asia if they don’t get the Keystone XL pipeline, saying that they’d have to do it through British Columbia, her home, and that there was no way that was going to happen.  So, she concluded, “We don't just have the White House surrounded. We have the Tar Sands surrounded!"  Roger Touissant, the head of the Transit Workers of America, also addressed the jobs issue saying, “We want jobs not lies.  We want jobs but not as gravediggers for the planet”.   

These are just snipets of so many powerful words that were echoed back by an exuberant crowd. 

In August, when I witnessed the two weeks of rolling arrests, I felt the power of a movement awakening. Today was a day to celebrate a movement in full swing.  Arguments for the pipeline seemed to pale in comparison to the message that people were carrying directly to their President:  We want a future of clean energy, not dirty energy.  We want you to lead the way.  We have hope that you will make the right decision and be true to your base. 

No matter how many press stories frame this as a jobs versus environment, or energy security versus environment story – as NPR did in their very disappointing interview with Richard Harris this morning – the speakers and the people consistently challenged this narrow view.   As Bill McKibben rightly pointed out, the only study not paid for by the oil industry found that the pipeline would in fact kill more jobs than it would create.   More and more unions are joining the anti-pipeline movement, as the Domestic Workers did this week. 

And on energy security, it is absurd to argue that this pipeline provides energy security when it is clear that the pipeline would be a conduit for dirty oil, strip mined from the home of Canada’s First Nation people and then sent straight across the heartland of America in the straightest possible line to the Gulf of Mexico, where it could then be shipped anywhere in the world. 

Well, the people aren’t buying their jobs and energy security arguments. And the increasingly desperate rhetoric of TransCanada proves that they know it. 

I’m with John Adams who said it’s a reawakening of the environmental movement and one of the best days he’s had over his over fifty years as an environmental leader.  And I’m with the Hip Hop Caucus leader who said this was our 21st Century lunch counter.  And I’m with Bill McKibben who said let’s forget about that red state versus blue state thing.  It's like the last time a big asteroid hit the planet, but now the asteroid is us.

Today was a good day to feel the power of the people. 

Nov 6 NRDC Group Photo with Cornfingers Credit Josh Lopez.JPG

Photo Credit: Josh Lopez/NRDC

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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