More than 350 climate activists were arrested March 2 in Washington, DC, after zip-tying themselves to the White House fence.
The civil disobedience action was the highlight of two days of protest, dubbed XL Dissent by organisers, to demand that the Obama administration reject building the Keystone XL pipeline.
The pipeline runs from Canada through the US and will shift oil from tar sands in Canada, which emits more greenhouse gases than conventional oil when burned. The Obama administration is yet to make a decision on allowing a key part of the pipeline to be built.
Demonstrators from across the US mobilised — as individuals and as parts of many groups, some affiliated to local anti-pipeline campaigns the climate justice campaign 350.org. An ecosocialist contingent organised by System Change Not Climate Change .
“I came with 67 students from Minnesota to be at this protest,” said Maria Langholz from St Paul, Minnesota. “It was important for us to be part of the student voice saying that there needs to be action on climate change.
“Specifically, there needs to be action on this pipeline, because this is a clear moment for Obama to say no to fossil fuels, no to big oil.”
Chris Wahmhoff, a member of Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MICATS), addressed the rally at Lafayette Park across from the White House about the struggle against building the Enbridge tar sands pipeline in Michigan.
Wahmhoff climbed inside one of Enbridge's pipelines. Charges against him over this action were initially dismissed, but a prosecutor has filed a motion to reconsider them.
“We are looking to you,” Wahmhoff told the crowd. As he gestured toward the White House, he said, “The power is not in that building. It's out here!”
Three MICATS activists — Vicci Hamiln, Lisa Leggio and Barb Carter — are facing up to three years in jail for trespassing, and resisting and obstructing a police officer. They had taken part in an earlier act of nonviolent civil disobedience by chaining themselves to construction equipment to delay progress on the project.
Other speakers included Jasmine Thomas, a member of the First Nations community in Canada. Thomas told the crowd about the indigenous-led campaigns against the pipeline and other environmentally damaging projects in the land to the north.
At the end of January, the State Department released its final environmental review of the pipeline, claiming that the project is environmentally neutral. But it is impossible to separate the pipeline from the dirty, carbon-dense tar sands oil it will be transporting.
The State Department's review is followed by a 90-day period in which other federal agencies and the public can take issue with the pipeline. Obama could approve or deny building the pipeline as early as May.
The lead banner of the climate activists, ecosocialists and youth from across the country who gathered in Washington this past weekend read: “Obama: we did not vote for Keystone XL.”
Obama had given his first comments at Georgetown University regarding the Keystone XL pipeline project. The ambiguous language of the speech made it clear that his administration had not ruled out approval of the pipeline. For this reason, organisers of XL Dissent launched the demonstration from Georgetown University.
The march made its way past Secretary of State John Kerry's house. Demonstrators used a black tarp to “deposit” a large mock oil spill on the cobblestones at his doorstep.
Protesters chanted, “No more coal, no more oil, keep your carbon in the soil!” and “One, we are the people, two, we are united, three, we will not let you build this pipeline!”
The spirit of the action was unmistakable: The president should heed the demands of the thousands who have spoken out, acted up and protested against the pipeline, because we will not be quiet.
To date, more than 70,000 people have signed Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance, an expression of their willingness to get arrested if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved.
The Obama administration should know by now that 350 arrests in its front yard is just the start: indigenous communities, youth, ecosocialists, climate activists and communities across North America will take to the streets in mass demonstrations if his administration approves Keystone XL.
[Abridged from Socialist Worker.]