By Susan Nickbarg
On Sunday, Presidents’ Day weekend 2013, tens of thousands of people poured into Washington D.C. to march from the Washington monument to the White House for what could be billed as the largest climate march in Washington in U.S. history to date. United, people protested inaction on climate change and to request that President Obama say no to the Keystone XL Pipeline project that is coming up for his review. But the President was reported to be away playing golf with Tiger Woods in Florida, and so didn’t hear it.
The people I saw in the crowd were everyday people who took to the streets and spanned generations. Each was exercising his or her democratic right to send a message home to the President.
The demonstration was designed to pressure President Obama – despite having to reconcile trade interests with Canada – to reject the proposed pipeline construction of the leg of the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada through the American heartland to U.S. refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. The other intention was to draw public attention to climate change.
President Obama initially rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in January 2012, saying he wanted more time for an environmental review. A final decision is expected soon.
And so, national environmentalist groups, including 350.org and the Sierra Club, organized the event on the National Mall. In solidarity, people gathered across the country from sea to shining sea, so to speak, stretching from Washington D.C. to City Hall in Los Angeles. They raised their voices to send our President a message to not just “Go Forward” as in the 2012 re-election slogan, but to “Go Forward on Climate.”
President Obama has pledged repeatedly to tackle climate change. In his recent State of the Union Address, he gave Congress an ultimatum: if lawmakers don’t act, he will. People joining together to rally on Sunday wanted to be sure he keeps his word. Not only do they want him to reject the Keystone Pipeline project, but also to set limits on carbon pollution.
In Washington D.C., some of the placards carried in the crowd read:
• Don’t be Frackin’ crazy
• We’re in a climate hole stop digging
• “Hey ho, hey ho, Keystone Pipeline’s got to go”
• “Obama …. No climate drama”
Despite having to stand in cold temperatures, people were opposing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, coal plants, and protested against legislation favoring the Keystone XL pipeline.
Speakers on the rally’s stage represented the full diversity of pro clean energy representatives, including a Middlebury College professor, leaders of indigenous First Nation tribes in U.S. and Canada, clean energy investment fund managers, civil and voting rights activists as well as environmental leaders. All are strong foes of the Keystone pipeline project.
In pre-rally remarks, Bill McKibben, Founder of 350.org and author of The End of Nature and other books said, “There’s no time for half measures…We have to start leaving carbon in the ground.”
Former Obama campaign worker and environmental activist, attorney, and author of The Green Collar Economy and Rebuild the Dream, Van Jones said, “If you let this pipeline go through, Mr. President, the first thing it runs over is the credibility of the President of the United States of America.”
Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, joined in saying, “Twenty years from now on Presidents’ Day, people will want to know what the president did in the face of rising sea levels, record droughts and furious storms brought on by climate disruption.” He continued, “President Obama holds in his hand a pen and the power to deliver on his promise of hope for our children. Today, we are asking him to use that pen to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and ensure that this dirty, dangerous, export pipeline will never be built.”
When it came time for Tom Steyer, Founder and retired head of Farallon Capital Management in San Francisco, a billion-dollar hedge fund to speak, he had this to say, “The argument for the Keystone pipeline is, business as usual. We use fossil fuels. We continue to use fossil fuels and we need to transport them.” He went on to say, “But the time for business as usual has passed. We can’t afford 40 more years of dirty energy. We can’t afford the droughts, the storms, the disasters.”
Crystal Lameman, an Alberta Sierra Club worker and member of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nations of Canada, described to the crowd how her people are dying from cancer, how fish in northeastern Alberta have cancerous tumors, how moose have puss bubbles under the skin, and how babies are airlifted to the hospital for drinking contaminated water. “And that’s the truth,” she said.
The rally’s focus was that the time to act is now, as the phrase goes, “on the right side of history.” And, aside from the speakers, the most significant phenomenon was that tens of thousands of people, young to old, were speaking with their legs voices and full bodies, by coming to rally. It suggests strongly that “the people” want and need to be heard on this issue.
When asked, these many voices, on the ground with grassroots members and friends of mine from DC Climate Action and a local church, each urged, “Say no to the pipeline.”
Susan Nickbarg is Principal of SVN Marketing LLC, and a marketing, corporate social responsibility and sustainability services firm. Susan is also adjunct faculty at Georgetown University and chapter co-author of “Developing a Sustainability Strategy” in The Sustainable Enterprise Fieldbook. Follow her on twitter @svnickbarg!