Thousands Rallied Against Keystone Pipeline Presidents’ Day Weekend

DC Climate Rally, February 17, 2013
DC Climate Rally, February 17, 2013

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 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

People chanted:

• “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 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!

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4 responses

  1. Great post! Susan Nickbarg beautifully captures the spirit of the day, conveying both the forceful arguments of the organizers and speakers at “Forward on Climate” as well as the moving presence and heartfelt objections of approximately 50,000 people. As a demonstrator myself, I was moved by the long distances individuals travelled to make their voices heard, including from British Columbia, California, Alberta, and New England, among many other points of origin.

  2. Great stuff, glad to see this happening. Have you guys heard about the possible plan to bypass the keystone alltogether and send the oil out via Lake Superior? Might be yet another problem…

  3. I agree with John Wickham about Susan’s article. The crowd at the rally was earnest, polite, intelligent and cheerful – almost seemed like
    a bunch of Canadians! And as Susan said, it really spanned the age

    The signs said a lot about it. Some were, frankly, off-topic
    (e.g., Occupy Wall Street). But in general this rally was full of
    smart and often humorous signs carrying the anti-fossil fuel,
    pro-climate protection message. Some samples:

    A 60-ish man from
    Seattle carried one saying “Internationalize Externalities,” which
    anyone who’s studied economics would get (and especially someone in
    Seattle, which is the first place in the Lower 48 to breathe China’s
    carbon and other atmospheric emissions).

    A couple of mid-20s
    consultants who work in DC had another popular one: “Make the price of
    oil reflect its negative externalities,” and a woman in her 40s came in
    with a sign saying how to do that: “CARBON TAX NOW!!”

    Some guys wearing Minnesota knit caps carried a sign in Minnesota-speak: “Minnesotans say KILL the pipeline – Ya, You Betcha!”

    middle-aged lady whose family owns a farm in Nebraska carried a
    plain-spoken Great Plains sentiment: “NEBRASKANS AGAINST KEYSTONE.”

    Maine it was “Maine Says No Tar Sands Yes Healthy Earth” and in the
    crowd I saw a 30-something woman holding a sign saying “Canadian Against
    the Keystone Pipeline.”

    In front of the White House I saw a 40-something woman with a sign proclaiming “West Virginians for a STRONG EPA.”

    droll one with arrows connecting icons of a coal plant to bicyclists to
    wind turbines said, “Fossil fuels are SO 1990s.” If only…

    powerful one from Sierra Club showed a satellite photo of Louisiana
    marking in red the quarter or so of the state that’s less than one meter
    above sea level, saying simply “WHAT’S AT STAKE.” How much would we
    spend to defend that land against a foreign invader? And how much to
    keep the sea from invading it?

    There were many placards with
    globes on them. One had the globe encircled by the words, “Good
    atmospheres are hard to find.” Several without globes had the same
    idea: “There is no PLANet B.”

    Besides the organizers, and
    Sierra Club, there were several other groups in evidence, including
    Young Evangelicals for Climate Action with a big banner in front of the
    White House (behind which, “Jesus is Pro-Planet”), and Code Pink (“Our
    Planet is Too Big to Fail”).

    There were many more, but this
    should give you the flavor. Unfortunately, I have to say this was also a
    pretty partisan crowd. As one placard put it, “Obama: Quid Pro Quo.”

  4. One problem with this fight, all our energies will be focused here, and maybe we are not looking at the big picture. If this gets approved, it will really have a deflating effect on a lot of activists folks. The problem is so immense no one really wants to deal with it. Obama can wiggle his way out of all this by saying emissions have gone down since he took office. Yes, true by investing in natural gas, not really sovilng the problem. Also the coal we did not burn was just exported to countries like China.
    I do not see Congress (a group of Senators sent a petition to him urging approval, including my own NC Senator Hagen , who ran as an anti-fossil fuel candidate!) acting in any way. What is going on here? Money, too much in burning the stuff!

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