Less than 24 hours after Barack Obama issued the strongest statement of any U.S. President on climate change, 48 prominent environmentalists, civil rights activists and community leaders demonstrated in front of the White House to express their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and support for U.S. action on climate change.
As expected, the choreographed act of civil disobedience led to dozens of arrests when some participants chained themselves to the fence outside the presidential mansion, and others refused to disperse when asked by police.
Among the demonstrators were such notables as Michael Brune, Bill McKibben, Julian Bond, James Hansen, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Maria Gunnoe, Adam Werbach, Andre Carothers, Phil Radford, Connor Kennedy, Daryl Hannah and others representing various environmental organizations and interests.
“The threat to our planet’s climate is both grave and urgent,” said civil rights activist Julian Bond. “Although President Obama has declared his own determination to act, much that is within his power to accomplish remains undone, and the decision to allow the construction of a pipeline to carry millions of barrels of the most-polluting oil on Earth from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. is in his hands. I am proud today to stand before my fellow citizens and declare, ‘I am willing to go to jail to stop this wrong.’ The environmental crisis we face today demands nothing less.”
Although Obama did not mention the controversial and highly partisan pipeline by name in last month’s Inaugural Address or Tuesday’s State of the Union address, environmental groups wasted no time in letting him know they regard his rejection of the project as the first of many tests by which they intend to judge his commitment to renewable energy and reducing the carbon emissions that fuel manmade climate change.
Obama has twice before rejected the northern pipeline extension, which would have crossed environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska and the Ogalala Aquifer that provides water to much of the American midwest. Given that the latest, revised route bypasses most of those areas, the President no longer has the objections of Nebraskans to fall back on.
This time, Obama and his newly-sworn-in Secretary of State, John Kerry, will have to decide on the relative merits of bringing environmentally dirty oil from Canada’s tar sands through the U.S., only to be sold on world markets.
Kerry has a long record of supporting the environment and addressing climate change, and because the pipeline crosses an international border, will carry significant weight in the administration’s final decision.
Obama, for all his recent rhetoric, previously approved the pipeline’s southern extension from storage facilities in Cushing, Oklahoma, to refineries and ports on the Gulf of Mexico. Construction on the southern leg is currently underway.
Today’s protest was telegraphed by various announcements over the past several weeks, including an article yesterday in which Bond, and Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, put forth their case for today’s action in the context of past civil disobedience conducted in the pursuit of civil rights and racial equality.
Today’s demonstration will be followed by a Forward on Climate rally set for February 17, also in Washington, and which organizers hope will be the largest climate rally on record.
Participants in Today’s Demonstration
- Abbi Kleinschmidt
- Farmer whose land would be crossed by the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska.
- Adam Werbach
- Co-founder of the sharing site yerdle.com. Founded the Sierra Student Coalition and was elected president of the Sierra Club at age 23.
- Allison Chin
- President of the Sierra Club Board of Directors
- Andre Carothers
- Chairman of the Board, Rainforest Action Network
- Julian Bond
- Co-founder, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Former Executive Director of NAACP.
- Betsy Taylor
- President of Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions; chair of the 350 Action Fund; founder and former President of 1 Sky.
- Bill McKibben
- Author, activist, and co-founder of 350.org
- Bob Haas
- Professor of poetry and poetics at the University of California, Berkeley, and former poet laureate of the United States
- Bobby Kennedy
- Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council; Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper; President of Waterkeeper Alliance.
- Brenda Hillman
- Olivia C. Filippi Professor of Poetry, St. Mary’s College in California
- Cherri Foytlin
- Mother of six and the wife of an oil worker in Rayne, LA. Co-founded Gulf Change, blogs for Bridge The Gulf Project, and walked 1,243 miles from New Orleans to D.C. to call for action to stop the BP oil disaster.
- Pete Nichols
- National Director of Waterkeeper Alliance
- Danny Kennedy
- President and Co-founder, Sungevity
- Daryl Hannah
- Actress and activist
- Eileen Flanagan
- Quaker leader representing the Earth Quaker Action Team, which advocates for a just and sustainable economy through nonviolent direct action.
- Ellie Cohen
- President and CEO of PRBO Conservation Science.
- Erich Pica
- President, Friends of the Earth
- Farhad Ebrahimi
- Founder and trustee chair of the Chorus Foundation, whose mission is to end the extraction, export, and use of fossil fuels in the United States.
- James Hansen
- Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University
- Jacklyn Gil
- Junior at Brandeis University studying Peace & Justice studies.
- Jennifer Krill
- Executive Director, Earthworks
- Jerry Hightower
- Texas landowner, fighting a land grab by TransCanada for the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.
- Jessica Roff
- Anti-fracking, climate justice and food justice activist from New York City; Full-time core organizer of Occupy Sandy in the Rockaways following the superstorm.
- Jim Tarnick
- Nebraska farmer, rancher, whose home would be just 50 feet from the Keystone XL pipeline.
- Joe Uehlein
- Founding President and Executive Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability; former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department; former director of the AFL-CIO Center for Strategic Campaigns
- Juliet Schor
- Professor of Sociology at Boston College; winner of the 2011 Herman Daly Award from the US Society for Ecological Economics; and author, most recently of True Wealth: how and why millions of Americans are creating a time-rich, ecologically-light, small-scale, high-satisfaction economy.
- Luis Garden Acosta
- American pioneer for community driven, human rights activism. Founder and President of El Puente, a Brooklyn based, community/youth development organization.
- Maura Cowley
- Executive Director, Energy Action Coalition
- Michael Kieschnick
- CEO, president and co-founder of CREDO/Working Assets, dedicated to changing the world through progressive philanthropy and political activism
- Mike Brune
- Executive Director, The Sierra Club
- Mike Tidwell
- Founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Author, filmmaker, and regular commentator on global warming issues for WAMU (NPR) in D.C.
- Pamela Smith
- Co-founder and managing member of Regeneration, LLC.
- Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins
- American sustainability advocate; CEO of the anti-poverty organization Green For All.
- Phil Radford
- Executive Director, Greenpeace USA
- Randy Johnson
- Cattle buyer, and leader in the campaign in Nebraska to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
- Rev. Jim Antal
- Minister and President of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ; lifelong environmentalist, organizer and activist to stop climate change.
- Reverend Lennox Yearwood
- President of the Hip Hop Caucus, and leader in the anti-war, environmental and social justice movements.
- Rick Bass
- Former petroleum geologist and wildlife biologist. Author of 30 books of fiction and nonfiction, including, most recently, In My Home There is No More Sorrow: Ten Days in Rwanda, and A Thousand Deer.
- Steve Kretzmann
- Founder and Executive Director, Oil Change International
- Susan Luebbe
- Nebraska rancher, currently in litigation with the State of Nebraska to defend the state’s waterways and resources from reckless pipeline development.
- Maria Gunnoe
- Boone County, WV Organizer with Organized Voices Empowering Communities (OVEC). 2009 Goldman Prize winner; 2012 Wallenberg Medal recipient.
- Yudith Nieto
- Worked with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services; currently working with the Tar Sands Blockade to organize direct actions and advocate for her community.