Arrested for XL Dissent

March 3, 2014

Tristan Brosnan reports on a huge civil disobedience action on the doorstep of the Obama White House--as part of the activist campaign to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

MORE THAN 350 climate activists were arrested March 2 in Washington, D.C., 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 organizers, to demand that the Obama administration reject construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Demonstrators from across the U.S. mobilized--as individuals and as parts of a large number of organizations, including numerous groups affiliated to local anti-pipeline campaigns, an ecosocialist contingent organized by System Change Not Climate Change and the climate justice campaign

"I came with 67 students from Minnesota to be at this protest," said Maria Langholz from St. Paul, Minn. "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, no to a lot of things."

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 construction of the Enbridge tar sands pipeline in Michigan. Wahmhoff climbed inside one of Enbridge's pipelines, and though charges against him were initially dismissed, a prosecutor has filed a motion to reconsider them.

Anti-pipeline protesters lined up at the fence in front of the White House
Anti-pipeline protesters lined up at the fence in front of the White House (Michael Shallal)

"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 prison when they are sentenced March 5 for trespassing, and resisting and obstructing a police officer. Last summer, they took part in an 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, who 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 as hundreds of protesters expressed with their presence in Washington, it's impossible to separate the pipeline from the dirty, carbon-dense tar sands oil it will be transporting.

After the State Department's review, there will be a 90-day period in which other federal agencies and the public can take issue with the pipeline. As early as May, Obama could approve or deny construction of the pipeline. 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."

Last summer, Obama gave 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, organizers of XL Dissent decided to launch the demonstration from Georgetown University.

After listening to a handful of speakers, the march commenced and made its way past Secretary of State John Kerry's house, where demonstrators used a black tarp to "deposit" a large mock oil spill on the cobblestones at his doorstep. From Georgetown, down the much-trafficked M street, up to Pennsylvania Avenue, 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.

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