Keystone Pipeline Protest: Crossing the Line with Beauty & Resolve
by Debra Sweet, Director, World Can't Wait
Last Friday, I joined 53 others in getting hand-cuffed by Park Police after we sat in front of the White House for a few minutes in protest of the Keystone oil pipeline proposed to run from Alberta Canada down to Texas refineries. Before Hurricane Irene hit North Carolina a day later, it was hot and still in Washington, and sweaty sitting on the pavement in front of the White House. I realized that most often it’s been cold or rainy when we stood or laid down there in protest against U.S. wars and torture.
I appreciated Bill McKibben’s remarks to us in Lafayette Park, before we walked over the White House. Bill, clearly tired from speaking to so many reporters as the main spokesperson for Tar Sands Action, spoke about how, for many, this was the first time “crossing a line” to do “what the police don’t want us to do.” Many people I was arrested with said they were nervous about being arrested, and concerned with having an arrest record, but all were determined that such a step is justified. Bill called this sustained civil resistance “an act of beauty and resolve.”
A young person was waving an American flag while sitting in. I’ve recoiled from American flag waving since at least 1967, when a college protester explained to my high school self that American flags wave over every aggressive war the U.S. pursues. You can call me an anti-flag waver, and I practice speaking up. I mentioned that the U.S. military is the single largest user of petroleum on the globe. Someone in the group answered, “but we have to keep our country safe,” and was met with groans by others, “as if” anything the U.S. military is doing now is keeping anyone safe. Almost everyone protesting the pipeline, I would guess, is against the aggressive military occupations and bombing — now of 6 countries.
But I wonder how much people think about the relationship between the relentless destruction of the global environment by the carbon-based U.S. dominated world economy, and the U.S. military strategy to dominate the oil-rich areas of the globe. The empire is burning up tremendous amounts of oil to control the oil, mainly through control of refining, in order to get more oil. All of this takes a continually rising expenditure on “defense,” as the U.S. spends about as much on its military as all other countries, combined.
This is critical to understand when the demand is put to President Obama to say “no” to the Keystone Pipeline. The Tulsa World reported:
The Obama administration on Friday removed a major roadblock to a planned $7 billion oil pipeline from western Canada to the Texas coast, saying in a report that the project is unlikely to cause significant environmental problems during construction or operation.
Only a little over a year ago, much of the world was genuinely alarmed at the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, and for a time, Barack Obama put a moratorium on deep oil drilling in the Gulf. Despite clear and persistent evidence that BP and other oil companies could not avoid such disaster, and that the damage is “far from over,” according to a report by the National Wildlife Federation in April, 2011, the ban has since been rescinded.
Rather than following through on promises as a candidate to limit oil exploration, this May, Obama opened up the coast of Alaska to oil drilling. Frances Beineke, of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in The New York Times this month of the “nightmare” the administration is inviting:
the federal government struggled for five disastrous months to contain the much larger BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Now imagine the increased danger and difficulty of trying to cope with a similar debacle off Alaska’s northern coast, where waters are sealed by pack ice for eight months of each year, gales roil fog-shrouded seas with waves up to 20 feet high and the temperature, combined with the wind chill, feels like 10 degrees below zero by late September.
I was surprised to find out, recently, that the Alberta tar sands oil extraction is, according to Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, the “world’s largest energy project, the world’s largest construction project and the world’s largest capital project.” Nikiforuk says bitumen, the form of oil in the tar sands, requires 3 barrels of water to produce one barrel, which then has to be further refined. Canada is already sending one million barrels per day to the United States.
This extraction and pipeline project is, according to Bill McKibben and Tar Sands Action, a “carbon bomb” that, when completed, will push global climate change beyond the point of no return. OilSandsWatch.org reports:
The oil sands have emerged as Canada’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas pollution. Other impacts — from drawing down the Athabasca River to the creation of toxic tailings dumps, to hundreds of square kilometers of strip-mining and drilling in the boreal forest — are growing just as rapidly.
A friend called to see how the protest went, and said she had been thinking about the suffragette protesters portrayed in film The Iron Jawed Angels. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, during World War 1, led thousands of women at the gates of the White House demanding womens’ right to vote. Paul and Burns were tortured in federal custody, and then force-fed after going on hunger strike when they were kept incommunicado for misdemeanor charges, hence the tribute “iron jawed.” My friend asked, “what if 10,000 people were arrested with you, every day? Do you think then the government would listen?”
I know this. If hundreds or thousands of people get to Washington D.C. this week to join the White House protests, many more people will know about the outrage of the destruction of Canada to supply dangerous, dirty oil to the U.S. war machine.
I hope you will be one of them!