Today Tasha, Dad, and I braved 30-some degree temperatures and blustery winds to attend 350.org's Anti-KeystoneXL protest in Washington, D.C. In spite of the adverse weather conditions, 350.org estimates at least 40,000 people attended. It's hard for me get an accurate estimate, because so many people packed the streets in one long column that stretched many blocks; I just saw what happened towards the front. The number sounds legit to me, though.
When we arrived at the base of the Washington Monument (the rally point for the march), the crowd was big enough that we couldn't really get too close to the main stage, where speakers from the Hip Hop Caucus, the Sierra Club, indigenous peoples' movements and 350.org were getting the crowd fired up. Because it was so windy, it was difficult to hear what was being said on the PA system, although Van Jones' speech was both impassioned and eloquent, and pretty tough talk from what I could hear.
After about an hour and a half of fiery speeches and cold winds, the crowd formed a column of people marching with signs and banners down Constitution Avenue. At various points, chants would begin and build: "This is what Democracy looks like," and "Hey, Obama, come on out, we've got some things to talk about." After encircling The White House, the demonstration seemed to culminate when it passed Freedom Plaza and headed back toward the Monument. At this point, it seemed like there was a real media presence and you could see the columns of protesters stretching all the way up 15th street.
I took a lot of pictures at this point, and I'll post them in the gallery. I think they give a much better sense of the day than this report can. There were some excellent costumes and banners, but the one that impressed me most was a cut-out of the grim reaper as KeystoneXL with the words "The only steady job on a dying planet will be mine."
We had to leave at this point--it was about 3:00--so whatever else happened, I don't know. Earlier in the week, Dr. James Hansen, Darryl Hannah, and I believe Bill McKibben, among others, were arrested for handcuffing themselves to a gate in front of The White House. But no one went to jail today that I know of. It was a markedly peaceful protest. As we learned later, Obama was apparently in Florida playing golf with Tiger Woods...nice.
With that said, I'm not much on attending protests and chanting slogans, but today I felt like it was an important thing that we did. Sometimes it's just necessary to stand up and be counted. And I think everyone at the protest realized that it was about a lot more than a particular pipeline: It's about the Deepwater Horizon disaster; it's about the Exxon Valdez; it's about Ken Saro-Wiwa; it's about the betrayal of indigenous peoples everywhere by governments and energy companies; it's about the disregard for and flagrant destruction of the earth, whether in Alberta or West Virginia; and most of all, it's about climate change. If the tar sands oil does make it to the marketplace, then this represents a sort of climatological Rubicon. As Bill McKibben and James Hansen have pointed out, every day now we're crossing dangerous new thresholds that should never be crossed. Only hindsight will demonstrate the significance of these events; whether or not they become "tipping points" or points of no return. One thing is certain right now: There is enough carbon in Alberta tar sands, if released, to completely crash the planet's climate.
More importantly, I think regardless of whether or not Obama allows the KeystoneXL pipleline to be built, we have to take whatever bottom-up action we can in our daily lives to simply use less fossil fuels. If we stop consuming oil altogether, then the pipleline becomes a moot point and it will never be built. Nor will we have to worry about energy companies destroying the gulf of Mexico or the arctic or anywere in between, because most of them won't exist anymore.
Right now, I drive a couple hundred miles a week to get to work and back, and I'm not happy about it at all. Come Daylight Savings Time, I will be biking to work two days a week. I currently take advantage of my company's one day a week that I can work at home, but I won't be satisfied until I can do a job that doesn't involve turning on an engine.
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