From D.C. to Connecticut, Obama Met with Keystone Pipeline Protests

by Dan Fischer

This past week, Connecticut residents and students traveled as far as Washington DC and as close as New Britain to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would carry leak-prone tar sands oil from Canada into the US. Both demonstrations targeted President Obama, who has the legal authority to block the pipeline. Although Obama campaigned on promises of climate protection, his repeated embrace of fossil fuel infrastructure recently led Business Week to deem him president of “The Petro States of America.”

On Sunday March 2, students from over 80 colleges met in Washington DC and marched to the White House in a demonstration called “XL Dissent”. At the White House, many took part in a “human oil spill” and locked themselves to the gates. Police arrested some 398 people. Democracy Now! reporter Amy Goodman commented the protest “could be the largest youth sit-in on the environment in a generation.” Several Connecticut students and residents participated.

photo from Dissent XL

Cesar A. Chavez, a junior at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University, told The Struggle, “I am here protesting the Keystone XL pipeline mainly because over the past few summers in Peru they’ve gotten really warm, and they’ve become unbearable. Some places in the country have become pretty much unlivable because there isn’t any water.”

Capitalism vs. the Climate, a Connecticut-based group of which I’m a member, endorsed and joined the demonstration’s Ecosocialist Contingent. The contingent received some frantically negative coverage in Forbes, a business news magazine that has famously called itself a “capitalist tool.” Forbes columnist David Blackmon wrote:

Good to see the EcoSocialist contingent proudly displaying its signage at the rally, given that ‘ecosocialism’ has long been the real goal behind the anti-energy movement all over the world. At long last, someone with a little intellectual honesty here.

Despite the condescending tone, he is correct to observe that a growing number of young people observe that adequately addressing climate change will require systemic social change.

Obama Comes to Connecticut

On Wednesday March 5, President Obama spoke at New Britain’s Central Connecticut State University about the minimum wage. Despite closed roads and traffic jams, a group of anti-Keystone XL protesters greeted him on the campus. “A rupture in the Keystone XL pipeline could cause a BP style oil spill in America¹s heartland, over the source of fresh drinking water for 2 million people,” wrote protester Charles Button in an email. Button is a geography professor at the university. CCSU Global Environmental Sustainability Action Coalition hosted the demonstration.

photo from Charles Button

Although D.C. protests are very flashy and draw in new people, organizers have long said the heart of the campaign happens locally. The Ruckus Society’s Joshua Kahn Russell explained in 2012, “the strategic arc of the campaign was actually decentralized actions all over the country. Everywhere that Obama went, there were grassroots people bird-dogging him, people going to his evens, storming Obama for America offices”. In Connecticut, Capitalism vs. the Climate has organized several actions against the Keystone XL, including a die-in with other groups outside a tar sands investment conference in Hartford, a series of pickets at pipeline-financier TD Bank, and a banner drop in solidarity with Tar Sands Blockade.

The campaign against the Keystone pipeline promises to escalate in the coming months. Over 86,000 people have signed a “pledge of resistance” indicating they will risk arrest if necessary to stop the pipeline’s completion. An alliance of indigenous groups has released a statement entitled “No Keystone XL Pipeline Will Cross Lakota Lands”. It says, “We stand with the Lakota Nation, we stand on the side of protecting sacred water, we stand for Indigenous land-based lifeways which will NOT be corrupted by a hazardous, toxic pipeline.”

Recently, activists have written a number of thoughtful critiques of the anti-Keystone movement, calling for groups to stand behind directly-impacted communities, and to not let the semi-apocalyptic “game over” language get out of hand. Below are a couple articles worth reflecting on.

The Climate Movement’s Pipeline Preoccupation

Open Letter to the NO KXL Movement

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