Photograph: Joshua Roberts/REUTERS


Sometimes you just need to take a stand.


With clean air and water laws under attack and climate policy off the table, it’s pretty frustrating being an environmentalist these days.  Feeling somewhat restless, an invitation to the Keystone XL pipeline protest at the White House called my name.  Normally I wouldn’t consider going… I’m too busy, too far away, too old, too cynical it would make any difference.  But this time I didn’t want to sit by and swallow something I believe to be wrong.  The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street has given me hope that public outcry might actually have some impact.  Maybe this clever protest could actually stop Big Oil’s plans.


white house kxl pipeline protest 11/10

Feeling naked in a crowd fashioned with neon orange vests and steadfast signs like “No Fracking Way!,” we were happy to run into Josh Mogerman from NRDC’s Chicago office, who offered us “NO OIL IN OUR SOIL” signs and hats.

On November 6th, a perfect Indian summer afternoon, my good friend Eileen and I joined the masses to take a stand.  We started off at a festive rally in Lafayette Park near the White House.  An array of speakers, from Tars Sands Action organizer Bill McKibben, NASA scientist Jim Hanson, pastor Jim Wallis, Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, actor Mark Ruffalo and many others reinforced why we needed to stop the pipeline. (To see The Top Ten Reasons Why the Keystone is a BAD DEAL, see February 2012 post PIPELINE INTERRUPTED?)  The energized crowd, representing every walk of life (including many mid-life moms!), gave us our first taste of the human microphone and wiggly finger cheers.


Directed by volunteers, we filled the streets to form a massive circle.  Our stroll past iconic DC buildings was scored by a steady drumbeat and chants of “Hey Obama, we don’t want no climate drama!“  A logjam brought us to a standstill and after a while a confirmation text arrived. An estimated 12,000 people “hugged” the perimeter of blocked streets surrounding the White House, with a band at least six people deep.  We sent a strong message to Pres. Obama to refuse TransCanada’s KXL permit.  The event trailed off with a post rally back on the stage.  The next morning, Eileen and I joined the NRDC folks for breakfast and headed to the Hart Senate offices to lobby our Illinois senators.





Hundreds of people paraded by with a massive mock pipeline hoisted up like a Chinese Dragon




When facing tough odds, it’s easy to think why bother?  But this time, I felt like our voice was heard and our actions counted.  Four days after the amazing grassroots demonstration in DC, the Obama Administration rejected the State Department’s environmental impact review and sent the entire project back for another year of careful review.  TransCanada responded by stating it would relocate the controversial pipeline route away from the environmentally sensitive Sandhills area and Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska. (see February post PIPELINE INTERRUPTED for status on the “zombie” pipeline that won’t die)


Going to DC allowed us to dig deeper and learn more about the controversial Keystone proposal, especially thanks to Tar Sands Action, the Sierra Club and NRDC.  And aside from all the fun we had, it felt really gratifying to take part in the protest. If we expect Obama to say no to Big Oil, he needs people power on his side.  And I’m sure Eileen would agree, our girlfriend protest getaway left us reenergized and hopeful.


Soul of a Citizen cover

In Soul of Citizen, (assigned reading in hundreds of college classrooms), Paul Loeb inspires us not to give up by showing how ordinary people can make a difference.


Thanks especially to TAR SANDS ACTION, NRDC esp. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz (DC), Julie Truax (DC) and Henry Henderson (CHI) and SIERRA CLUB esp. Sherri Racine (Chi) and Kate Colarulli (DC).