WASHINGTON– The largest environmental civil disobedience in decades concluded at the White House this morning with organizers pledging to escalate a nationwide campaign to push President Obama to deny the permit for a new tar sands oil pipeline.
“Given yesterday’s baffling cave on ozone standards, the need for a fighting environmental movement has never been more clear,” said Bill McKibben, who spearheaded the protest. “That movement is being born right here in front of the White House and reverberating around the country.”
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has become the most important environmental decision facing President Obama before the 2012 election and sparked nationwide opposition, from Nebraska ranchers to former Obama campaigners. A petition with 617,428 names opposing the pipeline will be delivered to the White House today.
Over the course of the two-week sit-in 1,252 Americans were arrested, including top climate scientists, landowners from Texas and Nebraska, former Obama for America staffers, First Nations leaders from Canada, and notable individuals including Bill McKibben, former White House official Gus Speth, NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen, actor Daryl Hannah, filmmaker Josh Fox, and author Naomi Klein.
“Back home we are fighting to protect our land and water. This week, we decided to bring that fight to the President’s doorstep,” said Jane Kleeb, Director of BOLD Nebraska, who led a delegation of Nebraskans who were arrested this morning. “We are acting on our values and expect our President to act as well.”
Protest organizers are already planning ways to capitalize on the surge of energy the sit-in has created. In a number of cities, people have already begun to visit Obama for America offices to tell the campaign they will volunteer and donate only after President Obama stands up to Big Oil and denies the Keystone XL permit. Along the pipeline route, groups are preparing to drive turnout to State Department hearings later this month. Thousands are expected to descend on Washington, DC for the final hearing on October 7.
Last week, nearly every major environmental group in the country signed on to a letter demanding President Obama deny the pipeline permit. “There is not an inch of daylight between our policy position on the Keystone XL pipeline, and those of the protesters being arrested daily outside the White House,” wrote the groups in their letter.
Vice President Al Gore also added his support to the protest, writing, “the leaders of the top environmental groups in the country, the Republican Governor of Nebraska, and millions of people around the country—including hundreds of people who have bravely participated in civil disobedience at the White House—all agree on one thing: President Obama should block a planned pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. The tar sands are the dirtiest source of fuel on the planet.”
Many of the people arrested at the White House wore Obama 2008 buttons as they were taken away in handcuffs.
“We are not going to do President Obama the favor of attacking him,” said McKibben. “We are going to hold the Obama campaign to the standard it set in 2008. Denying this pipeline would send a jolt of electricity through the people that elected this president.”
Executive director of the 1.4 million-member Sierra Club, Michael Brune, warned of the consequences if President Obama approved Keystone XL: “We will see an enthusiasm deficit. We won’t see our members volunteering 20 or 25 or 30 hours a week. We won’t see the same passion and intensity.”
Courtney Hight, a former Youth Vote Director in Florida and White House Council on Environmental Quality staffer, now co-director of the Energy Action Coalition, said, “Young people mobilized in record numbers in 2008 to elect a leader they believed would fulfill his promise. Yesterday, I was arrested with other young voters to call on President Obama to fulfill his promise and stand up to Big Oil.”
The White House is receiving pressure from citizens north of the border, as well. Activists in Ottawa are planning a civil-disobedience protest on Parliament Hill this September 26.
“The Canadian government is acting as the global advertising agency of the tar sands oil industry,” said author and activist Naomi Klein, who was arrested Friday. “Canadians have come to appeal directly to President Obama, to demand that he stop this pipeline and make good on his 2008 election promises.”
The proposed 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline would carry dirty, tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. A rupture in the pipeline could cause a BP style oil spill in America’s heartland, over the source of fresh drinking water for 20 million people. NASA’s top climate scientist says that fully developing the tar sands in Canada would mean “essentially game over” for the climate.
For more information, please visit tarsandsaction.org.