What Democracy Looks Like: the Keystone Pipeline Protest
By "> On 28 Mar, 2014 At 03:05 AM | Categorized As Bryn Mawr, Features, Front Page, News/Political, Opinion | With 2 Comments

By Zubin Hill

Staff Writer

Protesters zip-tied or standing in front of the White House fence.

Protesters zip-tied or standing in front of the White House fence.

It was on Sunday, the second of March when a contingent of Tri-Co students marched on Washington, D.C., on the White House. They went to protest, to dissent the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Now, I will halt here, for I imagine you are asking, “What is the Keystone XL Pipeline that you should protest it?”

And I will give you an answer.

It is an additional 1,700 miles of pipe to the current Keystone Pipeline. It transports oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast in Texas. It runs through several states (Nebraska, Illinois) and should a leak occur (which is likely), it could have an extremely harmful effect on the surrounding area. Finally, refining and mining tar sands is notoriously inefficient. It has been stated that doing so will release large amount of greenhouse gases into the air and lead to increased global warming.

So now you have the backstory. On to the protest.

A Bryn Mawr student with our sign.

A Bryn Mawr student with our sign.

We were a fairly small group of Tri-Coers, approximately 20 people. We had traveled about three hours to reach D.C. and slept on the floor of a church on the night before the protest. We attended sessions the Saturday before, learning about resisting arrest, possible future environmental protests, and generally connecting with people who held similar views to ourselves. Most of the Swarthmore group opted to resist arrest and two Bi-Co students as well. They would either zip-tie themselves to the White House fence or stand in front until the police arrested them and took them to a local prison until bail was paid.


Those ready to resist arrest had their bail money and IDs ready.

The day dawned. We rose early and, when the time came, went to Georgetown University for the start of the protest. Prepared by our pre-march chants, and a speech yelled through a mega-phone, we set out.

The march to the White House was exhilarating, despite its length. It was the mass of energy that we were, the way some people yelled and chanted until they became hoarse, the feeling of power, and (yes) the press that followed us.

We were the People. And we would not be silenced.

Our march included a brief pit-stop at John Kerry’s house to place an oil-spill-shaped tarp in the street. The tarp stated something like: Senator Kerry, stop KXL.

When we reached the White House, we halted some ways from the fence. We were regaled by several speakers including a woman from the area in Canada being mined and a man who had experienced a tar sands spill near his home town. At the conclusion of his speech, all eyes turned to the black fence. Walking purposefully, we laid out another tarp before the fence.

The tarp before the White House.

The tarp before the White House.


It was captioned: “Pres. Obama, It’s our future. Stop KXL.” Arrayed upon this tarp were the “bodies of the fallen”—people who had died in the oil spill.

Those who desired to resist arrest either stood near the fence or zip-tied themselves along its length. I, along with the others who did not desire to be arrested, was slowly pushed back by the Park Service on horseback. Though separated by a good ten yards, both groups chanted back and forth.

Protesters chanting at the Park Service imposed line.

Protesters chanting at the Park Service imposed line.

“One! We are the People. Two! We are united. Three! We will not let you build this pipeline!”

“Hey! Obama! We got some stuff to talk about!”

“Show me what democracy looks like! THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!”

I soon noticed snipers on the White House roof. Thy remained a while but eventually left. After two hours, the Park Service began the arrests, sending people by the busload to the prison. There, they were to pay $40 dollars, show valid ID, and freedom would be theirs.

Though it was a cold and gray day, the energy of the crowd kept the participants warm. We were determined to let our voices be heard. Now we wait to see if our call to action has been answered as we hoped.

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  1. mike says:

    I respect the right to protest of these several protesters. I also respect the 60 or 70 percent of americans who want the pipe line and have no problem with it. ( the 180 million people who want it) .

  2. Jack says:

    The sad sad part about this is the ignorance of the students. Everyone of these students is wearing clothing made wholly or partly from long chain polymers which are derived from oil, the cotton they wear was harvested with the use of oil, they arrived in vehicles powered by oil, they protest under freedoms provided by a military that cannot provide that protection without oil, they live by the aide of electricity produced by coal, etc….

    They protest because there is a perception of “big, bad, oil companies” doing harm to the earth. The sad realization is that those companies would not exist if they, themselves, did not consume the oil.

    However, if you let go of the “Gaia, MOTHER GOD,” pot smoking idea that the world is 2 seconds from dying…. You might realize that the idea of conservation is preferable to preservation. That, having a job, and providing food on the table for the coal miner’s daughter is preferable to foreclosure, poverty, and bankruptcy for that family.
    What, I ask, is more compassionate? To provide a world for great-grandchildren that you never will meet, or… keeping the family down the street out of poverty.

    Stop the protests. Work on solutions which don’t involve putting people out of work, or preventing people from working.

  3. Nancy Hughes says:

    I’m a BMC alum who applauds the actions of the students protesting the Keystone Pipeline and taking other nonviolent actions in support of the planet and against climate change. Of course it’s a complicated issue, and of course we are all implicated in the use and abuse of fossil fuels, but supporting a public discourse that acknowledges the urgency of the situation and need for change is the cause of our time.

    During Bill Clinton’s first run for president, there was a sign on a campaign office wall that read, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Where are the leaders with a sign over their desk that says, “It’s the climate, stupid”? Massive student activism is one of the ways we can mobilize support for a sane energy policy.

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