The 398 students arrested at the White House on Sunday protesting the Keystone XL pipeline are inspiring more protests across the nation, as opponents of the controversial project ramp up their activism in anticipation of a final decision from President Obama later this spring.
On Monday morning, nine more students were arrested for a sit-in at a State Department office in San Francisco, California. The activists called their protest “XL Dissent West,” to echo the larger XL Dissent action that happened in DC over the weekend.
This Wednesday, pipeline opponents in Boston are expecting upwards of 100 students and community members to protest outside of a fundraiser President Obama is hosting in the city.
“The 398 students arrested at the White House were just the beginning,” said Ophir Bruck, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, who was arrested on Monday in San Francisco. “We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to stop this pipeline and we know that tens of thousands more people are right behind us.”
More than 86,000 people have signed the Keystone XL pledge of resistance, organized by CREDO Action, Rainforest Action Network and The Other 98%, committing to take part in civil disobedience if the State Department determines the pipeline in the country’s national interest and recommends President Obama approve the project.
The XL Dissent protest in Washington, DC, which turned out over 1,200 students from more than 100 schools the country, was particularly inspiring for other young people, thousands of whom tuned in to watch a live-stream of the event online and have been sharing photos of their friends who were arrested across Facebook and Twitter.
“I’ve been so inspired by my friends’ reaction to the picture I posted of my hand zip tied to the White House fence. I’ve never gotten that many ‘likes’ for anything on Facebook before,” said Aly Johnson-Kurts, a student at Smith College who is taking a year off from school to be a full time climate activist. “I’m confident nearly all of those friends are wishing they came down to DC last weekend. They’ll be there next time.”
Young people are a key demographic Democrats are hoping to mobilize in the upcoming 2014 and 2016 elections. In a recent poll, 70% of young voters said that support for action on climate change will affect who they vote for, and 73% said they’d vote against a politician who wasn’t addressing the problem. An overwhelming 80% of young people support the President taking action to address climate change, suggesting that a pipeline rejection based on climate impacts would be widely applauded.
Opposition to Keystone XL runs deep in more than just young people, however. Over the last month, indigenous communities across North America have also doubled down on their pledge to block construction of Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines across their lands. A number of proposed pipelines and other tar sands related projects are in direct violation of tribal treaty rights. A recent tour by musician Neil Young across Canada raised over a million dollars to help tribes bring their cases against the tar sands industry to court.
“It was indigenous leadership that started this fight, and it’s indigenous leadership that is going to help win it,” said Rae Breaux, a 350.org tar sands campaigner who recently attended a meeting of indigenous groups and allies where tribal leaders committed to new plans to oppose Keystone XL. “We’re gearing up for a busy spring together.”
If President Obama moves towards approving the Keystone XL pipeline, he can expect even more mass arrests and demonstrations in Washington, DC and across the country, says 350.org Policy Director Jason Kowalski.
“There were just nearly 400 people arrested at the White House last Sunday, and that was just students on a weekend in March,” said Kowalski. “When it comes to this May, if it looks like President Obama is going to make the wrong call, it’s going to be 4,000, then 10,000, then many more. There are over 80,000 people on that pledge. We’re not going away.”