[Editor’s note: The Kennedys provided the following account of their recent involvement in a peaceful protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline. They will participate in a discussion on November 13, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Tusten Branch of the Western Sullivan Public Library on Bridge Street in Narrowsburg, NY.
For details, visit www.riverreporteronline.com/feature/16/2011/10/26/washington-and-wall-street-%E2%80%98women-wisdom%E2%80%99-talk-civil-disobedience]
On Sunday, November 6, exactly one year before the 2012 presidential election, over 12,000 people from all over the U.S. and Canada rallied at the White House to ask President Barak Obama to say “no” to the Keystone XL Pipeline. We were among them. This was our second trip to DC to protest this pipeline meant to carry corrosive tar sands oil from Alberta Canada across the heartland of the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico.
In August, we were part of a wave of over 1,200 arrests in front of the White House that took place over the course of two weeks. The August tar sands action was one of the biggest, sustained civil disobedience actions since the epic actions of the civil rights movement.
We returned to Washington last weekend to stand with thousands of others. People were not there just to protest a pipeline; we were there because we believe that now is the time to make a stand against the fossil fuel industry that is killing our present and robbing our future.
Oil from tar sands, coal from mountaintop removal, natural gas fracked from shale formations deep in the earth, all mean energy acquired in the most dirty and damaging ways possible, ways that destroy lands, poison waters and fill our atmosphere with the carbon dioxide propelling the radical destabilization of our climate. Leading climate change activist Bill McKibben calls the Keystone XL a “carbon bomb.” Allowing the development of tar sands oil would mean, in the words of NASA scientist James Hansen, “game over” for the climate.
The speakers at the rally included notables like McKibben and fracking activist, actor Mark Ruffalo. They also included Indigenous people like Oglala Lakota Chief Tom Poor Bear, evangelical reverend Jim Wallis, Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, labor leaders, a Nebraska rancher and student organizers. Together they took apart the story told over and over again by the fossil fuel industry—that fossil fuels are the only real choice for producing the energy we need; that the fossil fuel industry alone can create the jobs that struggling Americans need to survive.
Of course, building pipelines and extracting fuels from the most difficult places to reach on the earth create jobs, dirty, dangerous jobs, “boomtown” jobs that disappear in the long term and leave in their wake expensive consequences, like ruined lands and waters and broken communities. The farmers, ranchers and the small town citizens of America’s rural heartland were out in force at the rally to talk about the loss of a way of life if this pipeline comes through their lands and their communities.
They talked about how the big corporations are bent on impoverishing small family farmers and ranchers. And once they have lost everything to big agribusiness and the meat industry, the big money offered by the fossil fuel industry is hard to resist.
They described other choices, noting that if we can build huge oil rigs in the middle of the ocean or the frozen tundra or huge pipelines thousands of miles long that cut across forests, farms and people’s homelands, we can build factories for windmills or solar panels and infrastructure to carry the energy of wind and sun to our towns and cities.
So we stood in front of the White House, mother and daughter among thousands of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and grandparents and their grandchildren, and sent our president a different message; a message that has been reverberating in the Occupy movements springing up in cities all across America. People are tired of feeling voiceless and tired of being told that the course of their lives is in the control of the rich and powerful. Ours is a message about values, about who and what we will value as a nation and a people.
At Bill McKibben’s signal, the tar sands protestors spread out and encircled the entire White House. We stood peacefully, arms linked, holding signs printed with Barak Obama’s own promises from his inspirational 2008 campaign, among them, “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” It was a powerful, colorful, moving sight—people of every age and multiple ethnicities standing together for our generation and for future generations.
Barak Obama can say no to this pipeline all by himself. He can make the decision as a father and a teacher that now is the time to make sure that all children have a future filled with promise, not with dirty oil.
The people gathered at this rally were not protesting for big money or power. They were protesting for decent lives on their farms and ranches, on their indigenous homelands and in their small and large communities, where clean water and natural spaces are not destroyed by leaking pipelines and oil and gas rigs. They were protesting for an earth that can “begin to heal,” and we were proud to be among them.