Keystone Protesters Hold Peaceful Sit-In at State Department

Faith Meckley, a soon-to-be college freshman, chants slogans against the creation of the Keystone XL pipeline, at the 22nd street entrance of the State Department on Monday, August 12, 2013. 
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Aug. 12, 2013, 1:03 p.m.

About 140 pro­test­ers op­pos­ing the pro­posed Key­stone XL pipeline gathered out­side the State De­part­ment’s headquar­ters Monday morn­ing for a re­l­at­ively peace­ful demon­stra­tion un­marred by any ar­rests.

Around 60 of the pro­test­ers were act­ively risk­ing ar­rest by sta­ging a sit-in on the de­part­ment’s side­walk out­side the vis­it­ors’ en­trance, but au­thor­it­ies stand­ing guard res­isted tak­ing any­one in­to cus­tody, in­stead opt­ing for bar­ri­cades to keep the demon­strat­ors from fil­ter­ing in­side.

Or­gan­ized by CREDO, The Oth­er 98%, and the Rain­forest Ac­tion Net­work, the protest brought people from as far away as New York, New Jer­sey, and Wis­con­sin to rally against the pipeline, which would carry heavy oil from Canada’s tar sands to re­finer­ies on the Gulf Coast. More than 70,000 have signed CREDO’s on­line “pledge of res­ist­ance” stat­ing they are will­ing to en­gage in peace­ful civil dis­obedi­ence to op­pose the pipeline. The State De­part­ment has au­thor­ity over the pro­ject be­cause it crosses an in­ter­na­tion­al bor­der.

The scene was in stark con­trast to a sim­il­ar protest last month dur­ing which more than 50 Key­stone pro­test­ers were ar­res­ted for un­law­ful entry at the of­fices of En­vir­on­ment­al Re­sources Man­age­ment, a con­sult­ing firm that wrote a re­port for the State De­part­ment in March say­ing the pipeline con­struc­tion should not be de­railed due to en­vir­on­ment­al con­cerns. Echo­ing that protest, Monday’s pro­test­ers ar­gued that the re­view is biased be­cause of con­nec­tions ERM has to Tran­sCanada, the com­pany pro­pos­ing to build the pipeline.

Many in the crowd Monday car­ried signs identi­fy­ing them­selves as “papas,” “moth­ers,” “na­nas,” and “grandma­mas.” They spoke about their de­sire to pro­tect the plan­et for the sake of their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. Most ad­mit­ted to nev­er risk­ing ar­rest be­fore but said the po­ten­tial en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact of the Key­stone pro­ject was something they could not ig­nore.

John Sellers, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of The Oth­er 98%, was im­pressed that some un­usu­al sus­pects were par­ti­cip­at­ing in the protest.

“There’s a lot of amaz­ing people who have nev­er done any­thing like this be­fore that have de­cided to risk ar­rest and I think that should send a really clear mes­sage to the State De­part­ment and White House,” Sellers said.

Protest or­gan­izers said they were en­cour­aged by Pres­id­ent Obama’s June speech on cli­mate change in which he said he would only ap­prove the pipeline if it did not “sig­ni­fic­antly ex­acer­bate the prob­lem of car­bon pol­lu­tion.” But they re­main con­cerned the pres­id­ent may re­treat from his prom­ise, and though Monday’s protest was not at the White House, much of the mes­saging — in­clud­ing a “Hey Obama, liked your speech, now you gotta prac­tice what you preach” slo­gan — was clearly in­ten­ded to catch the pres­id­ent’s at­ten­tion.

Neither Obama nor Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry are in Wash­ing­ton this week, however.

Bill McK­ib­ben, cofounder of 350.org, which was not in­volved in or­gan­iz­ing Monday’s protest but has been act­ively cam­paign­ing against the pipeline, said that while Obama’s re­cent rhet­or­ic has been en­cour­aging, en­vir­on­ment­al­ists need to keep pres­sure on him.

“If he keeps to his stand­ard of ‘sig­ni­fic­ant car­bon emis­sions’ there’s no pos­sible way he can ap­prove the pipeline,” McK­ib­ben said in an e-mail. “If he fig­ures out some law­yerly, tricky way to ap­prove the pipeline his cred­ib­il­ity on cli­mate change will be gone forever. That said, it seems im­port­ant to keep re­mind­ing him, so we will.”

Faith Meckley, 18, was one of the young­est and most en­thu­si­ast­ic pro­test­ers who turned out. She stood closer to po­lice lines than her coun­ter­parts, and while the protest was her first time risk­ing ar­rest she said it is un­likely to be the last.

“It was more scary telling my par­ents about this than ac­tu­ally risk­ing ar­rest,” said Meckley, who came to Wash­ing­ton from Mace­don, N.Y., for the protest and will be­gin study­ing journ­al­ism at Ithaca Col­lege in the fall.

“It was im­port­ant to me that I would get ar­res­ted, al­though that wasn’t the reas­on for com­ing here,” she said. “We might not have got­ten the dessert, but we got the main course.”

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