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
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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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