Rallying to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

Against the Current, No. 163, March/April 2013

DESPITE UNCOMFORTABLY COLD weather in Washington, DC the February 17 mobilization to stop the Keystone XL Alberta-U.S. tar sands pipeline drew a crowd conservatively estimated at over 20,000.

Crowd size estimates vary, of course; but the potential significance of this march for the environmental movement may be analogous to that of the first national march against the War in Vietnam, in 1965, which sparked a movement that within three years would sweep the nation.

The major sponsors of the mobilization were the grassroots organization 350.org, inspired by leading activist and author Bill McKibben, the Hip Hop Caucus and the Sierra Club, which for the first time in its more than 100-year history encouraged civil disobedience on the pipeline issue (coming a long way from when it was accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry!)

Demonstrations of support were held in other U.S. cities and, notably, in Canada where First Nations (Native) opposition to the pipeline runs very deep. Canadian media in fact reported on the DC march in considerably greater detail than did their U.S. corporate counterparts.

The fight to stop the tar sands pipeline linking Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast would appear to be a desperately unequal one, pitting a new and not well-funded grassroots movement against the vast resources of Big Oil, the political weight of the United States’ closest ally and largest trading partner Canada, and the massive rightwing climate change denial network.

 Surprisingly enough, the balance seems to be shifting as president Obama and the State Department face the imminent decision to accept or reject the pipeline’s new proposed route (slightly “adjusted” following the outcry in 2011-12 over the original plan to pass directly through the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer).

The economic as well as environmental stakes couldn’t be higher, as detailed by analyst Michael Klare in his article “A Presidential Decision That Could Change the World,” which should be required reading for everyone (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-t-klare/obama-keystone-xl-decision_b_2661798.html):

“If given the go-ahead by President Obama [the Keystone XL pipeline] will daily carry more than 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil to those Gulf Coast refineries. If Obama says no, the Canadians (and their American backers) will encounter difficulties in exporting their heavy crude oil, discouraging further investment.”

An already existing tar sands pipeline ruptured in Michigan in July 2010, irreversibly poisoning a section of the Kalamazoo River.

An Ecosocialist Contingent

Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline is only one critical first step, of course, in turning around capitalism’s leap over the climate cliff. Members of Solidarity, the International Socialist Organization, Organization for a Free Society, Ecosocialist Horizons, and several chapters of the Green Party and the Socialist Party participated in an Ecosocialist contingent.

Andy Woloszyn, an organizer for Solidarity, reported:

The Ecosocialist contingent held its rally next to the Smithsonian station as the main rally was just beginning to convene near the Washington monument. We could hear the stage speakers playing warm-up music as organizers prepared for what they said would be the largest climate change demonstration in U.S. history. Our rally was optimistic about numbers due to attendance at our forum the previous night, “Capitalism is Killing the Planet: How Can We Fightback?”

Jill Stein’s presence had a definite impact on upping attendance. Her presentation included a call to hold the 1% responsible for their overwhelming contribution to ecological degeneration. Other speakers were Chris Williams, member of the ISO and author of Ecology and Socialism, who fleshed out a rather scary set of facts and analysis pinpointing the urgency of our action and organizing; and Solidarity’s Nicholas Davenport, who envisioned an ecosocialist alternative. He pointed out the consequences of consumer culture’s forced perspective of “more stuff” and proposed communal usage of resources — receiving a round of applause which he admitted was unexpected.

The contingent gathered the next morning and held a pre-rally with speakers including Sara McClean from the Solidarity Ecosocialist Working Group, Chris Williams, David Schwartzman (member of the Metro DC Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Ecosocialism), and Nicholas (representative from Occupy Monsanto).
After the short speeches, the contingent joined the main rally, with chants including my favorite: “Ah! Goddamnit! Capitalism is killing the planet!”

[This summary was written by David Finkel, with reporting by Andy Woloszyn and other members of Solidarity. A statement written for the Ecosocialist Contingent, “Ecosocialism: The Time Is Now!” is online at http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/380. An earlier article by Kathryn Savoie, “Stop the Keystone Pipeline” (ATC 155, November-December 2011), is also online at http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/3426.]

March/April 2013, ATC 163