Environmental leaders and activists handcuff themselves to the White House gate on February 13, 2013. (George Zornick)
As an administration decision on Keystone XL looms—Secretary of State John Kerry said last week it would come in the “near term”—the protests and civil disobedience in Washington are heating up once again.
It’s hard to say that the initial postponement of the pipeline wasn’t a direct result of the protests outside the White House in summer 2011, which were the largest acts of civil disobedience undertaken by the environmental movement in decades and thrust the pipeline into the national spotlight. So it makes sense that the same crowd is back again to try to push the White House away from approval.
A throng of at least 200 people gathered in Lafayette Park outside the White House on Wednesday morning, only about 12 hours after Obama had finished his State of the Union speech. (The president talked extensively about climate change, but did not mention the pipeline.) Speakers rallied up the crowd and portrayed the Keystone pipeline as a seminal moment in the environmental movement—something that was important not just because of the deleterious carbon emissions it will create, but also because stopping it has become a symbolic fight for the burgeoning environmental movement. “This is our Birmingham,” said Reverend Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus.
The crowd then moved towards the White House, with about 50 protestors marching directly to the White House gate and cuffing themselves to it or sitting down, both of which are against US Park Police regulations for protests. They held a large banner that implored the president to “Lead on Climate—Reject KXL Pipeline.”
The crowd at the gate included Bill McKibben, head of 350.org, the actress Daryl Hannah, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., NASA Scientist James Hansen, Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director and Julian Bond, former head of the NAACP. Notably, this was the first time the Sierra Club engaged in civil disobedience in its 120-year history.
After three warnings from police, the crowd was placed verbally under arrest and then handcuffed and taken to a staging area one by one, as a nearby crowd of supporters chanted “Hey, Obama, we don’t want no climate drama.”
The actress Daryl Hannah is arrested by US Park Police outside the White House. (George Zornick)
The protest was smaller than last time, when over the course of several days over 1,000 people were arrested outside the White House. Another large-scale rally, with no arrests planned, is scheduled for this weekend.
It’s even more crucial this time around for the movement to mobilize public support for rejecting the pipeline—there’s no election hanging over Obama’s head, and every indication so far is that the administration may be leaning towards approval.