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Tar Sands Pipeline Protest at the White House: A Huge Success and a Historic Turning Point

I spent Sunday standing with as many as 15,000 people in an enormous circle around the White House. All of us came to tell President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil.
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I just had one of the most energizing days of my life. I spent Sunday standing with as many as 15,000 people in an enormous circle around the White House. All of us came to tell President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil.

This remarkable assembly of Nebraska ranchers, Midwestern union members, First Nations leaders, and environmentalists from across the country was so large our ring around the White House was ten people deep at points.

I have been an environmental advocate for more than four decades, and this was the largest environmental demonstration I've ever witnessed. Earth Day events may be bigger, but those are celebrations. This was a protest against a polluting and dangerous project.

The coming together of people across North America to fight the Keystone XL pipeline is an amazing reawakening. Our environmental movement is coming alive again under the leadership of Bill McKibben and NRDC and so many other organizations and communities who have brought us to where we were on Sunday afternoon: gathered at the People's House saying no to dangerous fossil fuels and yes to sustainable solutions.

Reverend Jim Wallis told the crowd, "Whenever you have an addiction, you've got to have an intervention. This rally is an intervention." He also observed, "I'm a preacher, and this feels like a revival for the clean energy future."

Roger Touissant, the president of Transit Workers Union said this clean energy future will deliver jobs. "We need to stand against the lies and deception that this pipeline will create jobs," he told the crowd. "President Obama, we want jobs, but not jobs as gravediggers for the planet."

Several people who live on along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route spoke about the threat this project poses to their communities and their precious water source, the Ogallala Aquifer. First Nations leaders who've lived with tar sands destruction confirmed their fears. Gerald Amos of the Haisla Nation in British Columbia said, "I live 6 kilometers from a pipeline. I am convinced the remnants of my culture will not survive an oil spill."

I was especially moved by the young people in the crowd, some of whom came all the way from Florida. These kids know their generation will be on the frontlines of the climate crisis if we don't act now.

But the leader of the day was Bill McKibben, the founder of and TarSandsAction. Not only was he was an eloquent and charismatic master of ceremonies, he also helped set the stage for Sunday's event.

Ever since Congress failed to pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation , many environmentalists felt dispirited. But in August, Bill organized a dignified protest against Keystone XL outside the White House during which 1,200 people were arrested, including farmers, ranchers, religious leaders, law professors, and environmentalists.

The arrests got the Obama Administration's attention. They also galvanized voters, gave them a reason to get back out there and demand President Obama deliver on his clean energy promises. The demonstration on Sunday added thousands of voices to the effort, and there was no way the president failed to hear our call.

I am so proud of NRDC's role in this fight. Our scientific and economic research has formed the foundation for battle against Keystone XL, and on Sunday, more than 100 NRDC staffers, members, and donors took their place in the ring around the White House.

I believe Sunday's Keystone XL pipeline protest will mark a turning point in environmental history. Our movement has wrapped its arms around dirty fuels, and we won't let go until we break their hold on our nation. Energy companies are chasing oil to the ends of the Earth. They've already taken the easy stuff. Now they are going after the places we live in, the places we love. And they are doing it with the most destructive practices imaginable: deepwater drilling, mountaintop removal mining, fracking, tar sands strip mining.

I believe change happen in waves, and I think the tide is turning against dirty fuels. The flood of protests over the Keystone XL pipeline should persuade President Obama to reject this dangerous venture. But even if it doesn't, a rejuvenated environmental movement will join with all those Americans who know our future will be built on clean innovation, not dirty destruction.

Photo credits: Suzanne Struglinski

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard post.

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