By Courtenay Lewis, Tar Sands Campaign Representative
A criticism sometimes leveled at "environmentalists" is that we care more about trees than people. Perhaps we unwittingly reinforce this stereotype-we sometimes use images of burning globes to symbolize climate change and the consequences of fossil fuel development -- when in fact, for many climate and energy campaigns, working to protect human livelihoods and rights is a fundamental motivation.
Too often we fail to put faces to the individuals who suffer as a direct consequence of a society addicted to fossil fuels, and those who are bravely fighting corporations and sometimes even governments to protect their land, water, and communities.
However, Reject and Protect was an inspiring weeklong event in which human faces took center stage. From April 22-27, farmers, ranchers, and members of tribal communities along the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route, as well as First Nation representatives whose communities are being devastated by tar sands development in Canada, came to Washington, D.C., and set up an encampment on the National Mall.
Below, fourth-generation Nebraska rancher Ben Gotschall, who has been speaking out against the KXL pipeline for several years.
With the aim of showing the Obama administration the faces of people who would be affected by Keystone XL, the "Cowboy Indian Alliance" led a week of actions which included an opening ceremony with ranchers and tribal leaders on horseback, daily water ceremonies, and a march and ceremonial tipi gifting ceremony which was joined by thousands of people on Saturday April 26th.
The Sierra Club's Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska chapters and partners including Idle No More held solidarity events that same day in Oklahoma City and Lincoln, Nebraska, featuring landowner and tribal representatives who are playing leadership roles in the fight against Keystone XL.
This week also marked a Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle spiritual encampment in Green Grass, South Dakota, where Native nations came together to pray for communities living at the source of tar sands development.