12,000 Surround White House to Protest Tar Sands Pipeline
On Sunday, November 6—one year to the day from the 2012 presidential election—an estimated 12,000 citizens rallied in Washington, D.C., calling on President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. The 1,700-mile pipeline, a project of the TransCanada Corporation, would carry tar sands crude oil south from Alberta through six states to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
The Sierra Club, one of the main movers-and-shakers behind Sunday's demonstration, originally envisioned that 5,000 people would form a human chain around the White House. But well over twice that many people turned out, surrounding the presidential residence three-deep, encircling the equivalent of eight city blocks.
"We're going to work to make sure that Americans across the country have a voice, and that the president will stand up with us," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, above at microphone, told the crowd at adjacent Lafayette Square after the encircle-the-White House event.
Also among the speakers was author/organizer and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, below, who described the encirclement as both "a big hug" and "a symbolic house arrest."
"We thought we could get enough people to ring the White House—something that apparently hadn't been done since the 1960s," McKibben said in an interview with Democracy Now. "As it turned out ... people surrounded the White House three, four, and five deep. It underlined that this has become not only the biggest environmental flashpoint in many, many years, but maybe the issue in recent times when President Obama has been most directly confronted by people in the street."
Indeed, most of the demonstrators—at this and other recent rallies around the country opposing the pipeline—were Obama supporters who want the President to make good on his 2008 campaign pledge to make the U.S. "free from the tyranny of oil."
Earlier this year, approval of the Keystone pipeline was shifted from the EPA to the State Department, which is coming under intense scrutiny for a possible conflict of interest after public hearings on the project were run by a Transcanada contractor. President Obama announced last week that he, not the State Department, would make the final decision on whether to approve the pipeline.
Mining of the Alberta tar sands, which entails clear-cutting of ancient boreal forest, has been called one of the most destructive projects on earth. The mining process leaves behind giant toxic lakes, and the refining of tar sands crude oil creates far more air pollution than conventional oil.