“Keep your oil out of my soil,” and “Even Voldemort hates tar sand.” These were just two of the hundreds of signs carried by student protesters from around the country this past weekend, marching to the steps of the White House in protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline. On Sunday afternoon, while most of us were skiing, working, or relaxing, 398 of more than 1,000 student protestors at the demonstration were arrested. The march from Georgetown University to the While House was organized by a student organization called XL DISSENT, comprised of students from fifty US colleges with Student Divestment Campaigns.
XL DISSENT aims to inform President Obama that the Keystone XL pipeline will be “game over” for our already vulnerable and abused planet. The hope is that if enough colleges, universities, and major companies express their opposition to the pipeline, the President will get the message that the public does not approve of the project, despite the oil industry’s pressure to follow through.
This protest is being called the largest student display of peaceful civil disobedience in a generation. Students from over 80 colleges were present at the rally, which was very strategically organized. The march started at 10:30 a.m. at Georgetown University, and the first stop was Secretary of State John Kerry’s house. Outside Kerry’s home, the demonstrators rolled out a massive black tarp and acted out a mock oil spill. While Obama has the final say over Keystone’s fate, his decision will be almost entirely dependent on Kerry’s assessment as articulated through a report due in the coming months.
Next, the mass walked to Lafayette Park, across from the White House, where speakers rallied up the crowd before their final grand demonstration. The speakers included youth Indigenous leaders and city council members whose communities are in the direct route of the proposed pipeline. These communities would disproportionately experience the harmful ecological and economic impacts of the project. As the speeches ended, a resounding roar broke amongst the crowd, and hundreds of students surged toward the White House fence and secured themselves to the metal posts with plastic handcuffs.
This historical event is a testament to our generation’s commitment to ensuring a reasonably safe planet on which to live, work, and form a family. Diplomacy, literature, and lobbying have clearly not been enough to persuade the government to close the prospect of Keystone entirely. Any historic political movement revolves around advocates who push legal boundaries without significantly reducing their agency to continue participating in the movement. Such a situation is beginning to emerge with the CC Student Divestment movement (SDC).
Last week, unknown members of the SDC painted the Armstrong and Worner campus area with washable graffiti on behalf of divestment. The reasoning behind this action was to educate the student body and the board that divestment is still a movement that the community deeply cares about and non-violent measures will continue to be taken as long as the board rejects the notion of divestment. So far, the SDC has been overly civilized, giving detailed presentations to the board and writing formal letters requesting meeting engagements with administrators and the board about the responsibility to divest. The movement on campus has not yet crept into boundary-pushing activities such as sit-ins in administrative offices, or refusal to attend class. However, that is not to say that these options have not been considered and are in works, supposing the board does not bring up any willingness to acknowledge divestment in the near future.
The SDC is looking for the many community members who believe that CC should divest our endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in socially responsible investments such as renewable energy companies. I see great hope in young students bringing back the grassroots activism that has previously supported positive and peaceful change in our country.