Nick Stracco, @TUgreenclub
February 26, 2013


Above: Nick Stracco discusses the degradation of coastal wetlands in Louisiana with a media outlet at the Keystone XL pipeline protest.

Driving for a total of 36 hours only to be at the final destination for less than 24 hours did not seem like a trip I was going to be able to pitch well to many people. Miraculously, I found 20 people from Tulane Green Club, Loyola University, and the Sierra Club to make the trip with me from New Orleans to the Keystone XL pipeline rally in Washington, DC. The rally, organized by 350.org and the Sierra Club, was created to demand President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would bring tar sands oil down from Alberta through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma to refineries in Texas for export through the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmental groups demand the pipeline be denied, citing it as a further investment in dirty fossil fuels that President Obama should not be making, particularly after both his inaugural speech and his State of the Union speech used strong language promising to take action on climate change. A Cornell University study concluded the pipeline would bring in mostly two year long temporary construction jobs, along with 20-100 permanent jobs. The study also concludes that the pipeline could raise gas prices in the Midwest by diverting gas from there, thus killing more jobs the pipeline would create. The Final Environmental Impact Statement by the Department of State found CO2 emissions from the pipeline would be “equivalent to annual greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of fuels in 588,000 to 4,061,000 passenger vehicles.”

But enough of the sciency stuff. So it’s Friday afternoon. Just after class all twenty of us rush to the vans and cram in and hit the road. We stopped in Knoxville and spent Friday night at a Unitarian Universalist Church. We made it in to DC Saturday night. The big rally was on Sunday.

Sunday morning came and we all gathered up our signs we had made a few days prior to hold during the rally. We walked over to the Metro and hopped on. As we got closer to the National Mall we started to see more and more people with signs in their hands. Ah, fellow activists! Eventually we emerged from the train onto the National Mall and walked to the Washington Monument where speakers were on stage speaking out against the pipeline. I’m glad the speakers were a diverse group: one from the Hip Hop Caucus, a couple from indigenous communities, an investment banker, a woman representing Latino communities, leaders of the Sierra Club and 350.org, Van Jones, and many others that riled up the crowd.

Then it was time to hit the streets. Everybody from the field began marching to the White House holding up their signs. One man held a sign that said “The last tree on Easter Island was cut down by a Republican.” One sign a Green Club member was holding said “There is no planet B.” A group of black protesters received lots of media attention for an extra large banner that read “Why is it easier for white people to think like a mountain than like a person of color?” A Tulane alum was there with his brother who was holding a sign that read “Why is it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism?”

As we walked to the White House people started chanting. Among the most memorable were “Michelle Obama tell your man! Stop the dirty pipeline plan!” or “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” People kept coming up with new chants every couple minutes. Our group of New Orleanians started one that went “This change, we create! Our wetlands are at stake!”

I had a large sign with a map of Louisiana on it depicting the amount of coastal loss given a 1 meter sea level rise, which is now known to be lower than the optimistic estimates. The grim image generated lots of attention from photographers and radio shows.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, reported estimates of 50,000 people in attendance. After the crowd thinned out at the end, we saw a group of people wearing matching yellow shirts that said “Anti Nuclear + Anti Coal = Pro Blackout.” They were astroturf: fake grassroots people paid by big money interests. The group, called the Center for Industrial Progress, argued with us for a while about the reality of climate change. One woman with them claimed that “the climate has only changed one degree centigrade” so far as a result of human activity. When I told her the difference between an ice age and an interglacial period can be around five degrees, she simply said, “No, it’s not.” We argued with them for far longer than we should have. They had a film crew and were simply trying to instigate angry remarks to make environmentalists sounds crazy.

In the end it was an incredible weekend. Being around a group of over 40,000 people who all care about the same thing as you has this certain feeling to it that you can’t quite describe. Oh, and it later came out that while we were at his door screaming about tar sands oil, President Obama was playing golf with oil executives in Florida. Go figure.

Nick Stracco is the President of the Tulane Green Club and a student in Melissa Harris-Perry’s class “Politics of Environmental Justice.” You can follow the work of the Tulane Green Club on their blog or on twitter @TUgreenclub.

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