While we were in the midst of a sea of 40,000 to 50,000 people at the largest climate rally in U.S. history, I shouted call-and-response chants with two friends from Maryland, one of whom was riding on my shoulders to get a look at the size of the crowd. When my neck hurt too much to continue, I set my friend down. After asking her about how big the march was, she said, "Dude, this is huge! There's no way Obama can ignore this!"
But the funny thing was Obama actually was ignoring us. While a crowd the size of Perth, Scotland, covered six lanes of D.C. streets for several long blocks on a frigid and windy February day and getting extensive media coverage all over the world, President Obama was playing golf with a Texas businessman who makes his money in the fossil fuel industry. To put that in perspective, the president left town during a historic rally pressuring him to take action to reject a pipeline, in order to play a game based on egregious wasting of natural resources with someone who does business with Anadarko, an oil/gas/pipeline company.
The 2/17 Forward on Climate rally, which brought together people from almost every state to DC, was organized to make the president act on his talk of addressing climate change by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline for good. Obama said no to the original pipeline route last year after several well-attended protests in Washington, mostly because he was running for re-election and didn't want to demoralize his base.
Transcanada, the company proposing the 2,000-plus mile pipeline that would dredge dirty oil from the Alberta Tar Sands and pipe it through the great plains to be refined in Houston, Texas, to be exported to other countries, wasn't worried. After all, Obama hired a former Transcanada lobbyist to be a senior adviser for his reelection campaign. And he still gave the green light to build the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas and Oklahoma. While our president extolled the courage of pro-Democracy protesters in Egypt during the foreign policy debate last October, he hasn't even acknowledged the American protesters who have been tazed and pepper-sprayed by police, at the encouragement of Transcanada, while simply trying to nonviolently halt construction of the pipeline. And that kind of civil disobedience will be what will truly win this fight for the preservation of our Earth.
As the march circled back to the Washington Monument, I noticed Ray Lewis, a retired Philadelphia Police Department captain, wearing a police uniform and holding a sign that read, "WARNING: MASSIVE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE IS NEXT." Some may have read that as a warning to Transcanada and the Obama administration, but I read that as a warning to the rally's participants. Obama's deference to the fossil fuel industry has been clear, whether it was his boasting of an all-time high in domestic oil production during his State of the Union address, or in his "all of the above" approach to energy, which mostly involves oil drilling and fracking. He may very likely defy tens of thousands of protesters and green light the construction of Keystone XL. And in that case, everyone who came to the Forward on Climate rally must be just as willing to chain themselves to pipeline equipment as they were to travel across the country and march in freezing temperatures and high winds in DC.
Some may have defined the rally as a plea on bended knee to President Obama, urging him to do the right thing and reject the pipeline. I saw it more as tens of thousands of people announcing their defiance to the White House -- we know he'll build the pipeline, and we came to DC to let him and the whole world know that we won't let that happen. And we're willing to risk our freedom to ensure that the pipeline will never get built.