11/10/2011 09:35 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

How the 99 Percent Beat Keystone XL

Sometimes, the 99 percent win.

On Thursday afternoon, President Obama announced that the State Department will be sending plans for TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline back to the drawing board. Most analysts think the 12- to 18-month delay will cause enough cost overruns and missed contracts that TransCanada will have to scrap the project altogether.

Keystone XL was going to be another fuse to the largest carbon bomb in North America: the Canadian tar sands. The tar sands are the dirtiest fuel on the face of the planet, and our top climate scientist says fully exploiting them could be "essentially game over" for the climate. We haven't defused the bomb yet, but fighting Keystone has taught us a lot about how to dismantle it.

This fight started in indigenous communities in Canada and quickly spread down the pipeline route to ranchers in Nebraska and farmers in Texas. National environmental groups picked up the beat a while back. But it was the bravery of 1,253 people that transformed Keystone XL from a regional fight into the most important environmental question facing President Obama before the 2012 election.

For two weeks this August, one person after another was led away from the White House in handcuffs protesting Keystone XL. The sit-in united a uniquely diverse movement, from consummate D.C. insiders to indigenous leaders to Tea Party supporters. I was arrested on the second Wednesday with an architect from Philadelphia, a lawyer from National Resources Defense Council, and Darryl Hannah.

From those 1,253 people, the movement quickly spread. Protests met President Obama at nearly every public campaign stop. Groups of 50 to 100 people started visiting Obama for America offices to say, "We're not going to donate or volunteer for your campaign until President Obama lives up to the promises he made in 2008, stands up to Big Oil, and kills this pipeline." Hundreds of people were arrested in Ottawa to turn up the heat on the Canadian government. And this Sunday, more than 12,000 people surrounded the White House in a Keystone XL protest.

"We stand here right now because we are at our lunch counter moment for the 21st century," bellowed Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus from rally stage. And indeed, just as the lunch counter sit-ins helped pioneer and spread new tactics for the civil rights movement, the fight against Keystone XL has taught us a great deal about how to escalate this fight against the greenhouse gangsters pushing catastrophic climate change.

"If there's a lesson of the last few months, both in our work and in the Occupy encampments around the world, it's that sometimes we have to put our bodies on the line," wrote Bill McKibben in an email to Tar Sands Action supporters after the administration announcement.

Putting our bodies on the line can mean many things, from engaging in acts of civil disobedience to turning out in the streets to occupying our public spaces. If we've been too wooed by the ease of digital activism, the fight against Keystone XL and OWS are a reminder that our strongest tools are still offline. And that boldness indeed has a certain magic it to it -- this movement spread like wildfire not because it was easy, but because its very difficulty made it feel real and meaningful to millions of people.

We'll be dissecting and parsing this victory for weeks to come. And we'll be ready the second the Keystone XL zombie raises its head again. There are many more fights down the road, and the tar sands bomb is still ticking up in Canada, with more fuses being stuck in from every side.

Today, we'll be celebrating. Tomorrow, we'll be back in the fight. Big Oil is the 1 percent, and we've put them on notice.