It is a pivotal time for the movement opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline and twenty other proposed fossil fuel export projects in our region. The line has been drawn in the tar sand and the American people are anxiously anticipating President Obama’s next move. Over two hundred events were organized across the U.S.A. and Canada, culminating on, September 21, 2013, to draw the line after two years of fighting to stunt the progress of Keystone XL.These protests stood up to oppose fossil-fuel export as well as the mounting pressure to excavate Canadian tar sands oil and funnel it from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska through a pipeline which will connect with existing structures in order to reach the gulf coast. From coal trains and oil export terminals to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas, the northwest is a hub, making us “the epicenter of this fossil-fuel fight,” according to Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica. Public concern varies from ecological ramifications of increased carbon emissions to threats to native territories and the hazard of the project itself on the quality of human life.
In Washington, the protest Draw the Line: the Northwest says NO! to Fossil Fuel Export, organized by 350.org Seattle, gathered at 11 a.m. on Saturday in Myrtle Edwards Park, north of Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Garden. Attendance numbered at nearly two thousand people with an eclectic mix of children, teenagers, adults and seniors gathered among the eight different tents offering workshops on a range of environmental challenges. The park was a vision of brightly colored banners and flags, all displaying anti-fossil fuel slogans. Handmade signs rising ten feet lined the stretch of the park’s borders, endorsing organizations such as the Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Plant for the Planet, and others came prepared with pamphlets, bumper stickers, and activities geared to educate and entertain the wide array of participants.
As the event progressed, children from the iMatter organization posed a mock standoff with an oncoming cardboard coal train. As the train conductors shouted “Coal, oil, gas!” while chugging toward the picket line, the children retorted “None shall pass!” with outstretched hands a moving display of civil disobedience. At 1 p.m., the master of ceremonies, an enthusiastic Adam Gaya of 350.org Seattle, took the stage to invigorate the crowd and introduce the upcoming speakers. In turn, Sundance Chief Reuben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, Erich Pica, 350.org Seattle’s founder Lynn Fitz-Hugh, her daughter Sara Grendon, Chief Phil Lane Jr. of the Yankton Sioux and Chickasaw Nations, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, and lastly environmental leader, author, and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben spoke out against fossil fuel corporations exports throughout the country.
Speeches throughout the afternoon followed a common thread: time is running out to make changes to save our planet. Mayor McGinn, a huge proponent for divesting the city of Seattle’s holdings from fossil-fuel companies, brought the ticking clock to the forefront when he made a poignant statement that “we’re the first generation to really see the effects of climate change, and the last to be able to do anything about it.” Petitions made their rounds and brightly colored shirts proclaimed that the time for change is now, but 350.org’s Seattle branch founder Lynn Fitz-Hugh reminded everyone that “[society has] been asleep for two decades. There’s a resounding silence on Climate Change in the media.” Her call for action encouraged others to take a very real, physical stance against any fossil fuel ventures. Sundance Chief Reuben George echoed the sentiment when he said, “Fifty years from now, when they ask me what I’d done, I can say I stood up.”
Chants and cheers spread through the park as each speaker ignited the passion of the crowd. Bill McKibben, while regularly a voice of pessimistic warning, brought words of hope, reminding everyone that two years ago many people thought the KXL Pipeline was a foregone conclusion, but it has yet to be approved. That thought is buoying enough to lead McKibben to say, “There might be a way, there might be a possibility that we may actually block this damn XL Pipeline after all.”