By Shirley Galbraith
Photos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now*
Thousands protest in the largest climate protest in history in Washington D.C. on Sunday, Feb.17, 2013. (Photos by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)*
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- We knew there would be a crowd but the numbers exceeded our expectations by far: Over 120 buses arrived from all over the country, in addition to many individual hardy souls who found their own transportation. All gathered at Washington Square on Sunday, Feb. 17, to send a President's Day message to President Obama to stop choosing money over human lives. By not supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline, he would restore our faith in his promises to protect our earth from toxic climate change.
Protesters display their sign as participants gather for the largest climate protest to date.
We were truly excited to be part of this historic event, the biggest protest so far, with over 40,000 crying out for the future of our planet. We had driven 8 hours from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to a small Amtrak station in Indiana, and then spent 15 hours on the train to Washington DC with little sleep. But that didn't put a damper on our spirits. On the train we were happy to meet up with 180 friends from Minnesota, representing an organization called Mn350 whose mission is to inspire Minnesotans to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis and create a sense of new possibilities for our planet.
Members of Mn350, a Minnesota group concerned about climate change, were on the same train with Shirley Galbraith and Allan Baker of Houghton, Mich., author and photographer of this article -- all heading for the Keystone Pipeline protest held on Feb. 17, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
Included in this large group were several high school and junior high school students, according to Julia Nerbonne, their lead convener. Energy and hopes were high as speakers spoke and singers sang while the train rumbled along.
Freezing temperatures and strong wind did little to daunt those of us at the rally as we jumped up and down to keep warm, waved clean energy signs, chanted, and listened to several inspiring speakers.
After hearing from leaders of the climate movement in a rally of thousands near the Washington monument, energized protesters, many carrying signs calling for clean energy and "Forward on Climate," gather in front of the White House to send President Obama their message.
Reverent Lennox Yearwood of the "Hip Hop Caucus" kept us moving and energized. Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, reported several positive results of their efforts including the shutting down of over 300 power plants and an increase in wind and solar power units.
We were almost ashamed to be from Michigan, where our governor wants to go ahead with fracking! Crowd members called this "rotten!"
Signs reflect a wide variety of groups and individuals, young and older, participating in the Feb. 17 Keystone Pipeline protest.
Bill McKibben, climate activist, urged us to make sure our planet does not overheat with a "carbon bomb" that, he said, would be the result of approving the Pipeline.**
Van Jones, a former greenhouse specialist, said, "If you don't fight for what you want, you deserve what you get." He appealed to the younger generation, stating, "Stop being chumps -- you deserve to have a future."
And if Obama does approve the Pipeline, Jones said, it would define Obama in history’s eyes.
"Every other gain this president has done will be erased over the next ten, twenty, thirty years by floods, by fires, by droughts, by super storms. His legacy is on the line,” Jones noted.
These parents brought their children to the Keystone Pipeline protest. As several speakers at the event noted, clean energy is necessary for the future of present and future generations.
Rosario Dawson, an actress and environmental activist, talked about saying yes to our health and not listening to arguments that tar sands and fracking are safe.
Tom Steyer, a billionaire investment fund manager in California and major fundraiser for Obama, spoke as a strong foe of the Keystone project. He said proponents of the Pipeline claim "it is business as usual because we use fossil fuels. But the time for business as usual has passed."
Two protesters display their sign asking for change from political leaders who have failed to recognize the threat that fossil fuels pose to the health of the planet.
Most impressive and heart-rending were our indigenous friends from tribes in Canada, the United States, and British Columbia. Jacqueline Thompson, Saik'uz first Nation Chief of the Indian Alliance which represents 135 First Nations in Canada, described the Pipeline crisis as a human issue that impacts all people.
"We are all connected," she emphasized. "Irresponsible, environment-damaging projects put our communities, our water, our culture, our land, our fish, our animals, and most importantly, our plants, at risk. It puts at risk my neighbors to the east of me that live at the tar sands. The government doesn’t recognize these people, and these people have been dying of mysterious cancers. Their water is polluted; their animals are sick; and Mother Earth is sick."
As we marched to the White House and back, spirits were high. We chatted with others as we walked up Constitution Avenue and a sense of camaraderie prevailed despite the chilling wind.
Bundled up against the cold weather, protesters march toward the White House.
Later that evening while warming up, we watched parts of the rally on TV. We were amazed to learn that while we were participating in the largest climate rally ever, urging President Obama to enforce better standards for carbon pollution, and reject the KXL toxic Pipeline, the President was golfing in Florida with a couple of Texans who are key oil, gas and pipeline players.
In front of the White House, protesters send their President's Day message to President Obama even though he isn't home.
No one would deny the President a day of recreation, but his choice of partners made us feel a little shaky about whether he will indeed honor the promises he made at his second Inaugural and State of the Union addresses, namely to prioritize and confront climate change by preserving our resources. Well, it remains to be seen. Whose side will he be on? Hmm…sigh….
* Guest writer Shirley Galbraith and her husband, Keweenaw Now photographer and videographer Allan Baker, previously shared their impressions of the Nov. 6, 2011, Keystone Pipeline protest with Keweenaw Now readers. Click here to read their 2011 article with photos and videos.
** Bill McKibben is president and founder of 350.org, chief organizers of the Keystone Pipeline protest. "350 means climate safety," the group notes in their mission statement. "To preserve our planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million to below 350 ppm. But 350 is more than a number -- it's a symbol of where we need to head as a planet."
Visit www.350.org to read more and see photos and videos of the Feb. 17, 2013, Forward on Climate protest.