Protesters push Obama to resist the influence of the oil industry and stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
It’s hard to get away from corporations’ influence in Washington, D.C. Even at the new
Martin Luther King Jr. memorial this weekend, I noted that the sponsors list, etched on a stone wall, was a litany of the most recognizable corporate heavy-hitters—including Walmart, ExxonMobil, Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers, PepsiCo, and BP. An ironic tribute to a man who openly questioned capitalism and the deep gap between rich and poor.
Over the past two days, I watched more than 200 people get arrested in protests that are attempting to push back against the oil industry’s influence
on a key decision that President Obama is about to make. In total, there have been more than 700 arrests since the demonstrations began. In their signs and speeches, the protesters draw self-consciously on King’s legacy of civil disobedience, but many are not seasoned activists. Most of the people I met at the White House gates were core supporters of Obama in 2008. They put their weight and energy into Obama’s campaign, knocking on doors to deliver him a landslide. Three years later, they are angry and frustrated with the president.
The protests focus on stopping the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Texas and allow major oil companies to ramp up Alberta tar sands production, refinement, and export. NASA scientist James Hansen, who was arrested at Monday’s protest, says that exploiting Canada’s vast tar sands reserves for fuel would ultimately be “game over” for climate change—no chance of reducing emissions in time to avert disaster. A cable unearthed by WikiLeaks suggests the administration is predisposed to sign off on Keystone XL. Many of the protesters would see such a decision as a betrayal....
Each morning protesters walk in two solemn lines toward the White House gates and allow themselves to be rounded up by police. The activists hail from every region of the country. Celebrities and environmental leaders have joined the demonstrations. On Monday, a gathering of preachers, rabbis, and other faith leaders participated. They sang spirituals from the civil rights era as they were handcuffed.