Right now, the largest climate rally ever is taking place in Washington, D.C. Indigenous leaders, climate activists and members of affected communities are telling their stories to a crowd of 50,000 people and demanding that President Obama halt the northern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline. As they make their voices heard, it is important to reflect that the fight against Keystone XL is about much more than asking a few privileged leaders to do the right thing. It’s about community resistance and resilience. It’s about traditionally marginalized people standing up to build a better future.
It’s not just about stopping the northern segment of KXL, but all of KXL. If the southern segment is completed, the fossil fuel industry will pump Athabascan tar sands to refineries along the Gulf. It’s about stopping the entire Keystone XL project, and doing it together in a way that works toward a more just, liberated world for all people, that strengthens our communities and prepares us for the coming storms and struggles of the twenty-first century.
Here are voices from some powerful women who have spent years fighting KXL in the north and the south:
Debra White Plume is a Lakota grandmother, director of the Owe Aku International Justice Project, and experienced blockader who was stopping Keystone XL machinery months before we at Tar Sands Blockade held our first action.
SHUT DOWN TAR SANDS by Debra White Plume
While citizens in Nebraska and all over the USA watched and waited for the decision of Nebraskan Governor Heinman to allow or prevent the construction of Transcanada’s Keystone XL pipeline in ‘his’ state, I cringed, because that mentality is damaging and part of the colonial construct. The Ogallala Aquifer does not acknowledge Governor Heinman. Nor does it acknowledge Secretary of State John Kerry, nor President Obama. I also cringed because another chamber of the heart of the matter is where the tar sands are being mined and what that mining is doing to the Boreal Forest, the Athabascan River watershed, and the Red Nations People and all of life in that area.
The dirty tar sands mines in northern Canada have wreaked havoc on the lands and waters and all of life there, only to feed the insatiable greed-monster of the fossil fuel industry. The discussion must include the need to get off the fossil fuel train wreck that is ruining the Earth to line the pockets of a few. It must include the realization that the time is now for all mankind to re-evaluate their true wants and needs and decide if they want this pipeline so badly that they are willing to wreck the delicate balance we have already hurt so much.
It boils down to personal responsibility. We must see the truth or else continue to live in the many levels of denial that we all construct and make excuses for what the industry is doing with our support as inactive human beings. People need to have courage and take the stand that this fossil fuel industry and the tar sands mine is wrong and work to shut it down before it is too late. Allowing the pipeline is not only contributing to the continuation of tar sands extraction in Canada; it also risks our sacred water here. It WILL leak and spill and when it does, it cannot be cleaned up. The technology does not exist.
We have to be brave and strong and take action to stop that pipeline and shut down the tar sands oil mine. Look at the bigger picture: what kind of system tells people to value “economic growth” over stopping the biggest threat to the Ogallala Aquifer as well as countless other watersheds and the global climate as well? Who will take a stand to defend sacred water? The sacred water must be preserved for our coming generations. It is their water.
I hope everyone in Washington DC tomorrow yells out 4 times “SHUT DOWN TAR SANDS” in a combined voice of 30,000. That would make this Grandmother very, very happy. And the Universe may be listening.
-Debra White Plume
Vicki Baggett, Kerry Lemon, and Kathy DaSilva are members of NacSTOP (Nacogdoches County Stop Tarsands Oil Permanently) and have been spent years organizing in East Texas against the southern portion of KXL.
Why I am going to Washington D.C. by Kerry Bryant Lemon
I am a lucky woman. I wake up in a quiet house where the songs of birds merge with the warmth of a fire in the wood heater and the smell of coffee. I live in the beautiful piney woods of East Texas and also in one of the largest natural gas fields in the country. Over the past 10 years my home has become a small wooded island in the midst of clear cuts and gas well pads. I have a natural gas transfer station on my land. New technologies have brought an inundation of drilling rigs, large trucks tearing up the roads, wasteful cutting of trees, intolerable noise, contamination of water and air, erosion problems in our waterways, and increased incidents of cancer in our communities. I have lived through fracking, and pipelines, strange sounds and odors, and a husband surviving leukemia. My closest neighbor is Exxon. In spite of public relation proclamations of being “good neighbors”, their presence in our lives has been disruptive and heartbreaking.
The southern leg of the TransCanada XL Pipeline is being constructed right now less than ten miles from my home. This is no ordinary pipeline. Probably what saved me from having this pipeline across my land is the already existing natural gas line that runs down my driveway and under my garden. My family has experienced firsthand the sickening realization that your land is not really your land in the face of big oil companies. What so many Americans don’t fully understand is that rural communities and people who are economically disenfranchised are being dumped on by the oil and gas industry. Those of us who have long family histories on these lands, those of us who have chosen to live outside the hectic life of big cities, and those of us who are just scrapping by day to day are all being forced to bear the burden of an industry that is more concerned with profit than safety, health, and quality of life.
Still…I am a lucky woman. I love my home, my gardens, my animals, and the trees that surround me. I love the earth – every part of her – the dark musky soil, the ancient rocks, the infinitely diverse green plants that cover her, the ever-changing sky that looks over her, the myriad of animals that wander across her – all of it.
I am going to Washington D.C. because I know about change. The accelerated climate change we are experiencing is happening because of the actions of humans. Humans have the unique gift of being dreamers and creators. We are not passive victims of change. We are participating partners in God’s world. We can make choices about what kind of change we want to support.
I am going to Washington D.C. because I want to make a statement that I AM HERE, that LOVING the earth is GOOD, that there is HOPE, that MIRACLES are possible. I believe that by coming together we can use our generous spirits, minds, and hands to create a larger vision that contains a future where the earth and her creatures live in balance together, where people live and work without fear, where all life is respected and considered. Every step toward a better world is an important one. I want to be part of any positive change that is coming.
-Kerry Bryant Lemon
How I Ended up at the Forward on Climate Rally in Washington, D.C. by Vicki Baggett
A dozen years ago I joined our local Sierra Group when it was reborn over a paper mill which was wreaking havoc on our local reservoir. Over the years I gradually became the organizer of the group—I sent the emails and planned a lot of the meetings. I was a reluctant volunteer, always wishing someone else would jump in and take over, but I knew that having a Sierra Club presence in our little town in conservative East Texas was important, so I kept on, waiting for that leader to come forth.
The pace picked up in November of 2010 when I received a call telling me that Sierra Club had Green Corps workers in Nacogdoches to address the Keystone XL issue. I was not familiar with the Keystone XL, or with the tar sands, but the Green Corps workers joyously filled a space for me at a difficult time — I was grieving the recent loss of my father. The month with them flew quickly: I learned about the pipeline, I learned about the tar sands’ threats to our water and to our health, I met land owners and learned about eminent domain abuse and about the pain of losing your land to a toxic pipeline.
We rallied the local Sierra supporters and the Earth Care Ministry of our church. We formed NacSTOP—Nacogdoches County Stop Tar Sands Oil Permanently. The Green Corps workers moved on and we were sent a new organizer. NacSTOP had meetings, showed movies, distributed petitions, attended hearings, talked to local officials. We thought we would be through in the spring of 2011 when the Final Environmental Impact Statement was due.
Fast forward to February, 2013. We have an expanding coalition of people and organizations who are fighting the pipeline in the ways they know best. We have activists coming to our little Baptist church who block the pipeline with their bodies and who show us a new vision for living in community. We have landowners boldly standing up to governmental agencies despite the odds. We support each others’ courage and hard work. We choke back tears when we drive by the right of way and witness the devastation and see the pipe being laid. We talk, we pray, we write letters, we do what we can. We do not give up hope.
This week finds several of us heading to Washington, D.C. to be part of a rally with tens of thousands of others who seek a solution to our misguided energy policies. We hope this visit to the capitol will make a difference, and as soon as we get home we will get back to work on the front lines of this pipeline battle.
This will be my third trip up to DC to protest the Keystone XL tar sand pipeline. Why do I still make the effort? by Kathy DaSilva
I live in a county in Texas crossed by the Keystone XL. In the almost three years I have been fighting this pipeline, I have come to know and care deeply about friends who will be living with this disaster crossing their land.
In this fight I have met people who signed contracts after being told the product transported would be crude oil, only to discover the toxic truth about the substance to soon flow within feet of their homes. I have met those who signed because they were told that the company had all of their permits in place (not true!) and that they would lose their land through eminent domain if they did not sign. The latter was unfortunately true; I have friends who have never signed a contract with TransCanada but lost their property anyway. They have lost old growth hardwoods, wetlands, clear springs and a peaceful existence to the devastation caused by the clear cutting for this pipeline. Friends are concerned about the quality of life for their children who will grow up feet from the next leak or spill of these carcinogenic chemicals flowing across their land.
There is something inherently wrong in our country when a foreign corporation can threaten and bully their way into the theft of property, solely for their own profit- and our politicians refuse to help. Of course, that just might have something to do with the number of our senators and congressfolk who are financially invested in the extraction of tar sands.
But first and foremost, the reason I will not give up this fight is because I believe we are living in the end times for our planet. This absolute certainty comes from the knowledge that we have pushed our carbon load on the atmosphere well beyond what is sustainable. If we continue with the extraction of tar sands, we will be pushed beyond the point of recovery for life on earth.
In our greed for material comfort we have lost our balance and endangered the quality of life we are leaving for future generations. Climate scientists have said that our atmosphere can tolerate no more than 350 parts per million carbon atoms in the atmosphere before we start seeing devastating hurricanes, melting polar ice caps, rising seas, major droughts and rising temperatures. Look around at what is happening. We currently stand at 392 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
I return to DC with cautious optimism that if we keep raising the alarm, people will wake up to what is happening to our planet. I believe there is still time to halt and possibly reverse the damage we are doing before it is too late.
I stand in support of friends who are now family, who fight with me against the extraction and exportation of tar sands.