Nation’s largest climate protest brings attention to harmful Keystone pipeline

On Sunday, February 17, three cars departed from Vassar College at 5:00 a.m. en route to Washington D.C., where they met several other Vassar students among over 40,000 activists in front of the Washington Monument. This was the “biggest climate rally by far, by far, by far in U.S. history,” according to activist Bill McKibben, founder of, renowned author, and the keynote speaker at the march. At this march we asked President Obama to live up to his promise to move forward on climate change and reject the proposal for the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Keystone XL is a proposal for a pipeline that would stretch from Alberta, Canada down to the U.S., transporting crude oil extracted from Canadian tar sands across more than a thousand miles. Although there has been much dispute about the exact path of the pipeline, it would have to cut through some part of the Midwest and end up in the Gulf of Mexico. This path not only cuts through America’s heartland and a major aquifer, but also intrudes on the land of many Canadian indigenous tribes. Canadian energy company TransCanada, a self-described “leader in the responsible development and reliable operation of North American energy infrastructure,” is responsible for this project.

It is the duty of our generation to be insistent that this pipeline not be allowed for several reasons. The first is the fact that this pipeline poses a large threat to everywhere it passes through. The technology is not perfect. Leaks are inevitable. These leaks threaten to ruin the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest in the United States. This aquifer is responsible for the drinking water of millions of people, and also supplies water for a large amount of U.S. agriculture. But more importantly, we simply cannot allow the fossil fuels that this pipeline would bring us to enter our atmosphere. The dirty emissions from this pipeline only further climate change and do nothing to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign energy. This pipeline is thinking of the past; we cannot allow it because it does nothing to encourage an investment in clean renewable energies and technologies.

The February 17 protest, which began as a rally at noon with speakers such as Bill McKibben, Van Jones, indigenous leaders, a U.S. senator, and even a wealthy former investor, ended with a march that spanned several blocks around the capital, ending in front of the White House. The initial rally, led by Rev. Lennox Yearwood, got everyone excited with motivational and powerful speeches; 40,000 fists went up in solidarity with everyone who has had a hand in this fight. The rally was an important way for us to come together from different backgrounds, fields of speciality, and generations in order to stand collectively as one, unified people. The Keystone XL Pipeline is not an attack on the environment, it is an attack on people. Once in front of the White House, we turned our white signs over, above our heads, to form a large, black pipeline. As we marched, we chanted to Obama, “We are unstoppable. A better world is possible.”

After standing in the cold for four hours, we all piled back in our cars to return to Vassar by midnight, most of us having spent a full 12 hours in our car seats. This is not the first time Vassar has traveled to D.C. to take a stand specifically on the Keystone pipeline. In 2011, several Vassar students were arrested while protesting in front of the White House against the Pipeline. In November 2011, we also woke up at 5:00 a.m. to head to D.C.—although this act didn’t make us any better in pulling ourselves out of bed and into the cars this time around — only to return later that same afternoon. In 2011, we joined 10,000 others to form the first ever complete circle of protesters around the White House, followed by Obama’s initial rejection of the Keystone proposal several weeks later. Despite the enormous amount of work and organizing that we put in so far, we still had to come back this President’s Day—with 30,000 more friends—to make our feelings clear. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Rejecting this pipeline is of paramount importance to our future. As Bill McKibben pointed out in a personal web video he recently made for a campaign of the Vassar Greens, future generations are going to question what we did when we heard that the Arctic was melting, what we did when we saw unprecedented heat waves, and what we did when devastating natural disasters became an annual event? We will tell them that we stood up for the people who have already been affected by climate change, and for the future generations who will be affected with greater severity each day that our consumption of fossil fuels continues. We went to D.C. as many times as it took for us to be heard, and we are confident that we will win this fight for climate and social justice.


—Alli Crook ‘14 is a Philosophy major.

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