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'XL Dissent': Students Plan Mass Direct Action on Obama's Doorstep

Youth-led day of civil disobedience will denounce Keystone XL pipeline and the president's "all-of-the-above" fossil fuel energy strategy

- Jon Queally, staff writer

(Photo credit: "Overpass Light Brigade")Not satisfied to wait quietly or sit idly as the Obama administration continues its deliberations over the approval or rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, students from over fifty U.S. colleges have announced their intention to organize and partake in an "unprecedented" day of protest and direct action at the White House in less than three weeks.

In a "manifesto" sent out Tuesday explaining their purpose and promote what they're calling "XL Dissent," the students say their goal is to "set the record for the largest single-day act of civil disobedience at the White House in American history" as they denounce the Keystone XL pipeline and the President Obama's "all-of-the-above" energy which they (not to mention climate and energy experts) say is driving the dual crises of global warming and climate change.

"We are young, awaiting a future fraught with uncertainty," the statement reads. "This will not deter us from participating in an act of civil disobedience. Indeed it has compelled us to organize one."

Scheduled for Sunday, March 2nd, the youth-led action will take place following a national student divestment conference on Saturday in the nation's capital.

Though the organizers and co-signers of the call to action hail from schools large and small, public and private, and from all over the country, the message from the students is unified. As they continue to coordinate logistics and raise the necessary funds, the students say the president has no wiggle room in order to meet their demands.

“Obama was the first President I voted for, and I want real climate action and a rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Nick Stracco, a senior at Tulane University. “The people that voted him into office have made it absolutely clear what we want, and that’s to reject Keystone XL.”

"We are young, awaiting a future fraught with uncertainty. This will not deter us from participating in an act of civil disobedience. Indeed it has compelled us to organize one." —'XL Dissent' manifesto

And Aly Johnson-Kurts, who is taking a gap year from Smith College to help fight the climate crisis, said: “As young people, the Keystone XL pipeline assures irreversible environmental destruction. We stand in solidarity with First Nations communities and other groups on the front lines who have been fighting Tar Sands development for years, and call on President Obama to reject this pipeline to prevent climate catastrophe from defining our future.”

Though the industry has tried to suggest that the expansion of Canada's tar sands mines will continue with or without the construction of the Keystone XL, the students reject that as self-interested, corporate spin.

As The Nation's Peter Rothberg recently reported:

The tar sands, also known as the oil sands, are one of the largest remaining deposits of oil in the world, and efforts to extract the resource from a mix of clay and other materials underneath Canada’s Boreal forest have created the biggest, and by the accounts of numerous scientists and environmental groups, one of the most environmentally devastating energy projects on earth. For details and background, the Natural Resources Defense Council has compiled an extensive document.

The Keystone XL fight has become an iconic issue for environmentally minded young people across the country, many of whom are involved in local campaigns to help stop the pipeline or the broader fossil fuel divestment campaign, which has spread to over 300 universities across the United States.

"Rejecting Keystone XL will help keep the tar sands where they belong, buried safely in the ground," the students say. "It will protect communities that are already struggling to survive. And it will send a resounding message that the days of unchecked fossil fuel recklessness are coming to an end."

Receiving a shout out from 350.org co-founders Bill McKibben and Phil Aroneau on Tuesday, the group's crowd-funding effort received a publicity bump when the respected activists and author tweeted:

Others continued to use the #XLDissent hashtag to support the organizers and spread the word via social media:

And the XL Dissent "manifesto" signed by student activists follows:

For a handful of multimillionaires, Keystone XL would be a dream come true. Koch Industries alone expect to rake in $100,000,000,000 if it is built, which for perspective, is as much as the federal government spends annually on education.  Yet for us, a generation of young people awaiting their future, the pipeline would be a nightmare.

The Keystone XL pipeline, if approved, would carry over 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil–best described as a semi-viscous, carbon intensive, toxic injustice–through America’s heartland each day. Tar sands oil is a disaster at the point of extraction, where it causes cancer rates to spike and destroys local ecosystems, all the while violating the treaty rights of Canadian First Nations. It is a disaster when transported, as both the recent railroad crash in Quebec and the recent pipeline spill in Arkansas have made strikingly clear. It is a disaster when refined, exacerbating cancer and asthma clusters, and doing so mostly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

And tar sands oil is an absolute disaster at the final stage, when power plants burn it and dump the carbon pollution into our skies. This carbon serves to further destabilize our imperiled atmosphere, threatening society with one of the greatest crises it has ever faced.

The decision on Keystone XL will be the definitive test of President Obama’s character and integrity. Moreover, it will be a crucial arbiter of his legacy, impacting history’s verdict on his presidency far more than incidents such as the Benghazi affair or the NSA ordeal could.

Last July in a speech at Georgetown University, President Obama said, “And someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world?  And I want to be able to say, yes, we did.”

We are asking that question of the President today.

We ask, because President Obama’s willingness to govern in an environmentally responsible manner has been called into question. At Georgetown, President Obama promised to review the pipeline based on whether it would have a significant impact on the climate. But in the months since that speech, the State Department has continued to rely on ERM (a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute) to run the environmental review of the pipeline. That’s Despite the fact that ERM has a close business relationship with Transcanada. And that it was later caught red-handed for lying to the State Department in order to cover up those business connections.  

President Obama has indeed made several responsible choices, such as increasing the mileage standards for cars. But he has also made some disastrous ones. He opened vast swaths of Western lands for coal mining, repeatedly endorsed an “all-of-the-above” energy approach, and even supported the Southern leg of the Keystone pipeline.    

We know that if we sit back and trust him to independently make the right choices, we will be doing so at our peril.

We have therefore decided to act. Rejecting Keystone XL will help keep the tar sands where they belong, buried safely in the ground. It will protect communities that are already struggling to survive. And it will send a resounding message that the days of unchecked fossil fuel recklessness are coming to an end.

So here is our plan:

On March 2nd, throngs of young people from around the country will converge at Georgetown University to demand of President Obama that he follow through on the promise he made there during his speech. From Georgetown, we will march to the White House. When we get there we will have a huge rally featuring speakers from communities that are at the frontlines of the fight against tar sands oil.

We will proceed to engage in an act of peaceful and principled civil disobedience at the White House gate. We hope that this action will set the record for the largest single-day act of civil disobedience at the White House in American history. You will learn about the exact details soon, but for now we can say that this will be different from previous White House protests. Emboldened by our passion and our frustration, we will partake in an unprecedented action to denounce the Keystone XL pipeline and the “all-of-the-above” energy approach that makes such fossil fuel projects possible.

We are young, awaiting a future fraught with uncertainty. This will not deter us from participating in an act of civil disobedience. Indeed it has compelled us to organize one.

We ask you to join us in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, March 2nd for this action.


With love and hope for a better future,

ABIGAIL LUTMER, Appalachian State University

JORDAN BECKER, Bates College

ETHAN ZWIRN, Bates College

BOBBY WENGRONWITZ, Boston College

MILES GOODRICH, Bowdoin College

VICTORIA ESPINOZA, Bryn Mawr College

SAM NEUBAUER, Carleton College

ELANA SUAKSHANA, Columbia University

MICHAEL GREENBERG, Columbia University

LEEHI YONA, Dartmouth College

SPENCER JOHNSON, Franklin & Marshall College

HANNAH BARG, Goshen College

SAMUEL KESSLER, Goucher College

OLIVIA CHALKLEY, Guilford College

RYAN FRANKE, Gustavus Adolphus College

DINEEN O’ROURKE, Hampshire College

IAN OXENHAM, Haverford College

CATIE DEMETS, Lawrence University

MARIA LANGHOLZ, Macalester College

JENNIFER GRISCHUK, Macalester

REBECCA ROMATOSKI, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

GRETA NEUBAUER, Middlebury College

HANNAH BRISTOL, Middlebury College

DEVON GRODKIEWICZ, Northeastern University

SAMANTHA SPACCASI, Oberlin College

ERIN FAGAN, Old Dominion University

MASON HERSON-HORD, Princeton University

ALEX BI, Princeton University

ANNA LEOPOLD, Pitzer College

SHANE PATEL, Rutgers University

ALYSSA JOHNSON-KURTS, Smith College

NICHOLAS NEUMAN, St. Cloud State University

MARI HOUGAN-EITZMAN, St. Olaf College

LAURA RIGELL, Swarthmore College

NATHANIEL GRAF, Swarthmore College

DAVID OSTER, Syracuse University

EVAN BELL, Tufts University

NICHOLAS STRACCO, Tulane University

MARINA THEBERGE, Unity College

JAMES COLLINS, University of Delaware

KELSEY ZLEVOR, University of Iowa

CHRISTINA CANNER, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

ORI GUTIN, University of Maryland, College Park

SAMUEL KING, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

NATALIE HOIDAL, University of Minnesota, Morris

GRIFFIN SINCLAIR-WINGATE, University of New Hampshire

SEAVER WANG, University of Pennsylvania

THOMAS LEE, University of Pennsylvania

BRIAN ELVERT, University of Wisconsin – Madison

ELAINE ANDERSON, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

DANNY SAUNDERS, University of Wisconsin – River Falls

ALEX SMILEY, University of Vermont

JAMES MCCULLUM, Washington and Lee University

DANIELLE HURLEY, Washington and Lee University

JAMIE DEMARCO, Warren Wilson College

ASHLEY FUNK, Wellesley College

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