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Common Dreams

Hundreds of Students Arrested Demanding Climate Action

Smith University student: "We cannot sit idly by, or we will not have a future to fight for."

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Updated March 3, 9:30 AM EST

Roughly 400 student activists were arrested Sunday after zip-tying themselves to the White House fence in what observers say was likely the biggest single day of civil disobedience throughout the Keystone XL "saga."

With over 1,200 students descending on Pennsylvania Ave. for the mass sit-in and mock oil spill action, they delivered their message loud and clear: If the president won't demand real climate action, "people power will."

“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 and one of the lead organizers of XL Dissent. “The people that voted him into office have made it absolutely clear what we want, and that’s to reject Keystone XL.”

Throughout the day, images of students marching through Georgetown and lying on the ground in a giant "human oil spill" flooded the internet. Meanwhile, leading environmentalists were quick to note, with over 86,000 people having signed an online “pledge of resistance” committing to engage in civil disobedience to stop the pipeline, XL Dissent is likely a "sign of things to come."


Over 500 students are risking arrest Sunday as they handcuff themselves to the White House fence, placing their bodies on the line in what many say may be a "watershed" moment for a generation. Under the banner XL Dissent, over one thousand college students are descending on the White House to force President Obama to face the individuals whose future is imperiled by current U.S. climate policy.

"Our generation is going to be stuck with the reality of decisions made now about whether to invest in destruction or the future," Smith College student Aly Johnson-Kurts told Common Dreams ahead of the demonstration. "We are realizing we cannot sit idly by, or we will not have a future to fight for."

Beginning at 10 AM with a rally in Georgetown, the demonstrators will march to Lafayette Park, beside the White House, where they will hold a rally. En route, the protest will stop in front of Secretary of State John Kerry's house to display a banner that reads “Sec. Kerry: Don’t Tar Your Legacy,” in reference to the pending Keystone XL tar sands pipeline decision, which has become a major flashpoint for the climate movement.

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During the protest, demonstrators will also drop a 40 by 60 foot banner, cut to look like an oil spill, right on Pennsylvania Ave.

According to Jamie Henn, a co-founder of, upwards of 500 people are preparing to get arrested for handcuffing themselves to the White House fence. In preparation, many of the demonstrators took part in a mass civil disobedience training Saturday night.

In what promises to be the largest student-led civil disobedience action at the White House in a generation, many are saying that XL Dissent could become a watershed moment for a generation whose lives are guaranteed to be impacted by current climate change inaction.

“We’re building a culture of resistance,” Tufts University junior Evan Bell told Todd Zimmer of the Rainforest Action Network.

"The students taking part here in XL Dissent see their democratic responsibilities as extending beyond the voting booth," Henn wrote on the eve of the action. "If anything, the Obama administration seems to have solidified the impression that even the most youth-friendly candidates need to be pushed, protested, and forced into living up to their rhetoric."

"XL Dissent should give Obama pause, and force the president to consider who loses if Big Oil wins. He should see his own daughters in the faces of those who are arrested at his doorstep this weekend."
—Todd Zimmer, Rainforest Action Network

Henn continues:

We all remember the heady days of 2008, when President Obama spoke in front of tens of thousands of people in Grant Park and promised that “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Those words proved misleading, at best. Over the last six years, the seas have continued to rise and the fossil fuel industry has continued to pillage the planet, often aided and abetted by the Obama administration.

If the historic election of a President isn’t the moment when we begin to turn the tide on climate change, what could be? [...] The moment won’t come in the halls of Congress, but in the streets outside the Capitol. It will be a moment of protest, of civil disobedience, of organizing. A moment when we begin to reclaim a more expansive understanding of what democracy really means. This Sunday could be the beginning.

According to organizers, XL Dissent was not an initiative of the major environmental groups—though many have pledged their support. Instead, it was completely conceived and organized "from below," by the students themselves. Many see it as a way to connect with the disparate groups, including First Nations, refining communities, ranchers and farmers, who—much like young people—are most directly impacted by climate change and energy policy.

"More and more, these young people are placing their hope in distributed networks of resistance, rather than in a president who ran on hope as a platform," wrote Zimmer. "They’re hovering in a space between fear, anger, and radical hope. They know their futures are on the line and feel more accountable to each other and frontline communities than elected politicians."

Though the President's pending approval of the Keystone pipeline has catalyzed many of the protesters, the demonstration Sunday "is about so much more than just one pipeline," as Michael Greenberg, a 20-year-old sophomore at Columbia University, told Common Dreams.

"For me XL Dissent is about young people standing together and engaging in a bold act of civil disobedience, and through this, demonstrating our commitment to making this world a more humane, peaceful, and inclusive place to live," Greenberg continued.

"President Obama and D.C. policymakers need to take a hard look at who police will arrest this Sunday," Zimmer continued. "Some of those arrested will still be in high school. XL Dissent should give Obama pause, and force the president to consider who loses if Big Oil wins. He should see his own daughters in the faces of those who are arrested at his doorstep this weekend."


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