12,000 Tar Sands Protesters Wrap White House in Human Chain

Josh Lopez, Tar Sands Action via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Thousands of concerned citizens from across the U.S. and Canada descended on the White House today. They were gathered to protest the Keystone XL, the pipeline that would, as any reader of these pages will know, transport uniquely dirty tar sands oil 1,700 miles across the United States. A rally began at 1:30 pm in Lafayette Square, the park across from 1600 Pennsylvania. Activists, politicians, and celebrities took to the makeshift stage to denounce the proposed pipeline. Then, around an hour later, an estimated 12,000 people completely encircled the White House, joining hands to form a human chain.

The aim was to further raise the profile of the controversial pipeline, and to appeal to Obama -- often using his very own rhetoric -- to deny the proposal. The tactics were aimed squarely at the president because Obama has stated that he is taking personal responsibility for making the final decision on the Keystone XL.

Shadia Fayne Wood, Tar Sands Action via Facebook/CC BY 2.0

“Four years ago, then candidate Obama said his administration would begin to "slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet," Bill McKibben, one of the event's lead organizers, said. “This week scientists announced the greatest ever annual increase in carbon emissions. We need actions to match those words, and without Congress in the way, Keystone is the place to start."

So, when more than 10,000 people successfully joined hands at Obama's home base, it was a triumphant moment for the activists and campaigners -- many of whom had traveled as far as Nebraska or Alberta, Canada. And it was a great relief for the event's organizers. Before the crowds embarked, McKibben had remarked that "We don't really know how many people it takes" to make such a chain around the White House.

Shadia Fayne Wood, Tar Sands Action via Facebook/CC BY 2.0

The magic number ended up being close to 3,000, the organizers estimated (so, if you've ever wondered how many people it takes to legally encircle the White House grounds, there's your cocktail party-friendly stat). As such, the protesters nearly wrapped themselves around Obama's house three times. Others gathered in groups, deployed props, or stayed in the park.

In addition to McKibben, the event was attended by notables like leading climatologist Dr. James Hansen, the actor Mark Ruffalo, and the Canadian activist author Naomi Klein. A contingent of young folks from Nebraska made their presence known, waving Cornhusker-themed 'Stop the Pipeline' banners.

With a better-than-expected turnout and a well-organized, well-executed stunt, the event registered a rather unambiguous message at the epicenter of Washington D.C.: 'Just say no' to the Keystone XL.

Shadia Fayne Wood, Tar Sands Action via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

I'll have an updated report tomorrow, with footage from the event, as well as interviews with Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and James Hansen. Stay tuned.

Tags: Activism | Tar Sands | Tar Sands Action