By Harvey Wasserman
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Excerpt: “We’ve destabilized the planet’s climate system, and the only question is how much farther we’re going to go,” Bill McKibben of 350.org told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. If we don’t reverse direction, he said, “what we call civilization will just be a big disaster response operation.”
“When a company like TransCanada comes along
and tries to bully and intimidate us into signing unwanted easement agreements,
it only serves to make us more determined.”
Some groups, like Bold Nebraska, which is part of Progress Now, have a lot of skin in the game. With the pipeline routed through their land and posing a catastrophic risk to their water and their livelihoods, farmers and ranchers in rock-ribbed, red-state Nebraska are making common cause with Prius-driving Greens, and a wide swath of Americans of many stripes in between.
Tea Partiers have been some of the strangest of bedfellows with environmental activists. In addition to their concerns about the viability of their property, many farmers and ranchers have taken great offense at TransCanada’s efforts to force people off their land.
TransCanada has already begun eminent domain actions in dozens of cases from South Dakota to Texas.
“The fact that there is such a diverse and strong and motivated coalition that’s come together to fight the Keystone pipeline is yet another indication of what a bad deal this is for the entire country. It’s not just ardent environmentalists who are concerned about this,” says Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters. “When you have lifelong environmentalists standing with landowners standing with members of the Tea Party saying this is bad for a country, this is not in our national interest.”
“When a company like TransCanada comes along and tries to bully and intimidate us into signing unwanted easement agreements, it only serves to make us more determined, and we plant our feet just a little bit firmer in the sand,” Nebraska farmer Randy Thompson told the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May 2011.
People all over the country are digging in their heels, from college students connected with 350.org to indigenous people who have launched the “Idle No More” campaign. Tar Sands Blockade is an organization organization of activists committed to nonviolent direct action against the Keystone XL pipeline. Some of their members sat in trees that TransCanada was about to chop down. Two of them were arrested for doing so in Texas in January 2013, and four supporters were also arrested.
Sometimes, the group uses cleverness to get its point across. On June 28 of last year, the group sent out a fake e-mail announcing TD Bank’s divestment from Keystone. The ersatz press release stated: “TD will begin selling its shares in Keystone XL and other oil sands-related investments.” It pretended to quote the company’s environmental director saying, “Divesting from Keystone XL not only makes financial sense given the uncertainties surrounding the project, but it fits with our pledge to be ‘As Green as Our Logo.’ ”
The media stunt “was intended to hold TD Bank accountable for bankrolling the most ecologically devastating project on planet Earth,” said Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson Ron Seifert.
The coalition group Fearless Summer kicked off its actions last June, with coordinated events from coast to coast, from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico. The group took its cue from the Occupy movement, eschewing hierarchy and centralized leadership in favor of small groups taking action within their communities.
The effort that goes into street-level organizing is as much a matter of necessity as it is anything else. Facing one of the most profitable industries in the world, Keystone opponents know they can’t compete in the Washington arena using the traditional weapons of choice, such as campaign contributions and lobbying budgets.
“The fossil fuel industry has made more money in the history of money [than anyone] in recent years,” says Jason Kowalski, policy director at 350.org.
This feature article from The Progressive (April 2014) was written by Dave Saldana, who wrote and directed the new short documentary “Keystone Pipelies Exposed,” a production of the Center for Media and Democracy. The video and a fact sheet rebutting claims for the pipeline expansion are available at KeystonePipeliesExposed.org.