How Defeating Keystone XL Built a Bolder, Savvier Climate Movement

Yesterday’s article, How Defeating Keystone XL Built a Bolder, Savvier Climate Movement by Nick Engelfried in Waging Nonviolence is a well written history of the struggles over the past decade to defeat the Keystone XL pipeline.

A lot is being written now that President Biden has rescinded the pipeline’s permit. We hope this will finally be the end for Keystone XL. But in this article Keystone is referred to as the “zombie” pipeline.

As usual, I feel awkward talking about work I have done. I appreciate what Noah Baker Merrill wrote in Prophets, Midwives and Thieves. “We need to be careful when we talk about humility. The kind of humility this work brings isn’t the kind that would have us reject or repress our gifts. This kind of false humility leads us to oppress each other in the name of preventing pridefulness. This happens far too often.” Or as my friend Ronnie James says, “anyways, brag, brag, blah, blah.”

I first became aware of the terrible damage we were doing to our environment when visiting California one summer vacation, sometime around 1965. We drove into a land enveloped in air so dirty we could actually see it (this being before catalytic converters). Our first several days we coughed and our eyes watered. We were told we’d get used to it.

When I moved to Indianapolis in 1970 I found the same foul air. I decided I couldn’t contribute to that, which began my life of living without a car. My Quaker faith said others might follow my example, but I don’t know of a single person who did.

I was frustrated because there didn’t seem to be any way to stop the pollution. When I explored these issues on the Internet, I came across the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. People were invited to sign a statement saying they would engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience if it looked like President Obama was going to approve the permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Nearly 100,000 people signed and submitted their contact information. This was a brilliant way to build a database of climate activists. And looked like finally a way to take on the fossil fuel industry.

“I pledge, if necessary, to join others in my community, and engage in acts of dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could result in my arrest in order to send the message to President Obama and his administration that they must reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”

The summer of 2013, I was trained as an Action Lead in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance. About 400 of us were taught how to organize and execute nonviolent direct actions. And how to organize and train people in our local communities. Nationwide around 4,000 people were trained to engage in civil disobedience if it became clear President Obama was going to approve the pipeline permit. Fortunately, he denied the permit. Then Trump approved the permit, and now President Biden has rescinded the permit.

Overwhelming Odds, Unexpected Alliances And Tough Losses. From frontline battles to large national mobilizations, tar sands resistance developed new tactics and organizing strategies for the larger climate struggles ahead.

When President Biden rescinded a crucial permit for the Keystone XL pipeline last week, it marked the culmination of one of the longest, highest-profile campaigns in the North American climate movement. The opposition to Keystone XL included large environmental organizations, grassroots climate activist networks, Nebraska farmers, Texas landowners, Indigenous rights groups and tribal governments. Few environmental campaigns have touched so many people over such large swaths of the continent.

The Keystone XL resistance was part of the ongoing opposition to the Canadian tar sands, one of the most carbon-intensive industrial projects on the planet. Yet, it came to symbolize something even bigger. Many activists saw stopping Keystone XL as a measure of success for the climate movement itself.

“Keystone XL isn’t just any project,” said longtime activist Matt Leonard, who coordinated several major protests against the pipeline. “Its defeat is a testament to what movement building and direct action can accomplish.”

Yet, resistance to the Keystone XL’s northern leg succeeded against overwhelming odds. While there is always a possibility it could be resurrected someday, chances of that happening anytime soon seem slim. Understanding how this victory happened — and what it means for the climate movement — requires examining how 10-plus years of tar sands resistance played out in far-flung parts of North America.

How Defeating Keystone XL Built a Bolder, Savvier Climate Movement

I recommend reading the article as it reviews the history of the climate movement.

April 22, 2015. I was in Iowa this past weekend, attending Midyear Meeting of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) at my home (Quaker) meeting, Bear Creek, north of Earlham.  First Day morning Russ Leckband handed me this sign, which is from the concert Willie Nelson and Neal Young gave in Nebraska last year to raise money to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. From the video below: Who’s going to stand up a save the earth? This all begins with you and me.

Who’s going to stand up a save the earth? This all begins with you and me.

I don’t know why that made me so happy.  I think partly because the Keystone Resistance has been a long, hard struggle, and it felt nice to be able to celebrate the work. It also feels good to feel the support of your faith community.

It also brought home once again how important the arts are in these struggles. The Neil Young/Willie Nelson concert is one example. Additionally, this sign resulted in a chance for me to talk with Scattergood Friends School students who saw it, and engaged me in a conversation about pipelines and civil disobedience. They are aware of Iowa’s Bakkan pipeline proposal and Ed Fallon’s walk related to that. Bakkan Pipeline

It’s also amazing that three years after what was assumed to be an almost automatic approval of the Keystone Pipeline, it is still stalled. President Obama echoed the charge from Franklin Roosevelt “make me do it”, referring to the need for public support for the policies we want. This long Keystone Pledge of Resistance campaign has been an effort to do that. We know the President has been aware of the Pledge since the early days.

The other priceless benefit of the Pledge of Resistance is the national network of activists trained to train others in the practice of, and implementation of nonviolent civil disobedience for social change. In Indianapolis, the Keystone Pledge of Resistance Action Leaders have been involved in all kinds of actions over the past couple of years, not just limited to environmental concerns. We have been involved with issues such as homelessness in Indianapolis

Pipeline Fighter

This entry was posted in climate change, Keystone Pledge of Resistance, Keystone XL pipeline (KXL), Quaker, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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