My trip to Durban and COP 17 began with a trip to Washington DC.
By now most of you have heard about the unusual reversal by the State Department and President Obama regarding approving the permit to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Tar Sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, 1700 miles across some environmentally fragile land.
I would call the weekend of November 5-6, 2011 a watershed moment for the climate movement crafted by Bill McKibben and his 350.org team of dedicated volunteers around the world. An estimated 12,000 activists of all ages showed up at Lafayette Park next to the White House on a brilliant Sunday afternoon. Donning the bright orange vests given out that read “STOP the pipeline #nokxl” (code for sending the text messages), people began to gather around the small stage set up. Our Minnesota contingent of 10 folks unfurled our banners “Minnesotan’s for Climate Action,” “Speak Up” and “350” with colorful hand and footprints from the 10-10-10 event at the Mill Ruins Flats last year. People began to come over to talk with us as I read the postcards that hundreds of Minnesotans had written to Todd Stern and Jonathan Pershing, the lead negotiators for the State Department who will be representing us in Durban at COP 17. I’m always amazed how many people have a connection with or used to live in Minnesota!
We heard from an array of speakers from Canada, Nebraska (where the pipeline threatens the Ogallala Aquifer), and across the U.S. including Naomi Klein, Dick Gregory, Dr. James Hansen, even a former employee from Trans Canada (the company building the pipeline) who did not have friendly things to say about his former employer about environmental protection and that he had received death threats for speaking up against the pipeline.
After an hour or so of inspiring words we broke into three groups and followed our designated flag holders to our position surrounding the White House (3200 ft around). During this time people carried posters with the eloquent words our President spoke in the 2008 campaign. My sign said:
“This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” -Barack Obama
The energy of the crowd was inspiring, uplifting and positive. I’ve been describing it as a ‘group hug’ for the Obama household.
After the text message was sent around that the encircling was complete, we reassembled in Layfayette Park for more speeches. During that time with still a few thousand in attendance, a motorcade passed the park and everyone was pretty sure that our President saw us and heard us. The sense of urgency was palpable.