It feels a little bit like a field trip. The bus is full of rowdy students, with a few quiet older folks sitting in the front. People are singing, horsing around, couples are cuddling and someone puts Men in Black in the DVD player.
But the energy here isn’t about a class trip to Cedar Point, it’s about more than 100 Bloomington community members joining together to travel to Washington, D.C. in an attempt to help circle the White House.
The circle is supposed to show President Obama how many U.S. citizens want him to say no to the Keystone XL Pipeline, a pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada through six states to the Gulf of Texas for refinement and shipping.
There are over 100 Hoosiers on the two buses leaving from Bloomington with a third bus leaving from Rochester, IN. While waiting for the buses to arrive we wait at People’s Park, the site of Occupy Bloomington, where we are offered good wishes, food and books for the journey. We are cheered on in the fashion of the “People’s Mic” with dances and songs.
We are the 100 making the trip, but we are leaving behind more than that number who are with us in spirit.
On the bus we talk about the protest. It is a serious action, we’re told. We aren’t there to make trouble. We are there to peacefully engage the President. We have to be careful not to ruin it for everyone else.
After we talk about rules and other protest actions people have been involved with — a few people here were arrested in August as part of this movement — the rowdiness resumes.
This is the kind of enthusiasm the supporters who sent us off in such style wanted. Well, at least most of it is. Some people are joking about buying alcohol in Ohio (it’s Sunday morning by now) but many want to sing protest songs and talk about the tar sands as we leave behind what one woman on the bus claimed is the second most polluted state in the country.
Twelve thousand protestors
Twelve thousand people. The circle around the White House is three, four and five people deep in some parts. If the Occupy movement has been criticized for having hard-to-define goals, this movement is the opposite. One goal. One man to reach. And the message is simple: Keep your promises.
Most of the signs hoisted high at the rally and in the circle are simple quotes. Obama’s own words blown up on placards and waved in his direction. “Change you can believe in,” Obama said, and these people did.
“I want to make sure the planet is as beautiful for my daughters as it was for me.” “Let us be the generation that makes future generations proud of what we did here.” “Let’s be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil.” “Unchecked, climate change will pose unacceptable risks to our security, our economies, and our planet.”
Sarah Hodgdon, an Indiana University alum is now the conservation director at the Sierra Club, says that the Keystone pipeline is the proverbial line in the sand. “If the tar sands continue to be extracted and burned we won’t be able to turn it around.” And that’s not just a Sierra Club opinion — the information came from a study done by NASA scientist James Hanson.
The fact that the planet would not recover from this action is why Hodgdon says this is as important to Hoosiers as to people who live in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas — the states the pipeline will run through if approved.
And Hoosiers do care, clearly, The long-term numbers are the ones B-town residents here are talking about. Alex Burgan is not interested in how many jobs will be created because those jobs, she says, will be temporary. And she thinks the money that would be used for the pipeline could be better used in alternative energy. “Oil is going to run out,” she said.
Emily Dingman helped plan the trip, and her interest is in water quality. She says it will take over thee million gallons of water every day to transport the tar sands oil through the pipeline — water that will be so contaminated it cannot be used again. She calls it, “a massive waste of a life sustaining resource.”
David Haberman, religious studies professor at Indiana University, is not interested in the amount of oil that will be extracted, he’s concerned about the amount of forest that will be destroyed — an area he says is the same size as England.
The protest begins with a rally. We hear from James Hanson, the scientist Hodgdon quoted. Speeches are aimed at the protesters and at Obama himself. They talk about bi-partisan cooperation (which makes one person in the crowd so angry he starts yelling and walks away to rejoin the marchers later). The talking goes on long enough that people get antsy — everyone here is ready to get to the main event.
So the walking begins. The people gathered in the park split off in two directions to meet in the middle, singing and chanting the entire time. When everyone meets in front of the White House, there are three separate lines to accommodate everyone. They link hands and continue the chanting (and in the case of the Bloomington contingent, do a little dancing).
This is it. The line stays here for about 15 minutes before heading back to the park, hoping to make their point simply by showing up.
According to the protesters, this is what democracy looks like — and Obama should agree. Let me end with more of his own words. “Change doesn’t come from Washington, change comes to Washington.”