The Forward on Climate Rally, organized by McKibben’s climate nonprofit group 350.org in partnership with the Sierra Club, the Hip Hop Caucus and over 160 other organizations, brought out over 40,000 people to the National Mall in Washington D.C. to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and demand that President Obama follow through on his promise to “respond to the threat of climate change” made during his recent inaugural address.
During the summer and fall of 2011 leading up to election year 2012, thousands of activists flocked to Washington to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, a multibillion dollar oil project proposed by TransCanada that, if approved, would transport dirty tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. President Obama temporarily delayed a decision on the pipeline until after the 2012 election, but now the pipeline is again up for review, and President Obama must make the final executive decision whether or not to allow the pipeline to cross the U.S. border.
“The decision to let this pipeline run through America is the most fateful decision you will ever make, Mr. President,” remarked Van Jones during the rally. Jones, founder of Rebuild the Dream and former green jobs advisor to President Obama, clearly stated how high the stakes are at this time during a pre-rally press event.
“This is the beginning of the most important fight back in human history. We’re going to win, and we’re going to win for one simple reason. If we lose we lose everything,” said Jones. “We’re fighting for the children of all species. This is not just a fight about Democrats or Republicans in the United States. The children of all species forever will be impacted by what we do in this town over the next twelve to twenty-four months.”
Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus emceed the rally. He kicked off the event by revving up the crowd and drawing a comparison between this rally and Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington civil rights rally half a century before. “This rally 50 years later is as important or more important than that rally then,” said Rev. Yearwood to the crowd. “Because, while they were fighting for equality, we are fighting for existence.”
McKibben took the stage next, telling the large, spirited crowd “You all look so beautiful!” Looking out at the united movement before him, he remarked “You are the antibodies kicking in as the planet tries to fight its fever.”
Van Jones followed McKibben, explaining to the crowd in Washington and to people around the world, “This is the last minute, of the last quarter, of the biggest, most important game humanity has ever played.” He then directed his remarks to President Obama. “If the pipeline goes through, Mr. President, the first thing it runs over will not be farmland. The first thing it runs over will not be small towns. If you let this pipeline go through, Mr. President, the first thing it runs over is the credibility of the President of the United States of America!”
The lineup of speakers continued with actresses Rosario Dawson and Evangeline Lilly, indigenous leaders such as Chief Jacqueline Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation in British Columbia, activists Casey Camp, Maria Cardona and Crystal Lameman, investor Tom Steyer, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D - R.I.) and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
The nearly 50,000 rally participants then marched in the streets from the Washington Monument to the White House, many carrying signs reading “Forward on Climate” and chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, they Keystone Pipeline’s got to go!”
Among those marching were some Berkshire County residents who made the long trek down to D.C. Mark Caldwell of Tyringham is studying renewable energy at Greenfield Community College and came down on a bus that departed Saturday morning from Greenfield with a stop in Northampton. He has been interested in the environment since coming across a book called The Whole Earth Catalog in the 1970s, a book that featured the first photograph of planet Earth taken by astronauts from the moon. Caldwell viewed this rally as an opportunity for people to come together to make a statement. “The good thing about politicians, is if there is enough public outcry for something, it might get done,” he said.
Jane Winn, Executive Director of Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT), also attended the rally with her husband Bruce, president of the BEAT Board. They represented the Berkshires at a meetup of partner organizations Sunday morning prior to the rally, and as Jane explained, “It felt really good to be part of a growing movement.” She admitted she was disappointed by President Obama’s mention of fossil fuel energy in his State of the Union address, despite the President’s strong remarks regarding climate change. “What I picked up on was him talking about using all the different types of fuel,” she explained. “I’m really hoping this [rally] will convince him to stop the Keystone XL.”