Yesterday, the environmental movement won a huge victory. The controversial Keystone XL Pipeline — which would carry heavy corrosive crude oil from the Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada to Texas and would cross over communities throughout the Midwest and over the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water to 30 percent of U.S. agriculture — received a delay from the Obama Administration that is likely to permanently keep the dirty oil in the ground. The delay, analysts say, is one that the pipeline’s investors cannot financially handle. Moreover, when a full environmental review is carried out — one where the corporation building the pipeline doesn’t write the environmental review and where Hillary Clinton’s deputy campaign director isn’t that corporation’s head lobbyist — there’s no way the Keystone XL will be approved.
While the delay isn’t an all out rejection, and represents yet another White House cop out on critical environmental regulation, the victory is still a huge one. Just three months ago, no one but a coterie of Tar Sands lobbyists and a few committed activists were aware of the pipeline. Yesterday, it was on the front page of The New York Times. What has become one of the strongest movements in the country has forced Obama to take ownership of the decision and forced him to indefinitely block its construction. What’s even more impressive is that the photo in the New York Times was of young people marching in front of the White House — an image that tells the story of the explosion of youth activism from the largest generation in our country’s history.
And it speaks to the fact that people are taking back the power of democracy. It’s true that it’s still not an easy road ahead. Corporations are wrapped up in Washington politics, and big, polluting industries have the best funded, most powerful lobbies in the world. The future we face goes beyond stopping climate change and beyond protecting our air and water, it goes down to the foundations of our democracy.
But yesterday, we won. Yesterday, we played a critical role in drawing a line across the dirty tar sands and showed Washington, Wall Street and Big Oil and Gas what democracy looks like. We showed our campus and our country what a movement looks like. And now, our voice is perfectly clear: This is the beginning, and we’ve laid a deep foundation for the just, sustainable future where the people speak louder than dirty money.
Now, we can take a short rest and a moment to celebrate. We can look back at the work we’ve done, the scores of students who participated in non-violent direct action to make this issue burst into national attention, the thousands who called Obama out at his fundraising events and the 12,000 people who encircled the White House last weekend to hold Obama to his promise that he would “end the tyranny of oil.” It’s a time for us to embrace the full strength of a grassroots movement because this campaign was won not by 12,000 “participants” heading down to rally in Washington or 1,253 “participants” risking arrest in front of the White House. It was won because so many thousands of people stepped up to become organizers in the largest environmental campaign in thirty years.
As organizers, we campaign so we can keep on winning. In New York and the North East, the next battle is the Nov. 21 hearing of the Delaware River Basin Commission in Trenton, N.J., where the multi-state commission will determine if hydraulic fracturing will be allowed in the river basin that supplies drinking water to nearly 15 million people. Once again, scores of organizers — many from our own campuses — will take a stand through Non-Violent Direct Action to show big corporations and dirty political money that Americans have had enough and are demanding clean energy and real solutions to our energy needs. While victories like the one we had this week are few and far between, they teach us an important lesson: We’re smart enough, organized enough and numerous enough to win if we play the odds right, because the vision for a just and sustainable future is ours to build — and we’re not waiting to take action.
To borrow a phrase from President Obama, yes we can, and yes we did. Let's take a stand on November 21st.
Reposted from the Cornell Daily Sun, Letter to the Editor.
For other coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline and studen activism in the Cornell Daily Sun: Tar Sands in the News.