tar sands action

Since the Tar Sands Action in DC ending last weekend, many have wondered what they can do in their hometowns to continue the fight to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. Lead organizers of the Tar Sands Actions demonstration have indicated continued pressure on Obama is essential and one simple and easy way to do that is to write a Letter to the Editor.

The editorial page is the second most widely read page of the newspaper after the front page and an excellent way to bring attention to any issue. Here are some tips on how to write one:

  1. A letter to the editor should be short- no more than 250 words (varies with paper) -clear, direct and simple, with a maximum of two or three points.
  2. Try to find a local angle. Why should people in your area care about the issue?
  3. Sign it and include a way for the press to contact you to confirm that you wrote the letter.
  4. Check out local newspapers and research the proper way of sending the letter.
  5. Keep your fingers crossed and wait for your letter to get published!

Check out this example Letter to the Editor that was written for a campus newspaper. The writer, Chloe Gleichman, was recently arrested at the Tar Sands Action in DC and uses her experience to bring a sense of seriousness and urgency to her letter.

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Guest post by University of Richmond student Taylor Holden

While most University of Richmond students were ecstatic that President Obama chose their school to speak at, one campus group looked forward to his visit for a different reason. Over the past few weeks a civil disobedience campaign has taken place outside the White House, resulting in hundreds of arrests, including some UR students. The protest is against the Keystone XL oil pipeline. This pipeline, if constructed, would take oil from the tar sands in Canada all the way down the US and to the Gulf refineries. The issue with this oil, besides continuing our dependence, is that the process of extracting the oil from the tar sands creates more pollution and environmental damage than regular drilling.

The Green UR club at University of Richmond took the historic opportunity of Obama’s visit as a chance to become involved with the protest and promote the cause through the media attention brought on by the visit. Their demonstration was a reminder to Obama that he cannot run from the issue and that people everywhere care about decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels, especially ones as dirty as oil derived from tar sands.

Currently the only person that can approve or deny the deal is Obama. Obama has reiterated over and over again the importance of reducing oil dependence and investing in clean energy. If he approves this pipeline he is proving that his words are nothing more than an attempt to sway environmentalists and secure their votes.

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These past two weeks we felt the power of our movement.

1,253 people, young and old, joined in civil disobedience at the Tar Sands Action, and together we drew a clear line in the sand for the President: either you stand with us — the generation that elected you — and reject the Keystone XL pipeline, or you sell out our future to Big Oil.

Facing intense pressure, last Friday President Obama ordered the EPA to abandon a new smog standard — siding with the Tea Party over his own EPA scientists — allowing polluters to continue spewing toxins that trigger asthma, heart attacks and tens of thousands of premature deaths.

President Obama is expected to make his decision on Keystone XL in the next 90 days. We have to match the pressure from the corporate polluters. We need to take this fight back home, and show the White House what we are capable of. Our most powerful weapon is that we are organizers. We can take the fight back to our campuses and communities, win local victories, tell our story, and then go back out and do it again.

Last week we shared a plan for action this fall to confront dirty energy on our campuses, take bold action together at regional Power Shift conferences, and build the groundswell of demand we need to force President Obama to stand with us, not big polluters.

Ready to kick things off?

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The night before I participated in the Tar Sands Action, I woke up four times with the fearsome thought of going to jail. The odds were that I wouldn’t spend more than a day or two there, but the uncertainty was unnerving. When my morning alarm went off, I thought “I don’t want to go to jail. I’ve made up my mind. I’ve been so nervous over this past week and feel so shaky now, that I really think I’m not ready to risk arrest.” I put my thoughts away as I forced down a piece of toast. If I had to spend a night or two in jail – at least it would delay my hunger a bit.

I kept thinking that I should really listen to my instincts telling me not to risk going to jail. I always listen to my instincts. Then I thought, “What did the students have to face at the lunch counter sit-ins? I’m sure they weren’t able to swallow their breakfast either. And they were up against a tremendous amount of uncertainty – including their own physical safety. Despite their fears, they acted because they knew what they were fighting for was right. They knew they had to take risks to make real change. They had to ignore their instincts, too.

As I walked to the front of the White House, I felt like I was in a marathon. Supporters lined both sides of the walkway, cheering us on with a flood of thank you’s and words of encouragement. When I sat down on the cold, hard sidewalk with beautiful people of all ages, of all backgrounds, around me, I knew I was in the right place.

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Amazing and inspirational best describes what it felt like being part of the largest act of civil disobedience in the environmental/social justice movement since the 70’s. 1,252 people were arrested during a two week sit-in at the White House to prevent the approval of the construction of a huge pipeline (known as the Keystone XL) that’ll carry oil through the heart of the U.S. from the deadly and destructive tar sands in Canada. What made the Tar Sands Action so outstanding was the diversity of people involved.

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I lay on the hardwood floor of the church of St. Stephen, the patron saint of travelers, staring at the gaping jaws of the beams above me while the sounds of sleeping activists rose from the pews. The holy place harbored our bodies while we shared the same dream of a livable future. The next day, these slumbering human bodies would send a message to our government. First we sent our votes, then we sent our voices. Now we send our bodies.

But not all of us sent our votes. When Obama was elected president in 2008, I was fourteen years old. Today I am seventeen, still unable to vote under American law. Politically, my opinion means nothing; so let my words ring twice as loud.

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The summer of 2009 is one that changed my life completely. I had just finished with school for the summer and was headed to San Francisco for the Greenpeace Organizing Term (now known as the Greenpeace Semester) to learn about organizing and how to run effective campaigns. Our big expedition that year was to be to a place that left me impacted for what I am certain will be the rest of my life. We were headed to Canada to bear witness to an issue that even today many people are unaware of- the tar sands. What follows is my story from then until now.

Upon entering the town of Fort McMurray I was struck by the normalcy of it. That quickly changed as we entered the Tar Sands industrial mining sight. The first thing that struck me there, was the smell. Before seeing anything at all you could detect the pungent scent of oil, mud and metallics in the air permeating into our nostrils, clothing, hair and vans.

As we drove further into the sight we saw the dark sludge of the toxic tailings ponds stretching on for miles, the teeth of the giant earth movers ripping soil, rock and bitumen from the earth.

Industry calls this progress. I call it destruction.

Our journey took us past smoke stacks belching out dirty smoke and countless emissions, pyramids of yellow sulfur stacked higher than most buildings and tractor trailers towing unrefined oil down uneven dirt roads. The constant boom of air cannons assaulted our ears by the second as they further polluted the air with their deep baritone sound in a failed attempt to ward off wildlife.

The only thing missing from this battlefield was the corpses. At least, that's what I thought until I saw the graveyard of logs stacked high against the empty muddied land and gray skies. The yellow scarecrows standing as silent sentinels did little to deter the few birds from inspecting what they saw as a lake in which to rest, but was in fact poison.

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Photo: That’s me with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis at the White House on Earth Day 2010.


Photo: Here’s me getting arrested at the White House on September 2nd 2011 in protest against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Photo Credit: Josh Lopez.

During my college experience at American University I was pretty active in climate change issues on my campus and in my community. I went to Congress to push for ACES. I interned with environmental groups pushing for renewable portfolio standards and new passenger rail. I helped write the university’s carbon neutrality plan. Perhaps most important to this story, I voted for Obama in the Iowa caucuses and in the general election because of his pledges to take truly significant action to stop climate change. After spending years of my young life working inside the normal political system to push for these things this administration claims to believe in, I was fortunate to be invited to the White House’s Earth Day reception (along with about 100 other environmentalists).

It was there that I got to meet folks I admired like Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey, Hilda Solis, and President Barack Obama.  Everyone in attendance was still holding out hope that a climate-energy bill written by John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham could be passed. Looking back now, we know it never passed, wasn’t even voted on, and probably was the most watered-down bill there possibly could have been that claimed to be mitigating climate change.

I was very lucky to get to speak to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. I really admired Steven Chu for being a great scientist who straightforwardly said what he thought about energy issues; many times I told my friends that Chu was by-far the smartest and most qualified Secretary of Energy we had ever had. That’s why I was so utterly disappointed when he told EneryNow that he thought the Keystone XL pipeline was a good idea:

“I know there’s concerns about this, but both the technologies used to extract the tar sands oil - which are improving dramatically - and so I think that can go forward. I think in the end what we need to do is diversify our supply of oil. Right now our transportation needs come exclusively from oil.”  & “In the end, it’s not perfect but it’s a trade-off.”

Kind of an obfuscated statement for a scientist to make, eh? From what I can tell, he tepidly supports the thing, or has been told to do so by others in the administration, or maybe he’s just saying what he thinks the other people in the administration want him to think. I can only hope behind the scenes he is telling Obama to stop the pipeline because it will further chain our economy to oil and only make climate change worse.

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Students in Tennessee and Mississippi may not be able to come to DC to join the tar sands action, but we stand in solidarity to tell Obama to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

Students at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville also collected over 200 petitions.

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