On Sunday, March 2, nearly 400 protestors were arrested at the White House while demonstrating against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Among those arrested were 6 members of BC Fossil Free.
Thousands of college-aged students marched the streets of DC, and the arrest record shows that the protest marks the largest act of civil disobedience in a generation.
“I didn’t realize what I’d done until I got on the bus to go home,” said Erin Sutton, A&S ‘16. Sutton was one of the first to be arrested, along with hundreds of others who had zip-tied themselves to the White House fence. “The whole experience was kind of surreal."
All protestors attended civil disobedience training prior to Sunday’s rally, where they learned how to handle an arrest situation and the proper behavior for protesting.
At the time of the arrest, police set up an arrest zone where participants were given three warnings to leave before being sent to jail.
“We knew what we were getting into,” says Sutton.
Despite the negative connotations associated with being arrested, the process was exciting and nonviolent. “The police weren’t our enemy that day,” says Sutton. One officer at the prison even jokingly asked how her day was going.
Sutton was handcuffed and put into a bus with dozens of other 19-20 year old girls all chatting about colleges and majors. When they arrived at the prison, the offenders gave their information to police and sat in a cell for about an hour. They then paid their $50 fine and were told to leave.
Although Sutton is a staunch supporter of the environment, this was her first protest and her first time in Washington. “I finally put my actions where my words have been,” she said, calling this her “proudest moment.”
Sissi Liu, A&S ‘17, also attended the protest with BC Fossil Free. “I had to change all of my travel plans to make sure I made it to DC,” says Liu, “but I’m so glad I actually did it.”
Plans for the protest were in the making since late December with the help of students from Columbia University and various universities affiliated with Sierra Club, 350 and other environmental groups. Organizers worked with police in DC, making sure streets were closed off for the event.
The rally began Sunday morning at Georgetown University. Thousands of students from 43 states carried banners and cheered during the march towards the White House.
A spirit of camaraderie swept the scene as chants of “Hey Obama, we don’t want no pipeline drama!” and “Show me what democracy looks like… this is what democracy looks like!” filled the streets.
“I spent my break surrounded by hundreds of students who share my same passions and was provided a unique opportunity to discuss strategy with fossil free groups from across the US,” says Ellie Tedeschi, A&S ‘16, a member of BC Fossil Free. “At the XL Dissent protest we saw firsthand what our generation can do when we put our minds to it."
Protestors hope their demonstration catches the President’s attention and persuades him to fight any legislation that supports building the pipeline.
If built, the XL Pipeline would run 1,179 miles from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Neb. and connect with pipelines all the way to the Gulf Coast. The pipeline would be capable of carrying 830,000 barrels of carbon intensive, semi-viscous diluted bitumen daily.
Though the protest is over and the prisoners have been released, BC Fossil Free will continue their fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline.
“We’re hoping this gives us momentum so people will not be so resistant to us,” says Sutton. BC Fossil Free plans to hold a public debate on this topic in the coming weeks.