Protesters organized by 350 Seattle held hands around a full square block downtown on Tuesday night.
  • Alex Garland
  • Protesters organized by 350 Seattle held hands around a full square block downtown on Tuesday night.

Six years. That’s how long political leaders have been mulling the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would route tar sands oil from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. That’s a long-ass time. But if legislators aren’t tired of resurrecting the project (a Republican majority in the House approved the pipeline last week), then protesters aren’t tired of protesting it, either.

Last night, roughly 200 Seattle protesters joined hands and encircled the block around Seattle’s Henry M. Jackson Federal Building. They held up light board letters that spelled out “CLIMATE JUSTICE NOW” and brought their own pipeline-shaped hats made out of thick, black construction paper. Bill McKibben’s coordinated the action, enlisting local activist artists to project a light show of demands on the building’s façade.

The longevity of the Keystone movement is impressive. Had it not been for McKibben’s tireless demonstrating and his skill at convincing masses of attractive college students to engage in some of the biggest acts of civil disobedience in the new century, the project probably would have been quietly greenlit long ago. It’s in some part thanks to them that the president of the United States tied his decision about the pipeline to climate change concerns. And there’s little doubt that the attention protesters have drawn to the pipeline over the years contributed to President Obama threatening to veto a Keystone XL bill.

But even blue chip environmentalists are tiring of the Keystone XL refrain. After all, so many other worthy and urgent environmental causes need championing. Why not devote time and energy to those?

Six years later, the same message has staying power.
  • Alex Garland
  • Six years later, the same message has staying power.

In a sense, the pipeline is no longer just a pipeline; for many, it has become the metaphor that could signal our government’s willingness to advance a saner capitalist agenda.

“The final test is [President Obama] rejecting it,” 350 Seattle organizer Carlo Voli said. “The huge, important thing about that is: it would be the first time any huge, fossil fuel infrastructure project would be denied because of climate change.”

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It is a critical precedent. Then again, for plenty of people at last night’s rally the Keystone pipeline is just another pipeline. Keystone represents one fight in a long history of fighting to staunch the destruction of livelihoods, culture, and federal promises. That’s part of the reason why the rally around the building kicked off with singing and drums from First Nations activists. They’ve been dealing with these issues longer and more directly than anyone.

“Nobody would think of putting a pipeline next to a synagogue or a mosque or a church, but it happens to us all the time,” said Matt Remle, a local Lakota activist who specializes in Indian education. “For us, and our organizing, Keystone is just one [pipeline]—the Alberta Clipper, the tar sands itself, the Bakken oil, that’s in our region, too—Keystone is just the one that gets the most attention.”

And Keystone XL protesters have become remarkably efficient in getting that attention. At around 6:30 p.m., organizers arranged a photo opportunity at the corner of 1st Ave and Marion Street. Soon after, the protest dispersed.