Hundreds of college students marched through Georgetown and up Pennsylvania Ave. on Sunday, then tied themselves to the White House fence. They were protesting the Keystone XL pipeline and its dark threat to their futures. The group was prepared for 500 activists to be arrested. It could well turn out to be the largest act of civil disobedience by students during the Obama administration. Estimates of the size of the crowd reached as high as 1,000.
The protesters spread a 40 × 60-foot black plastic banner on the sidewalk and out onto Pennsylvania Ave., in front of the White House. The banner represented an oil spill. Some of the students sat on the ‘spill’ and then staged a ‘die-in’ on its surface while others used plastic ziplocs to fasten their wrists to the fence. When ordered by police to disperse, no one moved, which raised a cheer from the crowd. The action was described by multiple tweets to #XLDissent and through posts on Facebook.
Where was the mainstream media?
Major media outlets were absent from the scene, however, raising this question: Why doesn’t the media want America to see this major protest? Those who were present were wondering much the same. Just one of those raising doubts was @DeanLeh, who tweeted:
Why are @EdShow @Maddow @MSNBC @CNN @NYTImes @AP Not covering the 100’s of kids getting arrested in D.C. protesting XL Pipeline? #XLDissent
The students risked a serious disruption to their lives because they realized how much is at stake. As Alv Johnson-Kurts, a Smith College student, told Common Dreams:
Our generation is going to be stuck with the reality of decisions made now about whether to invest in destruction or the future. We are realizing we cannot sit idly by, or we will not have a future to fight for.
They understand that they can’t entrust their lives and wellbeing to those in the corridors of power. Their signs asked President Obama to stop Keystone XL ‘or we will’. Jamie Henn, a co-founder of the global climate movement 350.org, wrote in a blog:
If anything, the Obama administration seems to have solidified the impression that even the most youth-friendly candidates need to be pushed, protested, and forced into living up to their rhetoric.
Pushing is exactly what these students are doing. They clung to the fence for hours in freezing temperatures and rain as the police began arresting hundreds of them. The arrests began with the participants in the die-in and moved very slowly, consuming much of the afternoon, until they finally started arresting the 350-400 students on the fence. The protesters were processed in a big white tent, dubbed the “Democracy Tent” and hauled away to jail on buses.
Here’s a video clip via James From The Internet‘s live video feed.
The protesters were protected by the presence of social media.
James From The Internet, an independent journalist providing a feed of the action on livestream.com, said he was due at a protest of AIPAC. He decided not to leave until after the arrests because “once the camera goes away bad things happen.” The role he saw for himself was precisely the role the mainstream media once took upon their own shoulders: providing coverage that would protect the vulnerable from the potential of abuse by officials.
In spite of the no-shows, however, the images are already flying around the world, thanks to the social media that the young have so heartily embraced. It is, of course, President Obama who most needs to see and hear the protesters. If he needs a reason, or an excuse, to nix the Keystone XL pipeline, all he had to do was look out his window and contemplate the young lives displayed before him. As @billmckibben tweeted:
“I watch young people by the 100s willing to go to jail at #xldissent and I think: just maybe this world is going to make it. Thanks y’all”
The future rests in the best place possible — in the hands of those who are going to live it.