VIDEO: Webster students protest in Washington D.C.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Walking toward the iron gates that surrounded the White House, Kris Parsons, senior human rights major, wondered if President Barack Obama was even home.
“If he is, I can’t imagine not looking out the window,” Parsons said.
Behind Parsons stood an estimated 10,000 protesters clad in orange jerseys that read “Stop the Pipeline, No XL.”
Video by Josh Coppenbarger
On Nov. 6, three Webster university students and an alumna traveled to the capitol in hopes of influencing Obama’s impending decision on extending the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
If approved, the expansion of the Keystone XL oil pipeline would extend from tar sands in Canada to refineries in Texas. The pump would deliver 700,000 barrels of crude oil per day to Texas. The pipeline, which has experienced oil spills in the past, would extend through farmlands in the Midwest and underneath rivers, much like the already existing pipeline that plunges 65 feet beneath the Mississippi River in Missouri.
Packed together in a van filled with Red Bull and salt and vinegar chips, the Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability (WSES) traveled 14 hours from St. Louis to Washington, D.C. for the protest. Of the 10,000 in attendance, 80 were students from seven universities in Missouri.
Parents of some of the WSES members were not thrilled their children were going because of the risks involved. In September, nearly 1,000 Keystone XL pipeline protesters were arrested. Parsons said those arrested show how far environmentalists are now willing to go in fighting for their causes.
“Before, people weren’t asking themselves the question if they were willing to risk their bodies, but now we are,” Parsons said. “If we say it’s as urgent as we do, we have to have more urgent tactics.”
Andrea Harper, who graduated in May and helped establish WSES, said her family did not support her going.
“I support their values, but they don’t understand how much I care about this; what kind of issue this is,” Harper said. “They probably see me as one of those getting arrested. That’s not in the plans, but I am here. This is what I want to do.”
Webster student Mikey Medwin’s said his parents “aren’t huge with his protesting” either. Medwin, a junior human rights major, has been to many protests before, but told his parents he was going to D.C. last minute.
“My mom says that I’m always fighting against something, but I look at it as fighting for something,” Medwin said.
The proposed pipeline would pass through the Ogallala Aquifer, a body of water utilized for drinking water and irrigation. Parsons said it’s not crazy to think an accident similar to the BP oil spill could happen again.
“Who would have thought that the BP oil spill would be a reality?” Parsons said. “This pipeline is going to go through that aquifer, and if something happens like a spill or accident of any kind, it will contaminate at least a part of it. That’s the breadbasket of the nation.”
Another potential environmental disaster the pipeline would present is the amount of carbon that would be released if the tar sands were dug into.
“The second largest amount of carbon in the world would be released,” Parsons said. “That is game over for the climate.”
Besides presenting an environmental disaster, Parsons said the pipeline poses economical problems as well. She said government officials are thinking about the short-term cash flow that would come because of the pipeline.
Kevin Chau, a sophomore biology major, said he doesn’t believe the pipeline will create more jobs, a claim the government has made in defense of the pipeline.
“The whole idea of a pipeline is to make the work easier,” Chau said. “One union said we can create more than enough jobs in rebuilding the infrastructure of the nation than building this pipeline. Money spent on highways and roads and public transportation is money better spent than this pipeline.”
After a rally that included supporters of the cause like actor Mark Ruffalo, social activist Naomi Klein and democratic diplomats, the sea of protestors encircled the White House.
Protesters walked around the White House to the sounds of police sirens and drums. Police blocked traffic while thousands of protesters crossed streets and chanted, “This is what democracy looks like.”
While marching, Medwin said this was what he was so excited about.
“See what I mean when there’s power in numbers?” Medwin said. “I think they’re going to shut it (the pipeline) down. I really think Obama’s considering this.”
The people living in the tent city belonging to “Occupy D.C.” cheered as the protesters marched past the park.
“These people aren’t here for a sleepover,” Harper said. “We’re all here for the same reason. This is how things change, doing things like this.”
Parsons said Obama needs to stand on the environmental platforms he stood on upon being elected.
“His legacy needs to be more important than his re-election,” Parsons said. “He approves this (pipeline), I will not vote for him. Period.”
Harper said the pipeline, if approved, would affect St. Louis greatly.
“This is where I live,” Harper said. “This is the heartland of the country. If Obama allows this, he’s welcoming the oil industry. It’s like closing the door on renewable energy alternatives.”
Parson said people tend to make the environment and everyday life two separate entities. She said they are not.
“I’m doing this for me,” Parsons said. “We live in the environment. No one is going to stand up for a future but ourselves.”