On a weekend where some were expecting rain, the final day of the week-long ‘Reject and Protect’ rally against the Keystone XL pipeline brought clear skies, warm sun and thousands of people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The protest was organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org, Bold Nebraska and the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, an organization of cowboys, ranchers, farmers, land owners, and Native Americans from the regions that will be affected by the construction of the pipeline.
“What is life? Life is water itself and water is life itself,” said Casey Camp-Horinek, a Native American Ponca woman from Ponca, Oklahoma and the White Eagle Community and a featured speaker at the day’s rally. Camp-Horniek was referring to the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest aquifer in the Great Plains area of the United States, covering eight states and providing water to millions of people. The Kansas Geological Survey at Kansas State University calls it “one of the most accessible groundwater systems in the world” — a system threatened by the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. To Camp-Horinek, putting so much emphasis on scientific impacts often causes us to overlook our own connection to nature and the environment, “those things called aquifer and those things that are scientifically spoken of, to us, are life.”
Art Tanderup, a farmer from Nebraska, sees his opposition to the pipeline as a fight for his life, as well. Tanderup has been an outspoken and creative opponent to the pipeline, due to the fact that the pipeline’s proposed route runs directly through his property. Tanderup told Think Progress on Saturday that the potential risk to the Ogallala Aquifer is not worth the payout. “There is no amount of money that could buy access to our land … In the Midwest, that aquifer is life,” he explained. “It provides our drinking water, the water for livestock, animals. It provides irrigation for our crops. It provides water for our villages and cities, it’s the life of Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma. It’s life out there.”
Proponents for another source of life, the preservation of wildlife, from the National Wildlife Federation, made their concerns known, as well. Sam Lockhart, the National Outreach Coordinator at NWF said the native caribou population in Canada could see its habitat “completely destroyed by all of the developments of the Keystone pipeline.” Mollie Simon, also with NWF, brought up concerns with the habitats of bird species that migrate between Canada and the United States.
Young people and students also took part in protest efforts. A group of students from Western Michigan University’s Students for a Sustainable Earth Program arrived in the morning to “let people know that Michigan is trying to help as well and that there is a collective effort to stop the advancement of the keystone pipeline,” according to Hunter Lee, one of the WMU students. Lee and his fellow students hope that their efforts, combined with those of many other young people, sends a message to the Obama Administration that young people don’t want the Keystone Pipeline. After all, “we hold the future,” Lee said.
With such a pressing issue at stake concerning the future of energy in the United States, something that has the potential to dramatically alter people’s lives in the central portion of the country, it’s time for the President to step up, said Dave Stember from 350.org. “We want real leadership on climate. Not just avoiding the issue, but taking real leadership and taking action in a way that shows that we are all in peril for our future and we need true leadership,” Stember said. Camp-Horinek also urged President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to consider the impact the pipeline could have on future generations, because “if they thought that way, they would certainly say ‘no.’”
Here’s a look at the weekend’s rally and march: