#XLDissent: Students overtake DC to demand climate action
March 2, 2014
Over 500 students are risking arrest Sunday as they handcuff themselves to the White House fence, placing their bodies on the line in what many say may be a “watershed” moment for a generation. Under the banner XL Dissent, over one thousand college students are descending on the White House to force President Obama to face the individuals whose future is imperiled by current U.S. climate policy.
"Our generation is going to be stuck with the reality of decisions made now about whether to invest in destruction or the future," Smith College student Aly Johnson-Kurts told Common Dreams ahead of the demonstration. “We are realizing we cannot sit idly by, or we will not have a future to fight for.”
Beginning at 10 AM with a rally in Georgetown, the demonstrators will march to Lafayette Park, beside the White House, where they will hold a rally. En route, the protest will stop in front of Secretary of State John Kerry’s house to display a banner that reads “Sec. Kerry: Don’t Tar Your Legacy,” in reference to the pending Keystone XL tar sands pipeline decision, which has become a major flashpoint for the climate movement.
During the protest, demonstrators will also drop a 40 by 60 foot banner, cut to look like an oil spill, right on Pennsylvania Ave.
According to Jamie Henn, a co-founder of 350.org, upwards of 500 people are preparing to get arrested for handcuffing themselves to the White House fence. In preparation, many of the demonstrators took part in a mass civil disobedience training Saturday night.
In what promises to be the largest student-led civil disobedience action at the White House in a generation, many are saying that XL Dissent could become a watershed moment for a generation whose lives are guaranteed to be impacted by current climate change inaction.
“We’re building a culture of resistance,” Tufts University junior Evan Bell told Todd Zimmer of the Rainforest Action Network.
"The students taking part here in XL Dissent see their democratic responsibilities as extending beyond the voting booth," Henn wrote on the eve of the action. “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.”
According to organizers, XL Dissent was not an initiative of the major environmental groups—though many have pledged their support. Instead, it was completely conceived and organized “from below,” by the students themselves. Many see it as a way to connect with the disparate groups, including First Nations, refining communities, ranchers and farmers, who—much like young people—are most directly impacted by climate change and energy policy.
"More and more, these young people are placing their hope in distributed networks of resistance, rather than in a president who ran on hope as a platform," wrote Zimmer. “They’re hovering in a space between fear, anger, and radical hope. They know their futures are on the line and feel more accountable to each other and frontline communities than elected politicians.”
Though the President’s pending approval of the Keystone pipeline has catalyzed many of the protesters, the demonstration Sunday “is about so much more than just one pipeline,” as Michael Greenberg, a 20-year-old sophomore at Columbia University, told Common Dreams.
"For me XL Dissent is about young people standing together and engaging in a bold act of civil disobedience, and through this, demonstrating our commitment to making this world a more humane, peaceful, and inclusive place to live," Greenberg continued.
"President Obama and D.C. policymakers need to take a hard look at who police will arrest this Sunday," Zimmer continued. "Some of those arrested will still be in high school. XL Dissent should give Obama pause, and force the president to consider who loses if Big Oil wins. He should see his own daughters in the faces of those who are arrested at his doorstep this weekend."
Photos by Jenna Pope