October 11, 2011

Keystone State Demands Obama Reject Keystone XL

This past Friday, the only thing I was worried about was coming up with a good presentation for the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference. While relaxing on my porch after a strenuous week of midterms, our student government president happened to walk by and inform us that the White House had just contacted her about President Obama coming to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. We had been planning to confront the Organizing for America office the following Friday to tell Obama to stop the pipeline, but if Obama was in town, we had to send the message to him directly. I, however, had a midterm during the exact hour that Obama would be coming and resolved to recruit a few friends to greet him.

On Sunday at the AASHE conference, we grabbed Bill McKibben right before his speech and let him know we planned to greet Obama on Tuesday. At the end of his speech to a national conference of hundreds of climate leaders, he said the best thing they could do was attend the rally to meet Obama with a strong message to say NO to the Keystone XL pipeline at 11AM, Tuesday at 313 Oakland Ave. My heart skipped a beat- Bill McKibben, one of my idols, had just announced my house address to a national conference. What’s more- he then told us to stand up so everybody knew who to find. I hesitantly stood up with two of my friends, Nikki Luke and Seth Bush, who looked around nervously. What happened after was chaos. Within five minutes we were interviewed by the City Paper, the Tribune Review, and asked by dozens more what our plans were. The problem was—we didn’t have a plan. And I had a midterm when Obama was coming. Here’s the thing: if Bill McKibben calls you out at a national conference to organize a rally, you are going to organize a rally, whether you have a midterm or not.

Immediately I entered frantic planning mode. We held a Tar Sands breakout group at the conference, and about 50 people showed up from all over North America. One individual was from Alberta, Canada, where the tar sands are located. It was incredibly inspiring to see our make shift event turn into a dedicated rally so quickly. Then organizing commenced: creating a plan, logistics, press releases, media teams, outreach, and dealing with secret service shutdowns of the pedestrian route we had planned to take. All of this consumed my life, while I remained unsure whether I’d even be able to attend the rally myself. After a group of my classmates all sent emails pleading for a different exam time, we were eventually granted an extension where we’d be able to take the test at 2pm instead. Obama was scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh around 11:15am.

The rally could not have gone better. About a hundred people showed up including my favorite professor and mentor. We marched from my house about 3 miles through the busiest street in Pittsburgh, with media chasing us as we hustled to reach Obama in time. The Police were accommodating and directed us to a point where Obama would drive by. The crowd’s energy and knowledge about the pipeline was palpable. As Obama waved and acknowledged our message, I was on the megaphone losing my voice leading the chant, which I had come up with that morning. “Obama: YES! Pipeline: NO! That’s the way it’s got to go.” I cannot explain the rush this gave me. After all the emotion, I had to rush back to campus to make it in time for my exam which, in case you were wondering, went surprisingly well. What a day. Steven Colbert’s guests refer to going on his program as the “Colbert bump.” I believe we have just experienced the McKibben bump, and boy am I grateful.

AASHEObama Keystone protest

Pitt AASHE Protest