On Sunday, 398 opponents of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline were arrested in front of the White House in what could be the largest youth sit-in on the environment in a generation. Students from more than 80 colleges rallied at Georgetown University and then marched to the White House, wearing mock “hazmat suits” and holding banners with slogans like “Keep your oil out of my soil” and “Even Voldemort hates tar sands.” President Obama is expected to issue a decision in the next few months on the pipeline, which would transport 830,000 barrels of crude every day from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. We speak to American University student Deirdre Shelly about why she was arrested on Sunday and the growing student-led movement to convince universities, colleges and cities to divest from fossil fuel companies.
AMY GOODMAN: Three hundred ninety-eight opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline were arrested Sunday in front of the White House in what could be the largest youth sit-in on the environment in a generation. Students from over 80 colleges rallied at Georgetown University, then marched to the White House wearing mock hazmat suits, holding banners with slogans like “Keep your oil out of my soil” and “Even Voldemort hates tar sands.” The protesters then unfurled a black tarp, and about 50 people lay down on the sidewalk creating a “human oil spill.” Several hundred protesters locked themselves to the White House fence after being arrested by security. Here are some of the voices from the protest.
PROTESTER 1: Hundreds of young people, probably going to be over a thousand on the march, all came here from all over the country, 42 states, to show President Obama that Keystone XL is not OK, that it is not in our national interest and that we need to reject that pipeline and keep the tar sands in the ground.
PROTESTER 2: We’re here to show President Obama and Secretary Kerry that the Keystone XL is not a good move. We do not approve of it. That’s why we’re calling it XL Dissent.
PROTESTER 3: We have thousands of young people here in the streets of Washington, D.C., marching to the White House to risk arrest to demand that President Obama say no to Keystone XL.
PROTESTER 4: Climate change is the most important issue that we’re facing, and it’s going to affect millions and millions of people all over the world.
PROTESTER 5: When you get arrested, you first think that, well, you know, this is not going to do anything. But as you go forth and you see people come to you and they tell you your precedent you set, it has a huge impact. And the most important thing it does is it’s putting your body against the gears of the machine and saying, “This madness must stop.”
AMY GOODMAN: Some of the voices from this weekend’s Keystone XL demonstration in Washington, D.C., one in a series of ongoing protests known as XL Dissent. President Obama is expected to issue a decision in the next few months on the pipeline, which would transport 83,000 barrels of crude oil every day from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by one of the students who was arrested, Deirdre Shelly, student at American University, where she’s active in the climate divestment campaign.
Deirdre, welcome to Democracy Now! Why did you get arrested yesterday?
DEIRDRE SHELLY: I got arrested because I live in Washington, D.C., I had the financial means to pay for the citation, and I felt a responsibility to be there with my peers in support of communities who live along the pipeline who maybe couldn’t come to D.C., couldn’t afford to get here, had to work. They’re the ones who are going to be impacted the most. And I really felt responsible, and, like, I had to be there.
AMY GOODMAN: And to those who say this is a matter of jobs, building the pipeline, making its way, you know, across the country, your response?
DEIRDRE SHELLY: I mean, even Obama has admitted that the jobs that are purported are temporary and are very few. And there’s no reason that those jobs have to be in dirty and expensive oil. This isn’t an issue. You know, America is ready for a clean, green economy, and we need to start somewhere. And the place to start is saying no to this dirty pipeline.
AMY GOODMAN: Shelly, can you talk about the student divestment movement on campus?
DEIRDRE SHELLY: Yes. The student divestment movement has spread to over 400 universities. It’s an international movement now. And it is about getting our universities and the institutions that we belong to to remove their endowments from holdings in the fossil fuel industry, because it’s wrong to profit from climate change. It’s wrong for anyone to profit from climate change, and that’s exactly what our universities are doing.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how exactly is it being organized? How are you pressuring, for example, your school, American University?
DEIRDRE SHELLY: At American University, our campaign is around 15, 16 months old, so we’ve had a lot of time to work different angles. We’ve used faculty, some alum. We’ve built a lot of student pressure, a lot of student power. More and more, we’re getting closer and closer to our board of trustees. They are our target. Just two weeks ago, they met, and we greeted them at 7:15 in the morning with over 80 students to say hello to them. That’s a tactic that a lot of schools have used across the country. And the movement’s really great nationally because we’re able to talk to our friends at other schools, see what’s working for them, what isn’t. Just on Saturday, as part of XL Dissent, there was a divestment convergence, and a few hundred students met to talk about different tactics. So, there is a lot of is cross-campus collaboration.
AMY GOODMAN: And what schools have divested?
DEIRDRE SHELLY: Another one just divested last week. But it’s mostly been college—it’s only been colleges so far—College of the Atlantic, Unity, Hampshire, a few other smaller schools. But we’re waiting for the first university to divest.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Deirdre Shelly, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Deirdre Shelly, student at American University who is active in the climate divestment campaign, participated in the weekend’s protest, got arrested outside the White House protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.
That does it for the show. Next Tuesday, I’ll be in Western Mass along with our senior producer, Mike Burke—you can go to our website—as we will be speaking at 7:00. On Thursday, I’ll be at Flagstaff, Arizona, and then on Friday in Santa Fe at the Lensic theater. On Saturday, on March 15th, I’ll be in Denver, Colorado. You can go to our website. And then it’ll be St. Louis, Missouri. Go to our website to check out all the details.