Three Pitzer College students were arrested March 1 outside the White House at an environmental demonstration against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Students from the Claremont Colleges attended the Washington, D.C., demonstration, as well as a demonstration in Los Angeles on March 2, to demand that U.S. President Barack Obama impede construction of the pipeline.
The District of Columbia protest comprised 1,000-1,500 college
students from around the country, according to official media reports. The students, marching in affiliation with
the organization XL Dissent, rallied at Georgetown University and then
marched to the White House. Once there, the students fastened themselves to the White House
fence with plastic zip ties and staged a sit-in and mock oil spill on the
These acts resulted in the arrests of 398 protesters, including Anna Leopold PZ ’17, Josie
Moberg PZ ’17, and Belmont Pinger PZ ’17.
Leopold, Moberg, and Pinger, along with Nancy Hernandez
PZ ’17 and Khalil Johnson PZ ’17, who were not arrested, obtained $700 from the Pitzer Student Senate and
raised approximately $1,300 through online petitioning and financial
support from on-campus clubs to fund the trip.
Leopold, who organized the trip, said that the day before the protest, the group attended a training session on
nonviolent direct action, which taught them how to make posters, handle
the police, and understand the legal risks of participating in the protest.
“We wanted to make Obama
aware that the American youth are acknowledging the fact that [the Keystone XL
pipeline] would basically mean game over for the climate,” Moberg said.
The pipeline, which is backed by the Canadian energy firm TransCanada Corp., would transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast. The proposal has undergone a State Department environmental review, and several other agencies are completing reviews before Obama makes a final decision.
Moberg echoed many
environmentalists’ claims that the pipeline could contribute to ecological problems such as groundwater pollution, oil spills,
and an increase in carbon emissions.
“There are Native American reservations and peoples’ homes
that this pipeline will cut straight through,” she said. “There’s just so much
damage that will come from this pipeline that it’s hard to see any real good
that will come from it.”
She also said that the arrest was more of a formality than an aggressive action on the part of the police.
“The police knew we were
committed to being arrested for the cause, and we knew that they weren’t trying
to be the bad guys,” Moberg said. “We also knew that they weren’t the target of our action. Obama was our target.”
Moberg said that nearly 400 protesters spent four hours attached to the fence with plastic zip ties before police officers began arresting them—a time-consuming ordeal, Moberg said.
“The police only had four cops arresting people at a
time, making the process extremely long,” she said.
Nevertheless, Moberg said
that the entire process was a positive experience.
“It took a really long time to get us to the processing facility, but it was
really wonderful,” she said. “We were all chanting and singing the whole way
After 15-30 minutes, the police freed the
protesters, who were charged with a $50 fine, which, according to Moberg, was paid for by XL Dissent.
On the other side of the
country, 12 students from the Claremont Colleges, alongside representatives
from dozens of community and environmental groups, battled heavy rain and high
winds in a 17.5-mile walk that stretched from the Port of Los Angeles in Wilmington,
Calif., often regarded as one of the most polluted communities in the country, to
the streets of downtown LA.
The walk was the initial leg of the Great March for Climate Action, a cross-continental march that is intended to
arrive in the District of Columbia by Nov. 1. According to the program’s official
website, the goal of the march is to “change the heart and mind of the American
people, our elected leaders and people across the world to act now to address
the climate crisis.”
Emily Hill PO ’16 said that the focus of the march in LA was pollution, though the focus will change depending on the environmental issues facing the specific community.
Kai Orans PO ’14, who participated in the LA march, discussed the importance of the
march’s focus on the Keystone XL pipeline.
“It’s time to make a stand
against fossil fuel consumption [and] the amount of energy we use,” he said. “Keystone
is a good symbol for that. Stopping it from being built will have a real effect
in terms of emissions. This is our generation’s fight, and Keystone can become
the one unifying beacon for greater dialogue.”
Orans said that the
walk represented much more than just an environmental protest.
“The march itself was a great
experience for me just to connect with a lot of people that have similar values
and are concerned about similar things, from older folks to young kids coming
from a variety of backgrounds,” he said. “It wasn’t just your typical white environmental
Just weeks before attending
the walk, Hill and Orans co-founded Pomona Climate Justice (PCJ), a new student
group that stems from the Claremont Colleges Divestment Campaign.
Orans said that PCJ is
for those who are “open to doing more work other than divestment while aiming
toward greater climate justice.”
For Hill, taking part in the
first leg of the Great March for Climate Action symbolizes her vision for PCJ.
“Our goal is that we’re
hoping to be a more political action-oriented group for environmental causes on
the campuses with a strong focus on social justice, recognizing that vulnerable
and frontline communities are already being affected by climate change,” she
Nazareth Zinjeski PZ ’17, who attended the LA protest, said that the experience taught him the value of solidarity.
“My jeans got soaked because it was
pouring for so long, and my bag got soaked through, and 17 miles is longer than
you imagine, but it was an incredible experience just because of the people and
also just the fact that you know you’re there for something so important,” he said. “Being
a body in that group in that movement makes you feel as if you’re standing for
something, taking something out of the classroom and acting on what’s going on.
It’s very special.”
Jazmin Ocampo contributed reporting to this article.