About noon, as the organizers of yesterday’s encirclement of the White House to stop the tar-sands pipeline were setting up, someone said, “the flag is flying over the White House, that means President Obama is home.” Said a U.S. Park Police person standing next to me, “it’s not true, sorry to disappoint, but he’s not home.”
But lo and behold, at 5:15 p.m., as the light was rapidly fading and a beautiful three-quarters moon appeared in the sky over Lafayette Park, as Bill McKibben was wrapping up, speaking about the wonder and power of the day’s event and this movement, a motorcade appeared at the top of Lafayette Park. Someone pretty reliable said, “It’s President Obama!,” and Bill proceeded to lead the thousands of people still there in a chant of, “Yes We Can Stop the Pipeline,” as hundreds streamed toward the cars with their flashing red lights. If, indeed, it was Obama in that motorcade, there is no way he didn’t hear us.
This was just one of many amazing things that happened yesterday.
There was the turnout, 10,000 plus, as many as 12,000 in the view of the organizers.
There was the virtually unprecedented discipline and organization of the 2 p.m. rally which ended just before 3 p.m. despite there being 17 speakers, an amazing mix: Gloria Reuben, McKibben, Michael Brune, Rep. Steve Cohen, Mark Ruffalo, James Hansen, Naomi Klein, Courtney Hight, Rev. Jim Wallis, Jody Williams, Nebraskan Bruce Boettcher, Larry Schwieger, Roger Touissant, Heather Mizeur, Tom Poor Bear, John Adams, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood.
The encirclement! It worked. And there were probably enough people that if we had had the time and resources to do so we could have been two-deep or even three-deep all the way around. Instead, some places there was a single line, others it was five-deep, and there was a powerful spirit of hope and determination that was palpable as I walked the circle doing a numbers count.
There were large numbers of youth in attendance, perhaps half of the total being under 30. Students came on buses from as far away as Missouri and Florida.
There was the 100 yards-or-so-long “Stop the XL Pipeline” creation which was carried by hundreds up and down Pennsylvania Ave., chanting as they marched.
There were the connections made by many of the speakers at the rally, connections between the no pipeline movement and the movements against fracking, deepwater oil drilling, and mountaintop removal, with the struggle of workers for jobs and their rights, with the #Occupy movement and with past social movements.
A highlight of the pre-encirclement rally was Marc Ruffalo giving his two minute speech without using the electronic mic and sound system. He called out “mic check,” thousands repeated it, and he spoke [he spoke] in the Occupy mode [in the Occupy mode] effectively and powerfully [effectively and powerfully].
This was in no way a culminating rally. Just the opposite. At a pre-rally event Saturday evening attended by many hundreds, and in what McKibben talked about throughout from the stage, the warmly-received message was that people need to go back home and, over the next few weeks, organize actions at and visits to Obama for America reelection campaign offices. A major demonstration is already being organized at the national Obama reelection office in Chicago on Nov. 16 at noon.
Bill McKibben was clearly impressed by what took place yesterday. For the first time that I have heard since he and others publicly initiated this movement over four months ago, he said, as he closed the post-encirclement second rally, “we can win this fight.” Yes, si se puede, yes we can stop the Keystone XL pipeline. Yes we can transform U.S. energy policy and create a new world.
Nov. 6 at the White House is the latest sign that a new beginning, a powerful, loving and hopeful new beginning, is here and sinking deeper and deeper roots among the people of the U.S.