BRUNSWICK — I have been arrested exactly once. It happened not quite a year ago, on a rainy March day, just outside the White House.
I was zip-tied a little too vigorously to the White House fence, alongside 400 other students whom I helped bring to the nation’s capital from across the country. We were there to send President Obama a message: We will not let you build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
On that day last year, the protest, XL Dissent, showed that today’s young folk will not allow our leaders to gamble our future in exchange for the most toxic fossil fuel on the planet.
A few weeks ago, with Obama’s veto of the pipeline, students showed that when we organize, we can keep our politicians honest with their promises to slow the oceans’ rise. Activism works.
XL Dissent was not the biggest rally I’ve been a part of, but it certainly was the loudest. Young people must indeed make noise to be heard over the clanking oil rigs that seem to command Congress’ attention, and the veto shows that when we do, we win the ear of the president.
Now we say to Obama that to approve this pipeline is not only to betray our future, but also to abandon the present. An “all of the above” energy plan erases the victims of tar sands extraction in Alberta – members of Canada’s First Nations whose poisoned water and air bring not health, but death.
It ignores the homeowners along the route of Keystone XL through America’s heartland whose livelihoods, threatened by spills, are deemed “acceptable risks” by the industry.
It endangers the progress made in clean energy, since every dollar poured into holes in the ground is a dollar detracting from investments in local, renewable infrastructure.
The veto shows that activists have persuaded Obama to grapple with these implications of Keystone XL, and indeed of all new fossil fuel projects in the era of record droughts and snowfall. Thankfully, then, Obama’s leadership requires nothing but consistency: Reject the pipeline as he has already vetoed it.
Anything less is dishonesty. Obama knows that when young people elected him, climate change was not the change we voted for.
The history of Keystone XL is the history of opposition to the pipeline.
It is also the history of Generation Climate – the students who, after seeing climate progress crumble both in Congress and Copenhagen, took matters into their own hands and turned an obscure fossil fuel project into a national headline and a rallying cry for a clean energy future.
It is certainly my history. In November 2011, when I was an impressionable first-year student at Bowdoin College, I took a van through the night to D.C. There, I joined thousands of people circling the White House to urge Obama to block Keystone XL.
Back then, I never would have thought I’d help make history in Washington twice more in two years on the same critical issue. I certainly couldn’t have imagined that the last time, I’d be organizing my own arrest.
Sometimes, when they learn that I have been handcuffed, well-meaning family friends ask me, “Why didn’t you think about your future?”
To which I can only reply, “That’s exactly what I did.”
Now I am a senior at Bowdoin, and as I prepare to graduate I am thinking what sort of future I have in Maine.
Climate change already harms residents of our state, like those reliant on the marine, agricultural and winter tourism industries. But it is students and other young people, especially, who will inherit a Maine that is not the way life should be – which is why, a few years ago, I helped to found Maine Students for Climate Justice.
It is also why I am turning away from our president to focus on our governor. By denying the threat that climate change poses to our state, Gov. LePage denies that Mainers are suffering. His climate agenda is unconstructive and obstructionist – when it exists at all.
Because he refuses to take the responsibilities of his office seriously, we Mainers must show him what it means to lead.
On April 11, hundreds of Maine students will march on the Blaine House demanding a freeze on all new fossil fuel infrastructure in the state. The event, Generation Climate Rising, will be the largest youth action ever in Maine, and I invite everyone – young or old – to attend.
We are Maine’s future, and we say that fossil fuels belong in the past. Come make history with us.