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Forward on Climate: The Slightest Glimmer of Hope for the Planet

Will we be ready should Obama extinguish the faint hope for a decisive rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline this summer?

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The Obama administration’s recent signal on the president’s impending decision on the cross-border segment of the Keystone XL pipeline is telling. That’s why climate activists continue to target him with thundering waves of action, hopeful that, with enough pressure, he will take up serious solutions to the other, more literal waves now washing away homes and even some nations around the world.

Perhaps even more telling is that while more than 40,000 people were marching on the White House for the Forward on Climate rally Sunday, President Obama was golfing in Florida with two Texas oil and gas executives, according to The Huffington Post.

This recent news, combined with Obama’s continued procrastination and posturing, some indication of his leanings from sources inside revolving-door politics, and this damning New York Times report published on the night of the rally, make rejection of the pipeline seem a faint hope at best.

“Everyone’s been saying for 18 months now that he’s going to approve it. Maybe he will,” Founder Bill McKibben told Truthout Sunday during a pre-rally event. “It just seems so hard for me to,” he trailed off. “I mean, I guess there’s so much money that you have to kind of bet he would, but so far we’ve been betting that he won’t.”

It’s a bet that many of us in the South are not putting our money on. However, many are putting something else on the line — their bodies — betting that direct action will improve the odds in stopping the Keystone XL.

McKibben went on to say that 350 would continue fighting the pipeline, should it be approved, by targeting the industry itself. He supported an escalation in direct action tactics and civil disobedience, and added that such actions should remain “dignified and peaceful at all times.”

McKibben was arrested outside the White House for a second time last week in an action to stop the pipeline, but it was a first for Allison Chin, president of the Sierra Club’s board of directors and the organization’s executive director, Mike Brune, who were among 48 activists arrested at the White House sit-in.

While many have noted the significance of the Sierra Club lifting its 120-year embargo on civil disobedience for Keystone XL, what’s missing is the young faces who changed the conversation about direct action and paved the way for mainstream environmental organizations like the Sierra Club to take that step.

“Lots of people in the environmental movement shunned direct action for a long time, with a notion that it’s ‘unprofessional’ or that it could alienate and marginalize our position,” Matt Leonard, who coordinates 350’s U.S. action team, said Sunday. “I think that history has always shown the exact opposite. I don’t think you can name a major social movement that’s won a substantial victory that hasn’t raised direct action as not just a core tactic, but as a strategy around community self-empowerment, transforming power and reclaiming power.”

Young, grassroots climate justice organizers, many of them divestment organizers at their local college campuses, made up a large chunk of the more than 40,000 people who marched around the White House Sunday to push the president “forward on climate.”

Their voices came to the fore before the march Sunday morning during a pre-rally youth convergence that had many young organizers sharing their progress on divestment and other clean energy campaigns in their local states.

Some of these same faces attended a post-rally evening assembly of climate leaders at Church of the Epiphany where hundreds broke out into smaller working groups to critically discuss and strategize around local movements focused on divestment, treaties, fracking, tar sands, coal plants, communication and other topics.

Solidarity rallies were held in conjunction with Sunday’s Forward on Climate march, with events in San Francisco and Los Angeles drawing thousands.

The climate movement keeps breaking its own records: the largest civil disobedience action for an environmental issue, the largest climate-centered rally, and an ever-expanding campaign to divest fossil fuel holdings. But the signs that President Obama will nix the pipeline seem to be waning, despite his renewed rhetoric on climate change.

While many spirits were raised more recently with the confirmation of “climate hawk” John Kerry as secretary of state, he is already coming under pressure from Canadian leaders who say a rejection would fundamentally damage the U.S.-Canada relationship.

This is why McKibben’s continued support of direct action campaigns like the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas remains a positive example for a movement that may be grieving the president’s approval of the pipeline sometime this summer. We can have hope, but we must be ready to take action with or without the president as an ally.

Full disclosure: Candice Bernd was formerly affiliated with the Tar Sands Blockade.

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