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Keystone Opponents Target Obama at SF Fundraiser

Environmentalist base is worried about president’s waffling on tar sands pipeline

Environmentalists Wednesday kept up their campaign against the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline by staging a large protest outside a San Francisco political fundraiser headlined by President Obama.

Anti-Keystone XL protestors in SF Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood/350.orgAlthough protesters were kept well away from the Getty mansion, organizers say the rally sent another
clear signal to the president that the pipeline is a major test for his leadership on climate change.

More than 500 people braved fog and a chilly wind to call on the president to reject the cross-border pipeline that would ship tar sands crude from the mines of Alberta to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Protesters filled the mansion-lined streets of San Francisco’s tony Pacific Heights neighborhood as they chanted slogan like “Hey, Obama, we don’t want know climate drama,” accompanied by horns from a local outfit called the Brass Liberation Orchestra.

The protest was organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and CREDO Action, which printed up hundreds of red, white and blue signs with the simple slogan, “Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline.” The president was in San Francisco to attend a pair of fundraisers: one organized by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tom Steyer, a vocal pipeline opponent, and another at the home of Ann and Tom Getty, where some 75 guests paid $32,000 a plate to chat with the president.

Although protesters were kept well away from the Getty mansion and the presidential motorcade never passed the demonstration, organizers say the rally sent another clear signal to the president that the pipeline is a major test for his leadership on climate change.

“This issue is not going away,” Michael Marx, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil campaign, said as he smilingly admired the crowd. “He [Obama] needs to see that if he rejects this pipeline, his base will have is back. Keystone XL is his opportunity to say we’re not going to go down the path of high carbon oil and extreme energy.”

People in the crowd expressed frustration that President Obama hasn’t done more to address climate change. “I’m here because I love to see democracy in action, and we have to hold Obama accountable,” San Francisco resident Olivia Teter said. “He’s disappointed on so many issues, especially this.” As Teter spoke, a man standing nearby waved a sign reading, “Put Your Policies Where Your Mouth Was,” a reference to the president’s stirring rhetoric about climate change during his second Inaugural and his most recent State of the Union Address.

The fight over Keystone XL has reinvigorated the American climate movement, which had the wind knocked out of its sails after the US Senate failed to pass comprehensive climate legislation in 2009. Sarah, a 40-something science teacher from Oakland, said Wednesday’s protest was only the second time she had attended a political demonstration — the first was on February 17, when she traveled to the capital for the Forward on Climate Rally. “You know, Obama has just been heartbreaking on this,” she told me. “This shouldn’t even be an issue. He should just reject it. I don’t know what’s happened to him on climate. If we don’t get carbon right, we’re over.”

In addition to worries about climate change, people in the crowd expressed concerns about the local environmental risks of the pipeline. Just days ago, a pipeline carrying the same kind of diluted bitumen that is supposed to go through the Keystone XL pipeline ruptured, spewing more than 10,000 gallons of heavy crude onto the suburban streets of Mayflower, Arkansas. “Keystone will be a disaster — it will be just a matter of time before it will erupt and spew the worst kind of crude into our environment,” said Lars Adams, a 25-year-old aspiring actor.

Adams said the pipeline decision is a major test of the president’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “I think Obama has an opportunity to make a statement by turning it down. He will lose a lot of support if he approves it.”

Pipeline opponents say they will keep up their bird-dogging of the president while he is in the Bay Area. Protests are planned outside an Obama event in Atherton on Thursday.

Jason Mark, Editor, Earth Island JournalJason Mark photo
Jason Mark is a writer-farmer with a deep background in environmental politics. In addition to his work in the Earth Island Journal, his writings have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation, The Progressive, Utne Reader, Orion, Gastronomica, Grist.org, Alternet.org, E magazine, and Yes!  He is a co-author of Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots and also co-author with Kevin Danaher of Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power.
He is writing a book about wildness in the twenty-first century, to be published next year by Island Press.

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