What the Keystone Pipeline Protest Looks Like in Texas

In the Lone Star state, opponents of the project are chaining themselves to machinery, filing lawsuits, and gathering en masse outside the Whole Foods flagship store. 

114A0072-Edit.jpg Zelda Maples, age seven, protests the Keystone Pipeline outside the Austin Whole Foods on Sunday. Her three-dimensional protest sign features a leaky "pipeline" made out of empty toilet paper rolls. (Julie Dermansky)

On Sunday, as more than 30,000 people rallied in Washington, D.C., 300 gathered in Austin, Texas. Their goal: to send President Obama a message to stop construction of the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline and to not approve the northern segment.

Chris Wilson, an organizer with Stop Tar Sands Oil Pipeline (STOP), pointed out, "Many don't realize it but The Keystone 1 pipeline has been built. It runs from Canada to Oklahoma and is already transporting tar sands into America." In 2012, President Obama signed off on the southern portion, insuring that tar sands have a path to the Gulf -- regardless of his decision on the northern segment, which would create a shorter route from Canada to Oklahoma.

Even if Obama blocks the Northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, say the protestors, the problems presented by the existing pipeline won't go away. On Sunday, they rallied outside the Whole Foods flagship store in Austin, chanting, "Obama sold out Texas!" and "Think outside the barrel!" (The protest location was chosen in response to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who recently downplayed the issue of climate change: "So -- it's gotten a little bit warmer. I guess my position on it is that I don't think that's that big a deal.")

Along with public demonstrations, the pipeline's Texan opponents have been taking direct action. For the first time, the Sierra Club is endorsing civil disobedience in the fight against climate change, following the lead of a much smaller environmental direct action group, the Tar Sands Blockade. The Blockade's actions -- from tree sitters blocking work crews' paths to activists locking themselves to machinery -- have caused construction delays and bought TransCanada unwelcome publicity. "Direct action gets the goods," Tar Sands' Ramsey Sprague says. "We cannot rely on corrupt, inefficient bureaucrats and elected officials to do the right thing."

Meanwhile, a group of landowners is trying to stop pipeline construction through litigation, contesting TransCanada's use of eminent domain to confiscate their land and bringing fraud suits up against the company. In the words of Jeff Jacoby, a staff director for Texas Campaign for the Environment, "We are fighting on the front lines against the dirtiest form of energy. One of the plaintiffs, Julia Trigg Crawford, was absent from the Austin protest, choosing instead to join the demonstration in Washington, D.C. She told me, "Today it finally hit home the fight I'm fighting for my land has become the fight of thousands fight for our planet."

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

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