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By Candice Bernd
November 7, 2011
Caption : More than 10,000 people formed a human chain around the perimeter of the White House to tell President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.     

Climate activists encircled the White House not once, not twice, but thrice.

That’s right—three layers deep of activists from across the country–young people, the indigenous, ranchers, preachers, climate scientists and Occupiers of all races and ethnicities—showed up on Sunday in the latest Tar Sands Action to send a strong message to President Obama just one year before the 2012 election. Their message was clear: do the right thing and deny TransCanada the construction permit for the proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline which would bring tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.

After a rally in Lafayette Square next to the White House, the roughly 12,000 in the crowd broke down into three teams and headed toward Pennsylvania Ave and E Street to begin the formation of an incredible human chain that spanned the perimeter of the White House—a tactic that organizers say hasn’t been attempted since the 1960s, and never as successfully as Sunday’s.

The action comes amid a growing scandal about State Department corruption during the pipeline’s approval process.

Many environmental groups are pointing to the State Department’s flawed Environmental Impact Statement, and to 300 pages recently obtained by Friends of the Earth through a Freedom of Information Act Request, which reveal a top lobbyist for TransCanada, Paul Elliot, may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by  lobbying for the company before he was registered. Elliot was also the former deputy director of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The controversy about the pipeline scandal has piqued the interest of about a dozen members of Congress who recently sent a letter [PDF] to President Obama and to the State Department’s Inspector General requesting a formal investigation into the project’s approval process.

“Our government is corrupt and it’s run by corporations who focus solely on profit rather than the government being of the people by the people for the people,” Surrounder David Gibson told Campus Progress in a statement about the allegations against the State Department. “They only represent the big moneyed interests that pay them and lobby them.”

Gibson came to surround the White House from Reno, Nev., where he helped to get #OccupyReno started.

“Even though Keystone is nowhere near Reno and is not coming through Nevada, [the occupiers] were all really excited that I was going to be out here,and show support from Reno at the event because it’s all connected,” Gibson said. “All the fossil fuels are all connected and affect everyone worldwide and it’s just another example of profits over people.”

During the rally in Lafayette Square, attendees heard from 350.org Founder Bill McKibben, climate scientist James Hansen, author/journalist Naomi Klein, and legislators among many others.

“I’m so sick of this nonsense about how we are the jobs killers, and the whole old outdated paradigm pitting the environmental movement against the labor movement,” Klein said during the rally. “We need to join with our allies in the labor movement to re-invent the economy from the ground up because this economic system is failing everyone on multiple levels.”

Klein struck a chord with a crowd partly made up of occupiers from around the nation and climate-conscious youth with no guarantees of a job upon graduation. Job creation has been one of the main arguments offered by pro-pipeline groups, but it’s an argument that is becoming rapidly unraveled.

A recent article in the Washington Post highlights some striking facts about the numbers behind TransCanada’s claim that the pipeline will create 20,000 jobs—a number wholly swallowed and repeated often in the media and by legislators. The article points to studies conducted from non-TransCanada sources and holes in the calculation of the 20,000 figure.

“The jobs argument is a complete myth and the oil industry has gotten away with pushing it because the media has been repeating this 20,000 jobs claim over and over again verbatim,” said Tar Sands Action organizer Jamie Henn. “I think that will stop now hopefully.”

Activists also had the chance to try and get their message out to the president more vocally—and directly—on Sunday as his motorcade left the White House. Protesters shouted “Yes we can! Stop the pipeline!” at the motorcade as it passed by Lafayette Square.

“The tar sands are kind of the perfect storm of environmental issues,” said Surrounder Katie O’Brien, who came to Washington, DC from Maine where she studies at the College of the Atlantic and organizes with the local Sierra Student Coalition.

“I feel like [the oil industry is] going to find ways to get rid of that oil and to burn it in some way which is sad, but probably true, but I still feel like it’s an important fight to fight,” she said.

Activists carried signs with quotes from President Obama’s campaign speeches, including a now infamous quote from the then-senator that has become somewhat of a hallmark of the anti-pipeline movement and likely a thorn in the president’s side:

“We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment … when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

The president is expected to make a decision by the end of this year.

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