Cambridge, Mass. - Over 50 student activists from the Harvard College Environmental Action Committee and allies held a protest against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday - on the occasion of a closed-door presentation at Harvard University's Kirkland House by President Barrack Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina.
Joined by local environmental activists from the Boston Climate Action Network, and religious activists from First Church in Cambridge and Religious Witness for the Earth, the students called the action in solidarity with the 1200 protestors that weråe arrested at the White House last month in opposition to the controversial pipeline project, which would carry oil they say is being extracted at great environmental cost from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.
Harvard College senior and Environmental Action Committee member Rebecca Cohen explained the genesis of the public action, "We wanted to make some noise and make it clear to Mr. Messina, President Obama's campaign manager for his re-election, that students and young environmentalists are unhappy with the direction of the President's environmental policies. Messina was quoted in the NYTimes a few days ago stating that nobody from Obama's liberal voting base was 'calling [him] up and yelling' about their frustration. So we decided to yell. Our actions were in solidarity with the thousands of people who were arrested in front of the White House over the past month in protest of the pipeline, and with the thousands more across the globe - climate scientists, Nobel Laureates, and concerned families - who recognize the severity of the situation.
"Additionally, we wanted to raise awareness not only to Mr. Messina but to the broader student and Boston community about what the XL pipeline is, and why its such an important - if not the most important - environmental issue at hand. The pipeline, and whether it gets approved or not, will affect indigenous groups in Canada, farmers and families all across the midwest, our country's drinking water, and our ability to transition to a renewable-energy economy. If Obama refused to grant the permit for the pipeline, it would be a remarkable step forward toward a clean energy future, and would show the country and the world that he is serious about being a steward of the environment, fighting climate change, and protecting the future of our country, economy, and human health."
Two counter-protesters, Harvard College senior Darcy Wilson and junior Jeff Homer showed up several minutes into the protest and held up signs in opposition to the environmentalists.
Homer said, "We were not representing any organization, but we anticipated that the protest would garner some media attention and we wanted to avoid being lumped in with generic 'Harvard students' protesting a pipeline project which we feel would be very valuable to America - at a time when our economy sorely needs it. Our primary purpose was to demonstrate that not all Harvard students are at-all-costs environmentalists, and, conversely, that some of us feel that economic growth and domestic energy security are also important things for Mr. Obama to be focusing on.
"We feel that the great irony of the Keystone protests is that blocking the pipeline project will not stop the exploration of Alberta's oil sands, and therefore, will have no impact on CO2 emissions. Instead, the oil will simply be tanked to China, needlessly spurning a multi-billion dollar investment in the US economy, turning away tens of thousands of construction, manufacturing and refining jobs, and harming America's long-term energy security - all at no net benefit to the environment. Our message at the protest was that America is a net importer of oil, and that we have a choice about where to purchase it from. We'd rather see it come from Canada than from many of the questionable oil-exporting dictatorships around the world."
Cohen felt the event had an effect on Messina, "[He] had to walk right by us, and I think we made an impression. Inside the event (which was off-the-record), a few of us asked hard-hitting questions about the pipeline and made it clear that we were part of a larger, international movement forming against its construction."
The activists plan to keep up pressure on the President to block the Keystone XL pipeline deal.