WASHINGTON - Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 was, like many other days in the second month of the year, a cold and blustery one. What was different about it, however, is the fact that on that day the nation's capital hosted what was billed as the largest climate rally in U.S. history.
Thousands of environmentalists, farmers and workers of all kinds gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument for a "Forward on Climate" demonstration to shout their opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking, Big Oil, and nuclear power.
The Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, who emceed the event. introduced an impressive list of speakers which included: Bill McKibben, president of 350.org; Van Jones, president of Rebuild the Dream President; Maria Cordones, founder of Latinovations; Indigenous Peoples representatives including Chief Jacqueline Thomas from the Saik'uz First Nation and Crystal Lameman from the Beaver Lake Cree First Nations; Michael Brune, the Sierra Club's executive director and Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island. Present, too, were celebrities like Evangeline Lilly and Rosario Dawson.
Bold.org, one of the event organizers, predicted that 20,000 people would participate, but Rev. Yearwood announced that the actual number there, 40,000, doubled expectations. Supplementing the massive action in D.C. were some 20 solidarity rallies in 16 states, from the four corners of the country-- Los Angeles, Palm City, Seattle, Portland, Maine-- and points in between. They included rallies in Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, and five in Montana alone.
"Bold Nebraska" and the Nebraska Farmers Union sent some hundred people to the demonstration from rural towns and farms and from the University of Nebraska. It was the largest national mobilization in the years the two organizations have been fighting TransCanada and their Keystone XL pipeline.
A young woman carried a sign that said "UNL (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) Says Protect Our Future."
A family of four from North Platte, near the center of Nebraska, said their concern is for the Ogallala Aquifer, which would be damaged by any oil spill from the tar sands pipeline. In addition to the aquifer, the very process of preparing tar sands oil for pumping through the Keystone XL, or through any other pipeline for that matter, and then refining this low-grade crude oil resource will have a greater impact on atmospheric carbon pollution than other existing oil resources.
There were large numbers of people from New York City and state, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia. One woman waved an orange "IOWA" sign. Two women in a group carried a banner that said "Texas Baptists for Clean Energy." A 50-foot long banner in the shape of a pipeline declared "SEPARATE OIL & STATE". Other signs read: "Give Us Keystone & Give Us Death", "Reject KXL", "Virginians for Action on Climate Change." Behind a long Veterans For Peace banner were VFP members from Maine, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Maryland and Washington, DC.
The sense of the rally and march was that we are all in this together and that our government must take immediate action to protect not only the future of our children and grandchildren, but the well-being of our current population, before the next hurricane season.
In a report on the rally, a representative from the Climate Change Action Network stated: "With President Obama's explicit call for climate action during his inaugural speech, we can see a possibility -- a realistic possibility -- that over the next four years we can make major strides forward. As he said on that day, 'We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.' "
The day's events concluded with a lively march, a "pipeline around the White House" from the Washington Monument to the White House - a welcomed chance for people to warm up.
Photo: Nebraska family at the Washington Monument said that the Ogallala Aquifer would be damaged by any oil spill from the tar sands pipeline. James Baldridge/PW