Two Demonstrations for the Price of One

This morning I sat in on the second hour or so of the final State Department public hearing on the Keystone XL in the lower level of the Reagan Building. The room was big, buzzing, and filled with cameras.

What seemed like 2/3rds of the room was occupied by pipeline opponents. The pipeline supporters - largely members of the Laborers' International Union of North America, (LiUNA) - sat on the left side of the room in their conspicuous orange t-shirts.

The whole union thing has been an unfortunate component of this debate since unions and environmentalists agree on many other things - social justice, corporate accountability, etc. But check out this little anecdote from Kate Sheppard who also attended today's event:
After a rally environmental groups held at noon outside of the Reagan building in downtown DC, I found James Foster, a 55-year-old electrician and LiUNA member, sitting on the steps nearby. When I asked him whether there was going to be a similar union event, he responded that he didn't plan on participating anyway. At least, not anymore. "I agree with the other side now," said Foster. "I didn't know this was an environmental issue." He'd heard it was a protest for jobs, but, after listening to the pipeline's critics testify Friday morning, he said he decided that "work that destroys the environment" isn't worth it.
Wow. In addition, Dean Hubbard of the Transport Union Workers of America gave a strident indictment of the project in his testimony. Other speakers (pretty much all in opposition to the pipeline) included indigenous leaders, a veteran of Afghanistan, an Olympian, heads of the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, Nebraskan ranchers, a doctor, students and more (you can see them all here). The testimony of Erich Pica of FOE was particularly damning as he laid out all the State Dept. corruption his organization recently uncovered and pointedly asked reps if the public hearing process itself was a "farce".

Brian Merchant of TreeHugger summed up the divide between the supporters and opponents nicely: "Hearing the passionless talking points recited next to truly heartfelt pleas to protect homes elevated and amplified the genuine sentiment."

Right before noon I went into the lobby to find someone who knew which side of the building the rally was taking place at, but the first person I could find was Bill McKibben himself! He pointed me in the right direction in the midst of eating a quick lunch.

After the rally, some folks went back inside to watch the rest of the testimonies. I milled about shooting the breeze with Lawrence, someone I'd been arrested with in August at the Tar Sands Action. As we sat there, what should wander by but an Occupy DC march! So we decided to join in along with some other NoKXL folks and the inflatable globe which migrated to the head of the march. Serendipitous or planned?

An interesting afternoon, for sure. We can only hope someone's listening.