Well, of course, Bill didn’t do it single-handedly. However, if there’s one person to credit with getting thousands of people to submit to arrest in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, and getting over 10,000 to circle the White House in protest, and hundreds of thousands to oppose the project online, it’s Bill McKibben. I hadn’t thought much about it until I ran across a lengthy Boston Globe piece on McKibben at the end of last week making this particular point.
The article, “The man who crushed the Keystone XL pipeline,” as I said, is quite long. Go ahead over to the Boston Globe if you’d like to read it in full. If you’re interested in a taster first, here’s the intro:
On November 6, 2011, Bill McKibben arrived at Washington, D.C.’s, Lafayette Park to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. McKibben, a Vermont writer and environmentalist, had been one of 1,252 people arrested in front of the White House in August and September, protesting the same pipeline. He’d spent two nights in the district’s Central Cell Block, and now was back with thousands more people and a bold new plan.
“We can’t literally occupy the White House,” McKibben had told his fellow protesters, “so the next best thing is to surround it.” And that’s what they would do, encircle the White House in a “giant hug” to remind President Obama of his campaign promise to “end the tyranny of oil.” McKibben wasn’t sure how many people he would need to “hug” the White House, though, and was worried that he wouldn’t have enough.
It turns out he had plenty. At least 12,000, actually, making it the largest protest ever for an environmental cause outside the White House. The protesters circled the White House several times and in some places stood five deep. Speaking to the crowd, McKibben seemed pleasantly surprised that so many people had actually showed up. “We have been wondering if anybody was going to come,” he told them, perhaps a bit too honestly. “It’s been decades since there’s been a crowd like this outside the White House about something to do with the environment. So you have done a great thing today.”
Bill McKibben photo modified from 350.org photo.