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Keystone pipeline meets the Occupy movement

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb on November 9, 2011

Yesterday I wrote about the speakers who addressed the Keystone protesters at the White House. Today I’d like to talk about the protesters – specifically, the young people and the growing “Occupy Wall Street” movement.

By my rough estimate, at least half of the protesters at Sunday’s Keystone XL pipeline demo were young people. They came from many parts of the country, but they were united by a new youth culture unfamiliar to those who are not following the Occupy Wall Street protests across the nation.

The Occupiers have embraced a broad agenda: opposition to corporate greed, starting with Wall Street and the banks and going from there; concern for the needs of ordinary people; a call to a more meaningful democracy. 

It’s easy to see why tar sands fits under that broad umbrella. The TransCanada Corporation shrugs off the devastation of Canadian forests caused by tar sands extraction.  They disregard the homes, lands, livelihoods and health of the people in the path of the proposed pipeline. They seem unconcerned about the people who live in the “Cancer Alleys” spawned by petrochemical processing.  And they stand, like the rest of the oil industry, to make a fortune at the expense of our health.

So it’s no surprise that the Occupiers are part of the tar sands protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. They made themselves seen and heard in a few of their trademark ways:

Mic check. In the absence of microphones, the Occupiers apply human voice power to broadcast their message to a crowd.  The speaker speaks a few words; those within earshot repeat the words in unison.  The speaker continues with another phrase or two; these are also repeated aloud.  The swelling sound carries to the crowd, electricity-free.  We saw actor Mike Ruffalo apply mic check in his talk on Sunday.  National Wildlife Federation president Larry Schweiger used it too, briefly, when someone stepped on an electrical cord and the microphone temporarily went dead.  It’s a clever application of power to the people, and with no greenhouse gas emissions.

Hand signals. The Occupiers have developed their own hand signals that they use at their events. If they like what they hear, if they want to signal support or agreement, they hold their hands over their heads and wiggle their fingers.  We saw a lot of twinkling fingers during the Keystone rallies.  Beware, though:  If they don’t agree with you, if they think you’re wrong, they hold their hands in front of them, fingers facing down, and wiggle them.  Well, it’s a lot more polite than another disapproving finger gesture we have seen.

Message. Every movement has its slogans, and there were plenty of new ones at the Keystone rally.  Most of course had to do with oil and climate change. But what grabbed my attention was a call-and-response that signaled a much broader set of concerns. One person would cry out, rhythmically: “Tell me what democracy looks like.” And the crowd would roar back, “This is what democracy looks like.”

It is here, where a concrete issue like tar sands intersects with a deep concern for democracy, that I see the potential for really building a movement. The call for meaningful democracy – for a political system that allows ordinary people, the un-rich, the 99 percent, to rally opinion, persuade others, and change reality – is what really gives me hope.


frank said ..


January 24, 2012

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