“Draw the line on the pipeline. Draw the line on the pipeline,” a group of protestors shouted on Saturday morning, drenched in the first downpour of an early autumn.
The group, holding pieces of red rope and neon tape to link together, formed a human chain around the soggy lawn in front of City Hall in opposition to the construction of the 1,700-mile long Keystone XL Pipeline that would carry oil from Canada tar sands to Texas refineries.
Dozens of Sonomans participated in the national effort of the environmental organization 350.org, to hold president Obama accountable for campaign comments he made about not approving projects that would increase carbon in the atmosphere in order to preserve the planet. When renowned environmental activist-author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben spoke in Sonoma last weekend, he was quick to point out that, if Obama holds true to his word and stops the Keystone pipeline, he will be the first politician to prevent construction in consideration of climate change.
“This is a great turnout,” said 350.org supporter Tim Boeve, “especially for a rainy day.” Boeve’s daughter is executive director, and one of the founder’s, of 350.org. Along with several other Sonomans in the local environmental group Transition Sonoma Valley, Boeve organized the Sonoma event which staked out the front of City Hall for nearly 40 minutes, beginning at 9 a.m. on Sept. 21.
Grouped around a TSV banner that read “Sonoma Draw the Line – No Tar Sands,” rain-gear-clad protestors held a variety of signs. Alexandra Bassett held a sign that read “Stop Keystone XL” using the “O” from Obama’s campaign in a clear effort to call attention to the president’s environmental policy. “I’m here because I want to keep breathing,” said Bassett. “I want to keep drinking clean water and keep living in Sonoma Valley.”
TSV founder Ed Clay walked around with a sign echoing many leading environmental activists who want to switch to renewable energy, “Fossil Fuel is WMD.” Another sign explained why the group had so many people show up, “Climate action: It’s our obligation.”
Across the U.S. – in Santa Barbara, Minnesota, Nebraska, Seattle, Florida, New York – protestors help up similar signs demanding the president and local politicians put a stop to the Keystone project.
Ray Gallian, husband of City Councilmember Laurie Gallian, and executive director of Sonoma Biochar Initiative, said it’s important for people to take action because “if the powers that be don’t know you are concerned, they assume you are not.”
Gallian, quoting noted climate scientist James Hansen, said if the carbon released from the tar sands was used as fuel and made it into the air, it would be “game over” for the planet. He motioned to the puddles of water forming on the edge of Napa Street and said, “Just look at the rainbow rivulets of petroleum in that water. That should give you reason enough to be here.”
The youngest protestor in attendance was 14-year-old Abigail Craig. The teen, who attends Justin-Siena School in Napa and came with her parents, thinks youth her age aren’t actively involved in environmental activism in Sonoma because they don’t know about the issues or events like the protest. However, she said she is hopeful that if her peers were more informed they would be more involved. It is the younger generation’s duty to take an active role in preserving the environment, she explained, because as the future, they will be affected the most.