Five Carleton students were recently arrested outside the White House while protesting a proposed expansion of the Keystone Pipeline.
Brent Murcia, Mollie Wetherall, Maud Prineas, David Soper, and Abhimanyu Lele were among 398 student protesters who were arrested after some protestors zip-tied their hands to the White House fence and others created a “human oil spill” by lying on black tarps in front of the White House.
They were charged with infractions and released after paying $50 fines.
Reports of the protest appeared in national media outlets, including CNN and the Chicago Tribune.
“There are marches in Washington every month or two with thousands of people, but this number of arrests is pretty unheard of,” Murcia said. The protest was also unique, he said, because of its demographic: mostly students. “[The media] would be foolish to ignore us, given our importance as an electoral group.”
The target of the protest, the Keystone XL Pipeline, is a proposed extension to TransCanada’s existing Keystone Pipeline. The extended pipeline would carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day from oil fields in Alberta, North Dakota and Oklahoma to refineries in Texas. Construction of the pipeline has yet to begin, however, because it would cross the border between Canada and the United States, and thus requires approval from President Obama. The president is under pressure from Republicans and Democrats to approve the pipeline in the next few months.
Many Carleton students say the pipeline, if approved, would be a disaster. Among other things, it would reinforce the use of fossil fuels in the face of growing climate change dangers. “Climate change feels far off, but there’s no one on the planet today who won’t be affected,” Murcia said.
Prineas is also concerned about climate change: “We have this mentality that one little thing won’t destroy the world,” she said. “We need to stop before we take too many steps backward. It’s time that we take action.”
At the end of Eighth Week last term, Carleton students boarded a charter bus and a van carrying a total of 58 students from Minnesota colleges and set out on a 20-hour drive to Washington, DC.
“The ride went a lot more quickly than I expected,” Soper said. Someone from another school brought a banjo, and everyone in Soper’s van sung along to “This Land Is Your Land,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Lean on Me.”
The next day, all the protesters went to a workshop, where they chose roles for the protest: some would zip tie themselves to the White House fence, others would lie on a black tarp, and the rest would stand across the street, chanting.
Prineas had never been to a protest when she arrived in the capitol. Yet she decided to join the group of protesters who would zip tie themselves to the fence, defying the conditions of their protest permit. “I was a little hesitant telling my mom,” she said. But her mother responded, “That’s great! Go for it!”
At the White House, everyone jumped into position. The police shouted three warnings to disperse before putting everyone under arrest.
Wetherall, lying on the tarp, was the first protester to be arrested. The other Carleton students weren’t as lucky.
“I expected [the police] to move quickly,” Prineas said. But they moved slowly, starting at the other side of the protesters. At first, Prineas joined in a call and response chant with another group of protesters. The other group yelled, “Show me what democracy looks like,” and she responded, “This is what democracy looks like.” But after a few hours waiting by the fence, she was too tired to continue. It started to rain.
Meanwhile, Soper had mistakenly zip tied his right hand to the fence, while everyone else had zip tied their left hands. When they turned away from the fence, toward the police, they formed a line of parallel bodies. Soper, however, was facing the wrong way. “I didn’t want to be going against everyone else, so I just stared at the White House,” he said.
Finally, the police reached everyone along the fence, cutting their zip ties and loading them onto buses. Each protester spent a few minutes in a jail cell, which, Soper said, was about the size of a small Carleton single, with two benches along the walls and a toilet in the middle. Then, they each paid a $50 fee and set out on a 20-hour return trip.
Although he was arrested for an infraction--the legal equivalent of walking a dog without a leash, Murcia said, “It’s something you don’t take lightly.” He may, for instance, have trouble getting a government job.
But the message he sent was worth the price, he said. Soper agreed: “Just by getting arrested, we’re making a statement that this is a really important issue for us. We’re willing to risk job applications.”