How do you get the attention of one of the most powerful decision makers in the world?
Many would say there is only one route: through his wallet. Though this past Saturday, I saw another way: through the people. After countless hours petitioning and phonebanking, the big day had finally come. We set up in front of the coliseum and waited for our activists to arrive. Over the course of fifteen minutes around seventy people showed up. We outfitted them with magic marker signs and homemade miniature wind turbines and began the slow march around the convention center.
It was my first big event as an intern and we were protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. If approved by the Obama administration, it would pump millions of gallons of tarsands oil all the way from Alberta Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. Tarsands oil is some of the dirtiest, most dangerous oil in the world. It carries a bit of sand mixed in with the oil as it is pumped through the pipe. This dramatically increases the chances of a major leak. Clearly this pipeline would be a step back rather than the progress promised by the Obama administration. Promises about a better, cleaner tomorrow need to be shelved for action taken today. The Obama Administration must reject the Keystone XL pipeline if they want to truly protect Virginians from the devastation of climate change
It is with that mindset with which we marched around the Richmond Convention Center during last weekend’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner, the annual fundraising gala for Virginia Democrats. With so many elected officials inside, we were sure to make our voices heard, chanting over megaphones and in unison with fellow pipeline fighters Whenever a chant would die down, another would start up. We circled the building a few times before we found the block that Vice President Biden was most likely to be arriving at, the one with the heaviest police presence. We kept the energy up chanting, “Hey Joe, you oughta know/ Keystone pipeline has got to go!”
Eventually he arrived. A motorcade lead by two pairs of police bikes and followed by black sedans neatly pulled into the parking garage we were camped out in front of.
When his sedan pulled up, I heard what grass roots sounds like and I saw what it “buys”: a nervous wave from the vice president and for a split moment, his undivided attention. In that moment, I realized the power of grassroots organizing; to get the attention of a powerful politician simply through hard work. We had sent a message loud and clear: that politicians need to stand with Virginians and not the fossil fuel industry.