I had the extraordinary opportunity this past Sunday to participate in the largest climate change rally in American history.
It was quite the experience, made all the better by seeing the climate “hippies” of the 1970s come out from all corners of the country – Iowa, Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts…
And the signs – oh the variety! – all cleverly worded and cunningly coy. My favorite? “God hates fracks.”
Not to mention the fantastic get-ups of the climate protesters: there was an astronaut, a caped campaigner and even a marching polar bear. (I still regret not getting a picture with the marching polar bear).
But of all the signs, of all the costumes, of all the banners and slogans that made it to the rally, my favorite was the most familiar: the American flag.
An American flag at a climate change rally, an American flag which says to all those who doubt that climate change is happening, all those who think climate protesters are “lefty” elitist city-dwellers, a flag that says, “Hey, we’re American, too.”
Politicians can – and have – called these same protesters un-American for opposing an unprovoked war.
They called us un-American when we questioned a president who wanted to tap the phone calls of U.S. citizens.
And now they call us un-American for trying to block a pipeline that would slice through the American heartland and gorge our appetite for fossil fuels.
But hey, we’re American, too.
Americans from Montana to Nebraska to Oklahoma and Texas have stood up to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline. “KXL,” as it was known at the rally, is one long stretch of metal that would be unceremoniously installed right in these Americans’ backyards, through Americans’ own farms and ranches, pastures and prairies.
Americans have stood up to use their minds, their voices and even their bodies in opposition to the biggest oil project since John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil. (The difference here being that Rockefeller had enough of a soul to invest in education, whereas TransCanada would rather invest in misinformation).
And yet, in the end, after all those Americans marched and rallied from north to south and everywhere in between, the decision of whether or not this pipeline cuts an ugly gash through the very center of our nation is in the hands of only one American: President Barack Obama.
Only the president, via his State Department, has the power to approve or reject this international oil deal.
And if Obama allows the XL Pipeline, he will be deemed a climate failure.
He will have failed to address the most imperative issue of our time, of all time.
He will have failed to curtail the tar sands industry and single-handedly enabled it to boom, swallowing up any hope for green energy investment.
And he will have failed to heed the cries and concerns of the American people, the very people he has sworn to protect.
Because for all of our complaining, for all our marching and shouting and disillusioned “what-ifs,” we still wave the American flag. We’re American, too.
Ryan Migeed is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and the School of Communication and the vice president of AU College Democrats.