I am known for telling people not to complain if they aren’t doing anything about their problems. You can’t write because your wrist hurts? See a doctor. You feel overwhelmed? Stop saying ‘yes’ to every person who asks you to do anything. You can’t find a nice girl? Spend less time in da club, and more time in a club. I’m not saying that all problems have simple solutions, but if you’re not even trying to fix what you are complaining about, I don’t want to hear it.
I don’t discriminately apply this rule; it goes for everyone, including myself. And boy am I a complainer. Slow people, stupid people, cruel people…ah, there’s the theme. I complain about people on a daily basis, but I try to fix what I’m complaining about whenever possible. I think the way we as humans treat other animals is wrong, which is why I’m a vegan and supporter of the ASPCA. I think it’s ludicrous that so many Americans think our government should be run on faith rather than fact, which is why I’m an advocate for science and reality. I think it’s outrageous that we are killing our planet and we are too arrogant, spoiled, and proudly stubborn to do anything about it. Which is why I try to lead an ecologically friendly lifestyle, and also why I went to the keystone pipeline rally in D.C. last weekend.
It was a grueling twelve hour trip to D.C. on a cramped bus full of students and ‘under 35s’ – the older members of the group decided they wanted a separate bus. I was a little uneasy about this because I really can’t stand rowdy students, but luckily this crowd was relatively mild mannered and quiet. Good, I thought, I can read my books. I had about five minutes of this happy thought, and then the bus started moving. It was at this point I realized that when bus-drivers-to-be are taking their courses there is clearly no section on driving smoothly. With each back and forth motion of the bus, my stomach was moving up and down. So with a quiet bus, a bout of nausea, and no hope of reading, I attempted to sleep; and when I could not sleep, I looked out the window at the beautiful scenery that passed as we drove though Pennsylvania in the early hours of the morning.
The bus arrived around 1100am, and I think in that moment everyone was looking forward to getting off the bus more than being at the rally. With my sign in hand I headed off to the corner bakery, a lovely cross between a café and a deli, and ordered the only two vegan and gluten-free items I could find on the menu: oatmeal and a salad. When my order arrived at the table, I realized it could probably sustain me for the whole day – there were easily four servings of oatmeal in the giant bowl. Unable to finish everything, I packed up the remaining oatmeal to put back on the bus so I could eat it later; and at about minute three of walking back to the bus, I remembered it wouldn’t be back until 400pm when we were to leave. There was no way I could carry oatmeal and my sign while marching around D.C. Standing on the sidewalk, not happy with the prospect of throwing it away, I noticed a man sleeping near a bench. I nestled the oatmeal among his other possessions and headed to the Washington monument for the rally.
It was enormous. And loud. And…moving, in a literal way. There were people everywhere, holding signs, chanting, shouting, dancing, taking pictures. We all gathered around the stage and listened to various politicians, celebrities, and activists speak about not only the Keystone pipeline, but other environmental issues like fracking and water contamination. I think the only speakers that really had an impact on me were from the three Native American tribes represented. One woman spoke about members of a neighboring tribe becoming ill because they live in close proximity to the tar sands where oil is already being extracted. The extraction process contaminates the water, causing people and animals to develop cancer. She spoke of the human relationship to other animals and our “true mother” earth, saying that putting profits before the health of this planet is not only disrespectful but will also be the fall of our species. I couldn’t agree more.
After everyone spoke the march to the white house began, and though I didn’t think it possible, the volume increased. It was cold and windy and everyone had a white-knuckle grip on their signs; I remember feeling exhausted and cold but glad to be a part of the protest. There were a lot of people chanting and shouting – “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like” was popular in the general group of people I was surrounded by. Chanting isn’t really my thing, I’m happy to have a sign that people can read if they choose, but it’s good to have some noise-makers in the crowd.
After the relatively short amount of time I spent in D.C. I was not looking forward to the bus trip home, and rightfully so; it was even worse than the trip there. But here I am now, with plenty of space, in a quiet room, with a hot cup of tea. It is now that I can properly think back on the experience and offer this thought: The Keystone pipeline is a symbol. After decades of pulling resources from the earth and replacing them with trash people are waking up to the consequences. In my honest opinion, I don’t think the rally will persuade President Obama to deny the permit for the pipeline. But what I hope it will do is speak to the fact that we cannot continue this way of being. We cannot continue pulling oil out of our ground. We cannot continue breaking our foundation to extract gas. We cannot continue to put trash and toxic waste in our water. These statements have always been true, but they are now something that is unfortunately more powerful: they are popular. They are in the news and they are in conversation, and they inform our perspective on new projects like the pipeline. I hope I’m wrong and President Obama does deny this permit and stop the pipeline project from moving forward. But if he doesn’t, I think there is a good chance it will be the last of its kind.
I’ve decided to make posters based on the signs I made for the rally (I was happily surprised to receive a lot of positive comments about them from people at the rally). Probably won’t start them for a few weeks, but when they’re done they’ll be in my etsy shop.