Nine students were arrested in front of the White House at a youth protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline on Sunday.
The students joined around 1,000 other participants to protest phase 4 of TransCanada’s pathway for crude oil, which is still pending President Barack Obama’s approval. If approved, the final leg of the pipeline would have a capacity of 830,000 barrels of oil per day and constitute 329 miles, according to the project’s website.
The students were among 398 youths who were arrested and charged with infractions for strapping themselves to the White House fence and blocking sidewalk passages, according to Nikolaus Hofer ’17, who left for Washington, D.C. with a group of 12 students on Saturday morning. Hofer said it was the largest single-day act of civil disobedience at the White House in a generation.
The students embarked on a two-hour march from Georgetown University, walking past Secretary of State John Kerry’s house and through Lafayette Park, where they staged a rally with speakers from various institutions, Hofer said. A smaller group continued to protest in front of the White House. They anchored themselves to the fence with zip-ties and staged a “human oil spill” on the sidewalk, lying down en masse on black tarps for up to six hours.
Alex Bi ’17 and Hofer were arrested for taking part in the oil spill protest. Katie Horvath ’15, Mason Herson-Hord ’15, Dayton Martindale ’15, Lucie Wright ’14, Courtney Reyes ’17, Divya Farias ’15 and Damaris Miller ’15 were arrested for tying themselves to the fence.
Parth Parihar ’15, Rachel Parks ’15 and Thaddeus Weigel ’15 were not arrested apparently because they only marched, and they did not tie themselves to the fence or take part in the mock oil spill.
“We knew full well that we would be arrested,” Hofer, who is also a member of the College Democrats, said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian. After repeated warnings from the police, Hofer was arrested, patted down and stripped of his belt and belongings.
“If we hadn’t had the money to pay the fine [of $50], then we would have spent about a week in jail,” he explained.
The public information office of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police declined to comment.
Hofer said he was disappointed in Obama after campaigning for his reelection in 2012.
“It kind of disgusts me that he’s still considering [the pipeline project],” Hofer said. “This is a battle that we are willing to wage, and this is not something that we’re just going to sit idly by and let happen. We believe that a peaceful protest involving a lot of civil disobedience is the best course of action.”
The protest was a collaborative effort by institutions along the East Coast and as far west as Iowa, Herson-Hord, who is a Princeton United Left member and New Jersey liaison for the pipeline protest, said. He was also one of the arrested students.
“It was definitely pretty exhilarating. People there were a combination of excited and angry,” he said of the protest’s atmosphere.
Activists are concerned about the local impact of spills, groundwater poisoning and the extraction process, as well as the global effects of carbon dioxide emissions, Herson-Hord explained.
“This is a much lower quality fuel than what we usually can get out of conventional oil drilling. When it’s burned, it releases 17 percent more carbon dioxide than conventional gasoline,” he explained, referring to the environmental impact of tar sands. “If we lose the climate change battle, all the other victories don’t really matter.”
Several protestors said their families were generally supportive but had concerns about their safety.
“I felt like, like it’s more of a symbolic gesture,” Martindale said of the arrests, adding that the process was “streamlined,” making it feel less like a real detainment. “I actually didn’t talk to my parents until after. I knew they would support me and support the cause, but I didn’t want them to be waiting for a phone call saying I was in jail.”
Apart from rejecting the final phase of the pipeline, Herson-Hord said that students would like to see Obama implement effective taxation on carbon dioxide emissions and drastically increase investment in renewable energy sources.
“At this rate we’re not going to transition in time, and the longer we wait, the faster and more destructive that transition will have to be,” Herson-Hord said.
The Princeton University College Republicans president Evan Draim ’16 argued that the project would create jobs and provide a safer alternative for a pipeline that would be built underground in offshore Canada if Obama does not approve construction.
“There have been many fewer instances of spillage when the pipelines are over ground,” he explained, adding that building the pipeline in the United States would allow for more effective monitoring and regulation. Draim also said that building the pipeline would improve national security.
Draim is a former news contributor for the ‘Prince.’
“I think it makes sense for us to be getting our oil from a stable ally like Canada rather than having to rely on Middle Eastern dictators,” he said.
College Democrats copresident Miranda Rehaut ’16 said she did not have a definitive position on the pipeline.
“I think that people who consider only the environmental, or only the economic, or only the foreign policy side of this issue should expand their horizons and look at it from a holistic perspective,” Rehaut said of the pipeline, adding that environmental issues are particularly potent for college students. “Because we realize we’re the ones who will be footing the bill, we care more.”
Rehaut is also a Street writer for the ‘Prince.’
The Princeton United Left hosted a meeting on Monday night to discuss the protests.