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Buffalo Contingent Joins 30,000 at Climate Action Rally in DC

Western New Yorkers at Sunday's Climate Action march in Washington, DC, called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the state. (photo by Jennifer-Lee Pang)

Organizers are calling it the “the biggest climate change rally in US history,” claiming 50,000 participants representing more than 100 different organizations and 31 states. They converged on Washington, DC with the stated intention to pressure President Barack Obama to step up action to avert catastrophic climate change. Among them were two busloads of Buffalo residents.

Organized by the National Sierra Club and, the protestors called for more sustainable and renewable energy development. Their main focus, however, was halting construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The Keystone XL Pipeline would transport tar sands oil (bitumen) from the Athabasca Oil Sands region in Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast region of the United States; ultimately, much of it would continue onward to global destinations. Climate action activists argue that tar sands oil represent a form of “extreme energy,” and its carbon-intensive extraction process would spell doom for the global climate. Along the path of the pipeline, local activists are also concerned about the potentially catastrophic damage that a pipeline spill could cause, since bitumen sinks in water, thwarting cleanup and efforts to contain spills.

The rally began with a gathering on the National Mall, where former Obama White House green jobs adviser Van Jones, Cree Nation representative Crystal Lameman, Hip-Hop Caucus president Reverend Lennox Yearwood, and actress and activist Rosario Dawson joined a diverse array of speakers.

Van Jones compared the Keystone XL pipeline to “jabbing a dirty needle into this country from Canada” and “lighting a fuse to a carbon bomb.” He directly challenged his former boss, saying, “President Obama, all the good that you have done, all the good you can imagine doing, will be wiped out by floods, by fires, by super storms, if you fail to act now to deal with this crisis that is a gun, a gun pointed at the head of the future.”

Braving temperatures in the 20s, the crowd moved from the Mall onto the streets. The energy of the marchers was high as they chanted, “Hey, Obama! We don’t want no climate drama!” and the standby call-and-respond, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” With their signs held up high, the demonstrators’ passionate cries echoed in the streets. Drummers led the march.

The many US organizations present were joined by representatives of several First Nations groups from Canada. Chief Dolly Abraham, vice tribal chief of Takla Lake First Nation, one of the leaders of the march, was excited by the size and enthusiasm of this historic crowd, saying, “This is the first time in history that first nations and non-first nations gather together to fight one topic, which is Keystone XL.”

Beaver Cree First Nations activist Crystal Lameman joined Abraham at the front of the march, wearing traditional clothing and marching alongside drummers. She said of the rally, “It raises more awareness for the frontline and the source of the Keystone, and it gives us, [who] come from the front line, motivation and perseverance to keep going and not to give up.”

The two buses from Buffalo were filled with a mix of college students and community members. Most noticeable were the members of the University at Buffalo chapter of Alpha Kappa Chi, Professional Environmental Fraternity, who joined the rally with high spirits and loud voices.

“We wanted to come here because, why not?” said one of the founders of Alpha Kappa Chi, Sara Cara Politi. “We had the opportunity and we took it. It was great. We got to come out here and yell at some people about what we believe in.”

As the rally came to an end around 3:30pm, a feeling of energy prevailed. Marchers escaped the cold, filling eateries before returning to their designated buses, with high hopes that their words and presence made a difference.

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