Student activists take on Keystone XL pipeline

Students from three states are joining a protest this weekend.

Vanessa Nyarko

A bus of student environmental activists, including some from the University of Minnesota, is headed to the nation’s capital Friday.

While in Washington, D.C., they will participate in a weeklong rally called “Reject and Protect” to protest the Keystone XL pipeline.

Sections of the pipeline currently run down the middle of the U.S. from southern Canada, and a proposed addition would run over the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska.

In response, the Cowboy and Indian Alliance — a group of ranchers, farmers and Native American tribes from Nebraska who would be affected by the pipeline extension — organized the “Reject and Protect” rally because the extension would cut through their land. The group rode into the capital city and set up camp near the White House on Tuesday.

Several national groups, concerned citizens and college students have signed on to the effort and plan to join the group this weekend.

“The nature of the march is different because it is not led by traditional environmentalists, but frontline communities,” said political science freshman Alex Vagac, who is joining the protest.

This is the third time this year that University student environmentalists have traveled to Washington to
protest the pipeline, she said. Vagac last traveled to the capital in March and said she and several others were arrested for civil disobedience.

This week’s protest will be more peaceful than resistant, she said.

Students from several Minnesota colleges are attending, including Macalester College, Carleton College and the University of Minnesota-Duluth, said Andy Pearson, a recent University graduate. He works as the Tar Sands Coordinator for environmentalist group MN350 and helped organize the student trip.

The bus will take off from Minneapolis’ Whole Foods location Friday morning, he said, stopping in Madison, Wis., and Chicago to pick up more students along the way. The group will stay in Washington, D.C., for one day and head back home Saturday night.

Macalester College senior Maria Langholz, who helped organize the trip, said students who travel to Washington, D.C., will benefit by learning from environmentalists with different experiences and backgrounds.

Pearson said student activism has contributed to the years of delays in building the controversial pipeline’s most recent expansion. But because the Keystone XL addition may put tribal and ranch lands at risk, Pearson said, students aren’t alone in their protest.

“It is something that the opposition to it is so intergenerational, it’s not just young people, it’s not just old people — it’s all people,” he said.