Nelson Mandela once said, “It’s always impossible until it’s done.” I never knew what that meant until Friday when the President of the United States echoed the words that so many of us have been saying for years and rejected the supposedly ‘done deal’, ‘no brainer’ Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Keystone was a fight that no one thought we could win. When the pipeline was first proposed, every energy analyst journalist and politician either had never heard of it or thought the same thing—that the pipeline was a virtual certainty and its approval was imminent. The thing is they would have been right if it wasn’t for people.
Friday’s victory was won because of the power of people.
It started with Indigenous and Metis communities at the source—raising concerns about the disastrous effects the tar sands were having on their water supply, their traditional territory, their rights to land and title, and the health of their communities.
It expanded as pipeline routes became organising maps.
Ranchers and farmers learned to work with Indigenous communities and came together to protect the heartland of America. They carved pumpkins, raised solar powered barns, planted sacred corn and were the first to get the President’s attention.
Following them was the rise of the US climate movement.
When no one seemed to care, they came to the White House in the hundreds, sitting down to protest the pipeline and the continued government inaction on climate change. Each day they were arrested, and yet each day more and more came. At the end of the two weeks, 1,253 people were taken away in handcuffs, and a spark had been lit that would never be extinguished.
In November 2011, 15,000 came to surround the White House. In February 2013, 50,000 went to the Forward on Climate Rally to urge President Obama to reject the pipeline. In April, 2014 farmers, ranchers and First Nations activists rode on horseback together on the streets of DC into the National Mall. And in September, more than 400,000 people spilled into the streets of New York City as part of the People’s Climate March.
It was the movement we had been waiting for, and it just keeps growing.
When President Obama announced the rejection, we celebrated not just because another tentacle of the tar sands had been cut off, but because it showed us how powerful people truly are.
It reminded us that when people come together to push for change—backed by science and working with justice—they can indeed move mountains. Keystone showed the world that fossil fuel companies can be stopped, that oil profits don’t always win out and that the climate is starting to get the voice it so desperately needs.
Friday’s victory isn’t the end of the road but our chance to double-down on the opposition and one-up the solutions. If we want to take our world back, we need to be the ones to do it. It’s up to us to get involved, to work across issues and divides and build movements strong enough to make the changes we need.
It may seem impossible. But if Keystone showed us anything, it is that we are the doers of the impossible.
Mike Hudema is a Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Canada.
An earlier version of this blog was posted by Greenpeace Canada.
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