Reflections on the movement to stop Keystone

Editor’s Note: This special guest blog post by Julia Trigg Crawford was turned in for publication just minutes before the U.S. State Department issued this press release stating that the Keystone XL pipeline project appears to be”environmentally sound.” Public Citizen disagrees with this tragic assessment and we will continue to fight alongside of Ms. Crawford and all who understand that building the Keystone pipeline would be a terrible mistake. RL

Guest blog post by Julia Trigg Crawford

As I look back at the big, bold and utterly amazing “Forward on Climate” rally last week, I find that — as a Texas landowner personally battling Transcanada to keep its greedy hands off my property –it was the small, more personal moments of that trip to D.C. which meant the most to me.

I thought Texans had cornered the market on strong handshakes and a passion for

"keystone pipeline" "Julia Trigg Crawford" "Public Citizen Texas"
Julie Trigg Crawford (back center) and her family have been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, alongside Public Citizen’s Texas office.

their land, but I was wrong. Whether I was meeting with my environmental allies from Nebraska, having breakfast at Public Citizen with a busload of activists from my state, or running into folks who recognized me smack dab in the middle of that massive march, there were hugs and tears at every turn – especially when I introduced them to my daughter Callie, who’d joined me on this journey for climate justice. It is for her future and the future of her children that I fight.

It may have been wicked cold for the big show on the Washington Mall, but it was also intoxicating and enlightening. I almost didn’t mind my frozen feet – the result of proudly wearing cowboy boots to show I was from Texas. But I was so wowed by the crowd that I put my discomfort aside. There were costumes, huge puppets, a man with a solar panel on his hat, parents with kids, senior citizens. Some carried posters protesting myriad climate challenges; some even featured solutions! It was awesome.

 And in this mass of strangers some 35,000 strong, who did I run into but two Ithaca College students who had stayed with me over Thanksgiving last year as part of a documentary they are producing on the pipeline fight. What a joyful and serendipitous reunion that was, plus we got to shoot an update to their story right then and there.

Just a few minutes later when we were marching almost directly in front of the White House, a woman worked her way over to me through the crowd. She said, “Are you Julia Trigg Crawford? I just heard someone speak your name. I read about your case last year and sent a donation to your legal defense fund. Thank you for what you’re doing.” I hugged this young woman and I think I may have even started crying, again. These kinds of connections are humbling, first because she’d felt strongly enough to send money to aid our defense. And secondly to get yet another validation that our family is now standing up for much more than just our land; it’s now everyone’s land and everyone’s planet.

Sometimes we get wrapped up in the science and data surrounding our climate change issues.  But if you were to ask anyone who was standing outside in those frigid temps or inside in the overflow crowd at the event held after the rally at the popular Washington bookstore Busboys & Poets, they’d probably tell you that it’s the gutsy, visceral, human side of the story that is the most compelling.

That gathering was called “Women of the Land Speak: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Tar Sands to Renewables.” It was outstanding, but one riveting final question from the audience distilled everything down to a single concept. A young woman asked if activist women like them have time to stop and grieve over these serious issues, or do they have to just keep going. The emotional women’s perspective of it was in stark contrast to all the previous questions. It took away everyone’s breath away, as we all wondered what the answer would be. A rapt silence just hung in the air.

When Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation finally took the mic to speak, she was deliberate, strong and gut wrenchingly raw. She said she had no time to grieve, her people needed her, her children needed her, and she had to just keep fighting this fight. I was sitting immediately to her left, and watched as her whole body began to shake and tears started streaming from her eyes. No one in the room of 150 said a word. To me it was as if this one woman had the weight of her entire tribal nation on her shoulders, and it was talking its toll. Then, without a sound, 3 to 4 indigenous women came from the audience and surrounded Crystal on stage in a tight circle, put their hands on her, bowed their heads and quietly began talking in their native tongue. I obviously could not understand what they were saying, but I could feel their uplifting energy. It seemed like a long time before anyone else spoke. Perhaps it was just a few mesmerizing minutes, this gradually building crescendo, but after that, there was nothing left to say. Organizer Osprey Orielle Lake delicately brought the program to a close.  It was the most powerful unscripted moment I have ever witnessed at a public event.

On Tuesday morning, a delegation of women representing the Lubicon Cree and Beaver Creek Cree Nations, the Women’s Earth & Climate Caucus, the Indigenous Environmental Network and Texas landowners like me met with representatives from the EPA. Again, women shared their stories; somehow, facing the authorities, the tears there were even stronger.

The response by the EPA folks was striking.  They started by giving us earnest suggestions about how to open new doors with other individuals and resources to help spread our stories. While that made such a positive impression on us, what happened next greatly disturbed me.

One of the EPA representatives told us that the agency only gets “involved” with a situation after something bad happens. As an example, she explained that in the case of an oil spill, the EPA would come into the picture after the event and only then set standards going forward for the maximum amount of pollutant that would be allowed in the future.

This was not only eye-opening; it was pretty shocking.  I’d always assumed that the “P” in EPA also included prevention as part of protection, but apparently it does not – and we got that news straight from the horse’s mouth.

Clearly, there is SO much more work to be done. Public Citizen’s Tom “Smitty” Smith and his Texas team have been a rock for me and my family ever since the beginning of our fight, so I was thrilled to meet their colleagues in Washington on that great big rally day. The organization’s advocacy for property rights and environmental issues has been a real game changer for my family’s case against construction of the pipeline on our farm. And their people have been a shoulder to lean on when it seemed like it was me against the world.

I am forever in Public Citizen’s debt. And I know that, together, we will continue our march forward toward a better day when we’ll all have true climate justice.

Julia Trigg Crawford

ACTION ALERT: Click here to tell Obama to say no to the Keystone XL pipeline.