Chanting, chained to a fence, and in high spirits, Warren Wilson first-year student Elliot Segrest-Jones and second-year student Jamie Demarco were two of the 372 students from 40 different states who attended the pipeline XL protest in Washington, DC. If passed, the Keystone Pipeline would transport more than 800,000 barrels of tar sand oil daily across the U.S. from Canada to the Gulf Coast, causing massive pollution and destruction of sacred farm lands. According to researchers at Cornell University, if implemented, the pipeline would cause an amount of pollution equivalent to building 46 coal plants. Jamie Demarco heard of the student protest from his father, who connected him with Michael Greenberg, the protest’s unofficial leader and a student at Columbia University. Jamie recruited students from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland for months in advance of the protest and successfully organized a group of Warren Wilson students to attend. The protest was held in front of the White House and lasted approximately seven hours. Jamie Demarco states that when police began to handcuff the students, many protestors began to chant “I love you.”
Elliot Segrest-Jones was the last to be handcuffed. When he was brought to the police station he gave about five people his name and address, paid fifty dollars, and was free to leave. Many people who participated in the protest however say they spent around thirty minutes in a jail cell. According to Segrest-Jones, the arrest was “underwhelming.”
He said, “I think [being arrested] gets glorified a lot and is seen as some heroic act…when really it is marked [on your record] as an infraction, which is the legal equivalent of a parking ticket. I didn’t really so much care about the idea of getting arrested… I think protests are a good way to show the democratic process and that we can disagree with something publicly.” When asked if he was disappointed with the outcome of the protest, he claimed, “I was expecting it to have more of an impact.”
However, for him, the issue is more important than the protest. He said, “me getting arrested and me paying fifty dollars and being one extra number in the 372 that were arrested [is] my way of saying ‘no’… If I could go to a little booth and check a box that said ‘I oppose the Keystone Pipeline’ I would have done that… It’s really much more about the issue.” Jamie Demarco had similar views about the “celebritizing” that can occur when protesting. He said, “The six hours I spent in hypodermic conditions and no press to celebritize us was perhaps the most formative. Our cheers never ceased and good spirits prevailed among the dampening students. It was indicative of the brutal, glamourless work behind any image of hundreds tied to the fence. Fighting to make the world a better place is not about smiling during the 30 sunny minutes when the press is taking your picture, it is about holding true to that smile and your resolve for the hours and hours when you are alone in the rain.”
So what happens now that the protest is over? Demarco said, “Last weekend we spoke with action that said as clearly as we ever could that the Keystone XL Pipeline is unacceptable to our generation. You can get 350 students to any protest, but to get more than 350 from 42 states to get arrested indicates the passion on this issue that is both heartfelt and widespread…President Obama has heard us, and now the question is whether he will listen and keep his promises to us.”
The event was not covered by the press; however Demarco states, “It is [still] imperative that students work to make the world a better place. Your issue doesn’t have to be environmental justice, and your tactic doesn’t have to be getting arrested, but we can not stay idle. There is too much injustice, too much wrong, and too many issues facing us to accept the world for how it is. There is too much hope and power inside us to forget our potential as college students. Find the topic that pulls at your heart strings and begin the lifelong journey of fighting for what you believe in. I could prescribe no greater source of joy and fulfillment.”
Demarco and Segrest-Jones both agree that the pipeline protest was a success, regardless of whether or not the Keystone Pipeline is implemented; of course, their fingers are crossed that the protest will make a difference in the long run.