By Lindsey Halvorson
I grew up in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the snow peaks of the Colorado Rockies. I learned from the mountains, from the snow, from the aspen trees, from the rivers, of the precious value that our Earth holds. I also learned that our beautiful Earth is endangered from the human fueled environmental degradation and the effect of a changing climate. Protecting my homeland was the reason I had to leave, insistent that I gain the knowledge necessary to go back and work for its survival, for all our survival. I chose to leave and come to study at American University in Washington, DC.
On Tuesday, November 21, I was able to utilize my decision to come to the nation’s capital to influence Congressional decisions. A bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline was brought before the Senate. The bill was seen in part as a political move by Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana who is facing her Republican opponent in a run off later in December. Landrieu was attempting to garner support from her fellow Democrats including, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado to get a majority support.
I was surprised that the elected representative to Colorado - someone who I had campaigned for because of his Coloradan values to preserve of the earth, water, air and land - was about to vote against these values. I was not the only person upset about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Various members from 350 DC, the Energy Action Coalition, DC Action Lab, and the Cowboy Indian Alliance engaged select American University students to approach Senators and ask them not to vote for the Keystone Pipeline. A plan was crafted Sunday night, a direct action training held on Monday and on Tuesday, we, the coalition members, went to Senator Bennet’s office and asked to speak to our representative.
About fifty people gathered in the lower levels of Union Station to reiterate the plan. This is where I met two men who lived on the front lines of the Keystone XL Pipeline debate, Art Tanderup and Greg Greycloud. Art, a farmer from Nebraska, and Greg, a member of the Sioux nation, both inspired and encouraged me through their perseverance and caring for others. Through their stories, wisdom, and resolve I learned what it means to work for communities in solidarity for environmental justice.
As we streamed into the office, we were able to capture the attention of the media and staff. The media conducted several interviews with me, Art and Gregg and blasted them out on the Internet. The Chief of Staff asked myself, Art, Gregg, some members from 350 DC and the Energy Action Coalition to sit down for a meeting. This meeting woke me up to the reality that Senator Bennet was in fact going to vote yes to the pipeline and we needed to reach other Senators.
Our interviews made national news. The bill failed by one vote, Bennet voted yes, but we still won. We hope our actions influenced the outcome of the voting. If we did in fact create change with fifty people and cameras imagine what we could do if we all engaged our elected representatives. To save the planet and its people we need to change everything and will need everyone to become politically active.
Lindsey Halvorson is a student at American University studying Communications, Law, Economics, and Government graduating in 2016. She is an organizer and activist on and off campus as she coordinates several clubs on campus including Take Back the Tap and a Zero Waste club. Her ultimate goal is to write environmental policy focusing on western water rights. For now she will continue to organize for environmental justice and student activism. Lindsey is the daughter of Holly Woods, the Shift Network’s Director of Education.