Horses, Daryl Hannah, sacred fires and Neil Young — these are some of the things you’re likely to see on the National Mall starting Tuesday as part of the latest protest against the Keystone XL pipeline.
The “Reject and Protect” protest is a weeklong event hosted by the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, a group of ranchers, farmers and leaders of seven Native American tribes. Protesters said activists also plan to project anti-pipeline messages onto the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday night, hold an interfaith ceremony outside the Georgetown home of Secretary of State John Kerry and stage an unspecified “bold and creative” bit of civil disobedience.
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They’re estimating that as many as 5,000 activists will take part in a march past the Capitol on Saturday. The rest of the week is expected to be more intimate.
Things kick off Tuesday morning with a short 24-horse ride from the Capitol to a reserved area near the Reflecting Pool. The Indigo Girls will perform two songs as a ceremonial teepee is erected “that will have a clear message to the president on it,” promised Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, the state’s leading anti-pipeline group.
The teepee will bear the Indian names that President Barack Obama received from Montana’s Crow Nation and the Lakota tribe, the activists said, and will be painted with symbols created by tribal artists to symbolize land and water protection. Amid serenading by Young, who is expected to attend later this week, the teepee will be presented as a gift to the National Museum of the American Indian, which organizers say has agreed to house it in its collection.
Kleeb said the initial plan was to have participants stay and sleep in the teepees throughout the week, but they weren’t able to get a permit.
The fact they could get permits for such a long time on the National Mall is an accomplishment and at least partially tied to the religious undertones throughout.
They include a small “sacred fire” central to many tribal ceremonies that will be burning throughout the week, and traditional water ceremonies “that will highlight the threat Keystone XL poses to water sources, especially the Ogallala Aquifer, along the pipeline route,” according to a schedule provided by organizers.
“The spirituality and religious aspects of not only the sacred fire and teepees were incorporated into the permit,” Kleeb said.
But she added, “We’ve been very clear with the parks police and D.C. police that this is a protest about Keystone XL.”
The National Park Service permit, dated Friday, notes the event’s purpose as a “religious gathering by indigenous tribes to call attention to environmental impact of keystone XL Pipeline on tribal lands.”
Organizers promise a small civil disobedience event and arrests Thursday, the details of which aren’t yet announced. “It will not be at the White House, I will tell you that,” Kleeb said.
The civil disobedience won’t match the size of the hundreds of young anti-pipeline protesters arrested in early March outside the White House.
Most of this week’s activities will feature about 200 participants, with a larger 5,000 or so expected for a rally Saturday. The permit says the park service anticipates 150 participants.
But the week will showcase some acts not yet featured in the years of D.C. anti-Keystone protests.
An activist group called The Other 98% plans to use “a large-scale, high-intensity projector” Thursday night to “project messages rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline directly onto the Environmental Protection Agency,” organizers promise in their schedule of events. Kleeb wasn’t sure of the legality of projecting messages onto EPA’s headquarters, if that’s what the activists plan. That question also couldn’t be clarified with other organizers Monday.
On Friday, protesters will participate in “a traditional ceremony” outside Kerry’s house, “praying that the secretary listen to his conscience and the science and reject” the pipeline.
The protest comes amid some good news for pipeline critics: the State Department’s announcement last week that it will postpone a final decision on the project until after Nebraska’s Supreme Court settles a legal skirmish about the pipeline’s route inside the state.