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July 23, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Sierra Club Intern

As I walked up Maryland Ave, I could see a dedicated group of activists gathering on the circle in front of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where President Obama would address OFA members and leadership at their August Summit. The sun was beating down, but no one seemed to complain because they were there for an important cause. We were there to be heard by arguably the most powerful man on the planet and let him know that citizens across the country oppose the Keystone XL pipeline because it is a threat to our lands, our climate and our children. My job for now was to give them respite from the sun and tell them they could go find shade and a drink because our planned action got postponed for an hour.


As they left to find this shade, I stayed behind to make sure any tar sands activist that arrived would not be met by a lonely and quiet street. I got to chat to reporters from the Deutsche Welle about their tar sands reporting in Europe, to an activist about energy policy, to an OFA supporter about what she expected to find inside the summit Obama was attending, and to the trickle of activists starting to arrive to the rally.


Around 6pm a critical mass began to form. Those who left for shade and water had returned with renewed energy. Energy we would need to achieve our goal.

As the activists gathered and organizers organized, we prepared ourselves to be heard. We first started with a sing-along of the Sierra Club’s take on an old classic (“Oo-bama, signed, sealed, delivered, say NO!”), and we then played some fun letter-displaying games (spelling messages with cut-outs) to get the blood flowing so we could then start chanting "Hey! Obama! We don’t want this dirty pipeline!"


As we chanted, however, our scouts found that Obama was going to avoid us and enter through the back side of the hotel. It was time to implement our back-up action plan. Before anyone could stop us, we started marching down Maryland Avenue. Forty passionate citizens chanted, "Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Keystone XL’s got to go!" As we reached the corner of Twelfth and Maryland, our path got blocked by the road blocks and there was no way of getting to Obama's point of entry to the hotel.

Organizers were running out of ideas and scouts found no way through the blockade. In the time of greatest desperation, however, we heard a police motorcycle rush down Twelth Street. Without a second of hesitation our vociferous chant leader, Disha, began to chant, "Yes you can! Stop the dirty pipeline plan!" The sound of her voice at first brought confused looks, but as people realized what the motorcycle meant, her voice brought up the spirits and everyone approached the sidewalk, raised their signs and began to chant along with her in unison. Forty people with the goal of being heard by the president, 40 people with the goal of giving a voice to our environment and our children, 40 people that represent the millions across the country who want Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

It was another successful action. President Obama had heard the people once again. While the oil industry may have the money, the lobbyists and the private meetings with politicians, our activists have the voice, the passion and the knowledge that their actions will make a better world for their children. In the end, these forces may be stronger than the millions the fossil fuel industry may throw at politicians. 

- Rodrigo Samayoa


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