Naomi Klein after Keystone XL pipeline protest arrest
Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein called the Canadian government a "global advertising agency" for the oil industry and spoke in detail this week with the Vancouver Observer about her recent arrest at the White House while protesting the Keystone XL oil pipeline alongside First Nations leaders.
Citing a television "media blackout" and tactics of intimidation in the U.S., Klein had much to say about the controversial Alberta-to-Texas pipeline, which has been opposed by indigenous groups, activists and Nobel Peace laureates.
“The Harper government ... has completely abandoned any pretext of representing the people of Canada and indigenous people on this," Klein said. "Oil companies have enough money to do their own lobbying. They don't need the Alberta and Canadian government traveling around the world as traveling salesmen for them, yet this is what they're doing. The idea that they can in any way be trusted by indigenous people living near the tar sands. That's why people went to Washington to take a message directly to President Obama.”
Indigenous groups, in particular, have a "lot to lose" if the pipeline project is approved, as the pipelines would cross Native lands and potentially contaminate drinking water, the author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism", said. So far, Canada's Environment Minister Peter Kent has voiced support for the project, citing findings in a government report that the pipeline would have minimal environmental impact.
Putting bodies on the line
Although Klein told the CBC last week that she hadn’t planned on being arrested, she said that it was a risk that she and others took in order to get the message across to President Obama.
“It was interesting because at the start of the protest you would see a lot of older people being arrested,” she said. “(Environmental writer) Bill McKibben had wanted that, in the original letter he wrote (to invite people to the Keystone XL protests). He said you can’t just leave the risks to this to young people.”
Klein said that although older people were among the first to take on the sit-in protest, the protesters that she met on her way there were primarily young women in their 20s. Protesters varied from actress Darryl Hannah to NASA chief James Hansen to aboriginal leaders from both sides of the border.
Klein said the U.S. appeared to be taking a “tactic of intimidation” during the first round of arrests, when it held McKibben and others for three days in jail. However, the arrests failed to scare off others from joining the protest.
“It backfired,” she said. “Later, there were so many people getting arrested that they had to let some people out because they didn't have enough room. On the last day, over 240 people were arrested.”
Klein said that she was held for a total of three hours before being let go.
“We were treated respectfully,” she said. "It's not fun, having your hands cuffed behind your back for three hours, but it was done as polite as it could have been.”
Holding Obama accountable
Among the protesters, Klein said, were many people who had supported Obama’s presidential bid in 2008.
“I met some really wonderful young people who had busted their butts working for Obama,” she said. “I think politically, it’s very important for Obama to see. With this next election, he has to think about the people who knock on doors and sleep on floors for him. It's not as if he's going to lose these votes – but will they work for him? That's the real question.”
She said she was relieved to find that many young people who had worked to bring Obama to power hadn't given up on their political engagement.
“It was always in my fear that Obama would breed a new generation of cynics,” she said.
“People whose hopes he had raised, through soaring speeches -- the issues that engaged them were essentially abandoned by the President. I think what was exciting was that people weren't just giving into that cynicism. They were trying to hold Obama accountable for the hope he inspired in them and finding other ways to do politics than just working for a politician. I was really heartened by that.”
Video below: Young Canadians, including Bridgette DePape, protesting Keystone XL Pipeline at White House
“It was striking to me that there was good coverage by the print media by New York Times and Washington Post but there was almost a complete media blackout by the television networks. It's hard to counter when you don't even get your message out.”
In a speech in Washington on Saturday, Klein talked about how oil companies marketed Canadian tar sands as a more politically correct alternative to oil from the Middle East.
“Did you know they’re running ads on the Oprah Winfrey Network, saying that by buying tar sand oil, you’re helping to free women in Saudi Arabia?” she asked.
Klein said she found it strange that Canadian tar sand oil is being advertised as “Ethical Oil” to the US public, given that the oil from Alberta is not guaranteed to even enter the U.S. market.
Screenshot from Ethical Oil advertisement
“This is just about oil companies wanting to make as much money as they possibly can,” she said. “Exxon Mobil is running ads 24/7 on MSNBC and CNN saying the tar sands are making America more secure and less dependent on Middle East oil. Meanwhile these companies all do business in the Middle East.”
“There's absolutely no guarantee that oil is going to enter the US gas. They can export this. and it will be sold to the highest bidder … It’s a bait and switch. We saw this recently with coal -- Obama green-lighted a bunch of new coal licenses in Wyoming and Montana just a few months ago and these companies had also used the exact same "energy security" argument saying we need more coal for energy security. As soon as they got the lease, they turned around and said, 'actually, we want to sell the coal to China.'”
British Columbia: an excuse for the tar sands
Klein pointed out said that British Columbia has a major part to play in stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline. Buried in a lengthy report on the pipeline by the U.S. State department is a section citing B.C. oil activity as a justification for building the pipeline.
“The U.S. State department issued a report that said that if the oil doesn't come to the US through Keystone XL, it will go through British Columbia through one of the new pipelines to China,” she said, in reference to the proposed "Northern Gateway" pipeline that would run from Edmonton to Kitimat.
“B.C. is what’s letting (the Obama administration) sleep at night,” she said.
Klein was referring to a report issued by the U.S. State Department claiming that in the event that the Alberta-Texas pipeline were not built, it would be possible to build a pipeline expansion to British Columbia, which would enable oil exports to Asia.
Chart from report pointing to "Northern Gateway" (the proposed pipeline to the BC Coast) as alternative to Keystone XL pipeline. KXL stands for Keystone XL.