This Saturday, five Yale students were arrested on the White House lawn while protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Yale students were among almost 400 other students from universities across the nation who were arrested for protesting the proposal to build a crude oil pipeline spanning from the tar sands in southern Canada to refineries in Texas. The protest drew over 1,000 people, significantly more than the 600 estimated by Yale students before the rally.
“We are a very united, powerful and people-based movement,” said Alexandra Barlowe ’17, one of the Yale students who attended the protest.
Students representing more than 80 universities carried signs with slogans like “Keep the oil out of our soil,” and chanted, “Hey Obama, we don’t want pipeline drama.” The group of six Yale students carried a sign with the message “Yale says no to Keystone XL”
Students from across the nation gathered at Georgetown University, the site of Obama’s 2013 climate change speech, before marching together to the White House. The group also made a stop at the house of Secretary of State John Kerry ’66 along the way. According to Barlowe, there were barricades around Kerry’s house, but no police presence.
The protestors were briefed on civil disobedience protocol and the legal implications of their arrest the night before the protest by DC Action Lab, a collective of organizers that helps coordinate political protests. There were two experienced protestors and one lawyer present.
After marching to Lafayette Park outside of the White House, around 200 of the protestors, including the group from Yale, zip-tied their wrists to the fence. A few hundred stood behind them, and a group of the protestors staged a “human oil spill,” in which people in hazmat suits threw themselves onto a large black tarp representing oil and pretended to die.
Police barricaded the area, giving protestors warning that if they remained in the area inside the barricade, they would be arrested. Protestors had until the third warning to walk out of the area peacefully until the police were legally allowed to arrest them. Each time the police gave a warning, the protestors let out loud cheers, Barlowe said.
“The whole buildup was very well choreographed,” said Elias Estabrook ’16, one of the other leaders of the Yale group. Estabrook added that he thought the march was fun, even when it began to rain and the temperature dropped.
Although Barlowe and Estabrook estimated that the press left around 3:30 p.m., it was not until at least 6:00 p.m. that the police detached their wrists from the fence and promptly slipped them into handcuffs.
All of the Yale students who attended were arrested except one, who attended the protest, but left the barricaded area before risking arrest.
The arrested students were bused to a police station, where they were told to fill out paperwork and pay a small fine, which they anticipated, students interviewed said.
“There was definitely a conversation that we were being arrested in a very privileged way,” Barlowe said, adding that had the protest not been in as public a venue as in front of the White House, they may not have been allowed to get off so lightly.
For the Yale students arrested, formal charges will not appear on their record. According to Estabrook, it would only be through a full background check that a potential employer could see that they had once been arrested.
Mitchell Barrows ’16, a Yale student who attended the protest, said he saw the protest as a way of demanding that the voice of America’s youth be heard.
“I think it was an event that said ‘Hey, this is our future.’ And I think people heard,” he said.
Still, Barlowe said that she wished that she had seen more racial diversity at the protest. Although she remarked on a near-even gender distribution, she said that she was one of maybe 40 people of color that she saw. Barlowe said fewer people of color risked arrest, particularly those who were male.
Estabrook said that he also noticed that the protesters were overwhelmingly white, with only a small representation from minorities.
Groups from Princeton, Cornell and Columbia all attended the protest, while Harvard did not send any students.