Rhode Island Joined Tar Sands Protests Nationwide

By KEVIN PROFT and TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island recently hosted two of the hundreds of nationwide rallies against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Sam Smith of Barrington was one of 60 protesters who marched Sept. 21 from City Hall to the Statehouse, where a symbolic line in the sand was drawn against the proposed oil pipeline. Smith said he was tired of allowing the fossil-fuel industry to dictate American policy. He advised fellow protesters to add the phone numbers of Rhode Island's four members of Congress to their speed-dial and make regular calls.

"People want clean air, clean water and a clean environment, but if they're just sitting in their living rooms watching TV, nothing is going to happen," Smith said. He said the public needs to hold politicians' "feet to the fire" by making sure they know what issues they think are important. 

Smith's wife, Pat, lamented that corporate lobbying and money was hurting American politics. "It's a corruption of the democracy," she said.

The rally ended with protesters linking hands across the width of the Statehouse steps — a symbolic line against the proposed TransCanada Corp. pipeline. The rally was part of a bigger day of protests organized by the environmental group 350.org. One of the "Draw The Line" protests included the construction of a solar powered barn over the proposed route of the pipeline in Nebraska.

The second Rhode Island gathering, in Matunuk, was held to celebrate Rhode Island's natural resources. The 80 or so attendees at the Festival of Abundance were a testament to the enduring public will to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and save the planet, said Abel Collins, program manager for the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Now it's up to President Obama to do what is in everybody's best interest."

Participants at both Rhode Island demonstrations said they want the polluting tar sands oil in Alberta to stay in the ground. The Providence protest was organized by the Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition. The coalition was represented Sept. 21 by 20 Brown University students, five from Providence College and two from the University of Rhode Island.