WASHINGTON — While the administration — and much of the rest of the world — is fixated on events in Ukraine this weekend, a group of protesters is promising to keep the Keystone pipeline on the Obama administration agenda with what they say will be "the largest student civil disobedience on any political issue in recent memory" at the White House Sunday.
Hundreds of college students and other activists gathered Saturday night in Washington in advance of a protest action at the White House they say will feature mass arrests and 40 x 60-foot "black banner cut to look like an oil spill" organizers say they'll spread on Pennsylvania Ave.
Organizers recognize they're fighting an uphill battle, news-wise.
"I mean, you get more TV on a quiet news day," said Jamie Henn, a co-founder of 350.org, the group led by prominent anti-Keystone activist Bill McKibben. "But I'm assuming that most climate/environmental reporters haven't been dispatched to the Crimea yet."
Upwards of 500 of the activists plan to get arrested at a White House event planned to begin around noon on Sunday, Henn said. That would make Sunday's action unprecedented during Obama's term in office, he believes.
If the 500-plus arrests materialize, it will "definitely be" the largest student civil disobedience "of the Obama administration," Henn said.
Keystone opponents are rallying around the protest as a final decision on building a new section of the pipeline gets closer. Critics of Keystone suffered a blow last week when a State Department Inspector General's report they hoped would discredit an environmental impact study favorable to the pipeline found the company contracted to conduct the study did not have a conflict of interest with the company hoping to build the pipeline. Ahead of Sunday's protest, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and other Keystone opponents expressed solidarity with the event.
But even with such large numbers and high-profile backing, the protesters are up against a tough news cycle. The protest will begin just as the Sunday morning talk shows are ending, kicking off a fresh round of Washington chatter about the political fallout from the crisis in Ukraine. The protest is also scheduled to end just hours before D.C. is plunged headlong into another winter storm: meteorologists predict 5-9 inches of snow.