'Hands Around the White House.' Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood, Tar Sands Action

On November 5th and 6th, approximately 12,000 people  participated in a peaceful demonstration in Washington, D.C. to protest the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline including a ‘Hands Around the White House Demonstration.’

The weekend of action began on Saturday, November 5th, with a Tar Sands Action meeting held at All Souls DC.  Logistics were finalized, regional break-out groups formed to discuss future planning, chants were taught, and a short film about tar sands was shown.

Section of the protesters from the rally stage. Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood, Tar Sands Action

Sunday, November 6th was a beautiful day in Washington, DC – made all the more lovely when approximately twelve thousand people arrived for the demonstration.  (Organizers had initially anticipated five to six thousand!)  The circle around the perimeter of the White House was three-to-four people deep.

Lynn Dash + other members of the UU Congregation of Monmouth County

UUA Witness Ministries Director Craig C. Roshaven joined Witness Ministries Program Associate Kat Liu and Environmental Stewardship Manager Robin Nelson in urging UUs to attend the DC demonstrationUUAstaff connected with 63 UUs who were at the rally/demonstration (more later identified themselves as there but unable to find the group due to the overwhelming size of the crowd!)

Solidarity events were held across the country as well.

UUs of Southern Delaware: Joe Farrell, Anne Pikolas, + Kris Acker

The ‘Hands Around the White House Demonstration’ came about in August 2011 when Tar Sands Action and 350.org proposed a radical demonstrationt o oppose the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Beginning with non-violent civil disobedience — which included standing and sitting in front of the White House — 1,253 protesters were arrested over two weeks including celebrities like Daryl Hannah and Margot Kidder. Climate Scientists Bill McKibben and James Hansen also put their bodies on the line to persuade the President to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline.  UU World reported that 15 UUs were arrested on the designated interfaith day and many more were arrested on other dates.

UU Church of Silver Spring members along the East side of the White House. Credit: Kat Liu

While the arrests were making some headlines, organizers grew concerned when Press Secretary Jay Carney admitted that he hadn’t even briefed the President on the campaign. As a result, efforts increased with local organizing in affected communities as well as attendance at “Public Meetings following the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline” across the country (along the route of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline).

Many elected officials, activists, artists and celebrities have come out against the Keystone XL Pipeline including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV), Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE), Governor Dave Heineman (NE); Former Vice President Al Gore; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Van Jones, Robert Redford, and Ogalala Vice President Tom Poor Bear.

Let us know about your participation in ‘Hands Around the White House’ or a solidarity event you attended by emailing Rnelson@uua.org or commenting below.

About the Author
Robin Nelson


  1. Carlo Voli

    Very well written article. Thanks!
    It was, indeed, a wonderful, powerful and beautiful action.
    I am a member of the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church, in Washington State, and was fortunate enough to be able to attend.
    I was so inspired by the sheer numbers of people who participated and am completely confident that we are making a huge difference and that Obama is now listening and will make the right decision.
    Thank you to all the UUs who participated and to all the other UUs who are supporting this cause within their own congregations and communities.

  2. Cathy Strickler

    My husband and I also were at the action in DC last Sunday and are members of the Harrisonburg, VA, UU group.
    We also were arrested in August at the White House action.

    The need to ‘change our ways’ is a message that is very difficult and painful for many people to hear and absorb. Best of luck to all of us who learning how to convey this message with both love and power.

    Robin, thanks if you can add us to your email list and thanks Les Grady for forwarding this.

  3. Sally G

    I was also at both events, in early September and again holding hands around the White House last weekend. We have certainly raised the profile of the project in the public eye; we have, I am almost sure, gotten a delay; we have gotten an investigation by the State Department inspector general into the integrity (or lack thereof!) of the decision process. We have also gotten President Obama to state publicly that it will be his decision alone, not just that of the State Department. (Although if another of the 9 agencies reviewing the pipeline disagreed with State, the president would have had to weigh in, anyway.) It remains to be seen whether we have won the war against the entire project.
    The Canadian government says that the tar sands will be developed in any case, but my understanding was that this was seen as the quickest, easiest route—so we can buy lots more time and, even if the carbon is ultimately released, prevent more spills such as the recent on in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
    Thanks to all who made Sunday such a great day; keep in touch with Tar Sands Action as we plan our campaign. And don’t forget the fight against other unconventional oil projects—we are currently fignting hydrofracturing (a.k.a. fracking) in the Delaware River Basin in the N.J/Penn./N.Y./Del. region.

  4. Rachel Mark

    My husband Michael and I are members of Unitarian Church of Harrisburg. Along with fellow UCH members Barbara VanHorn and Susan Norris, we joined others on buses from Harrisburg, York, and Lancaster for an exciting day of protest in Washington. We did connect with Unitarians from Harrisonburg. It was an inspiring day and I think it made a difference!

  5. RickN

    One correction – Bill McKibben is not a scientist – he’s a journalist. He’s been following the climate change issue for many years and has a very good understanding of the issues involved, but he does not have any scientific credentials. I believe he teaches journalism at Middlebury College. James Hansen is the well known and respected climatologist with a long career at NASA.

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