Never did I think that I'd be raising my fist in the air to protest the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline in Washington DC, but on February 17 2013, I did just that. On February 15th, I and 9 other Torontonians took off to support the Forward on Climate rally held by 350.org and the Sierra Club. This event was by far the most powerful experience of my life. To be a part of such a serious and critically important event in our history was an honor; the energy and positive vibes were impossible to ignore.

The rally began with Hip Hop Caucus President, Rev Yearwood, addressing the booming crowd showing the strong unity among the 30,000 plus attendees. Thousands of signs and fists were raised high while continual chants urging President Obama to stop the Keystone tar-sands pipeline echoed through the air above us. It was below freezing, but that did not matter.

The positive energy that filled Washington D.C. was immense. People of all race, religion, and age joined together for a common cause: to bring awareness to the seriousness of climate change. It was made very clear that this isn’t just an American, Canadian, or Indigenous issue. This is a world issue that affects every person on the planet.

The closer we marched to the White House the louder the crowd became. Signs waved high, and the passion of participants was obvious. We could hardly move because of the enormous amount of people. I couldn’t see the end of protesters on either side of the march. The police helicopter circled above us, but was unnecessary. It amazed me how so many people could gather in one place, and for there to be no reports of violence. It was truly a peaceful protest.

After the rally, supporters were asked to participate in a traditional Native American round dance. Everyone held hands while dancing in circles around the event space. This eventually broke into free dance. People were jumping, spinning, and moving to the music. There was no form, no pattern, and no instructions to do so. I cannot explain the feeling. Laughter and smiles were everywhere. I think it came from the crowds realization and complete joy that so many people came together to stand up for our climate but also that we all realized the seriousness of the tar-sands and it’s negative impacts on our earth. 

The most surprising feeling was that of Canadian pride. We constantly received comments of gratitude from our American neighbors for being there. Dozens of people stopped to take a photo of our ‘Canadians Against Keystone’ sign.

This event was proof that we are really working together to fight the battle on climate change. But, as a proud Canadian, for the first time in my life, I also began to feel shame for our governments lack of concern. I’m unsure why Canada is choosing to tarnish its name for such a dirty resource. Why is our government pushing for something that is proven to be hazardous to people and the earth?

I can’t refrain from quoting our own national anthem, “God keep our land, glorious and free". I hope that my country will get the courage to step outside the lines and work together to end the destruction of the land and earth that we value, and need so much.

“As long as the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows we will have an obligation and inherent right to the land” - Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation on February 17 2013, Forward on Climate Rally, Washington DC.

Marla Wach is a volunteer with Greenpeace Canada