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Lessons from Tar Sands Blockade

Lessons from Tar Sands Blockade

The following story was written by Dandelion, a youth activist from Oregon who had the opportunity to go to the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas to help out.

First I would like to clarify that I am a white, middle class woman, with a high school diploma, pursuing a degree in Environmental Studies. I went to Texas expecting to live in the woods with a bunch of anarcho-environmentalists, working on back woods strategy and reaching out to a primarily white landowning community. I ended up spending most of my time living in Houston, working on urban strategy and organizing with a primarily Latino community. Most of the tasks I took on entailed endless hours of research, creative design, interfacing with an impacted community, and securing food/monetary donations.

I worked with the Manchester community; a neighborhood boxed in by industry, including a Valero oil refinery, which is continually poisoning the surrounding area. This was the biggest challenge for me. I had never worked with a community that is directly impacted by extractive industry; a primarily Latino community living with the threat of deportation; a community that does not share the same privilege as my own. I mean privilege in the sense that I can get myself arrested protesting and I know that I won’t be deported or that I was targeted because of the color of my skin. Institutional racism is perpetuated in too many ways to count–I don’t understand all of them nor do I claim to–but this form of racism perpetuates the legacy of racial inequality in the United States and the world. I can speak out and know that if I am not taken seriously it is not because of the color of my skin.

I was unsure of how I could be as useful as possible in the fight for justice. Another influence in this situation was that I was only down in Texas for two weeks. One thing I have learned from my own organizing experience and from observing other campaigns is that building connections with a community isn’t something to take lightly. If you are only with the community for a short time, you shouldn’t take on the face of the organization. To build trust with a community, there can’t be different people parachuting in for a week here and a week there. If you are one of those people, it’s important to work behind the scenes.

I spent the majority of my time researching the effects and impacts of the Valero refinery on the surrounding area. I looked into the amount of different pollutants the refinery is emitting, which of those are known human carcinogens, and the EPA limits of those pollutants. I thought this would be a walk in that park—it’s all public information right? NOT. The team and I worked day in and day out the whole 10 days we were there trying to translate the legal jargon into words and concepts we could understand and disseminate to  the larger community. In this process we had to learn way too many acronyms, codes, and contacted environmental lawyers to assist us. As a college-educated person I thought that I would be able to understand the information that is deemed public. I was wrong. The information that the public has access to is so heavily encrypted with legal jargon and codes that the only people who can really understand it are those with law degrees. It is an outrage that this information is so difficult to understand.  This  language disenfranchises common people from their role and power as the stakeholders in a democracy.   Within this jungle of legal jargon, Valero hides their inability to function within their own environmental limitations. It goes to show that if you have money, you obviously can buy your way out of any accountability process.

Another project I helped with was the free store. The idea behind this store is solidarity, not charity; the concept of mutual aid where we come together to help each other. The Manchester community is a food desert, where there are few grocery stores that carry unprocessed food, and where residents don’t qualify for welfare benefits because of their citizenship status. The free store is stocked with dumpstered and donated spoils from grocery stores. ‘Expired’ food is sourced from grocers, who have to throw out because they are beyond their expiration dates, but are actually fine to eat. The free store happens between once and twice a week, depending on how much food we can secure. Coordinating the food donations was a difficult task, and I often felt like we were reinventing the wheel. I learned that there are groups who have already established food donations and that reaching out to these groups would save us time and resources. One of the pitfalls of many grassroots organizing campaigns is folks get tied up reinventing the wheel. With the food donations, instead of contacted grocers directly—who often require a month or two to process requests and lots of paper work—time spent contacting groups who already have these connections has proved to be less resource intensive and create allies.

Going to the Manchester neighborhood was the most difficult and most rewarding part of the time I spent working down there. I was only down there one day, setting up the free store and distributing food and information about tar sands extraction. I was totally unprepared for the things I was going to hear. I was totally unprepared in how to interact with a community that is being directly impacted by the pollution and maltreatment of the environment that I am researching but have nowhere to go and whose voices are crippled by the threat of deportation. How do I talk with these folks about how I am researching the corporation in their neighborhood and how they are living in poisonous conditions, and that ‘yeah, I’m only here for a week to help.’ Fortunately, I speak Spanish which made meeting and chatting with these folks easier, but there was a definite disconnect due to my short-term visit and privileged background. I found that simply listening instead of talking and taking up space was important.

I met some beautiful people, whose families are being torn apart by illnesses like cancer and asthma that are caused by industrial pollution. The pollution that apparently is not subjected to any of the accountability processes that one might think are there to protect us.

While I was in Houston I noticed the dialogue among the Tar Sands Blockade crew was shifting from the folks in the woods, “holy shit they’re laying the pipeline right now, we gotta stop this, everyone to the frontline.” To folks in Houston, “holy shit people are being poisoned every day and are dying and families are being poisoned, everyone to the computers so we can figure out how to shut that shit down?”

This is the belly of the beast; when you can’t just step in front of an excavator to stop whatever is happening. We don’t know how to fight this. There are so many levels of corruption, which may or may not be working together, that as soon as you think you’re onto something useful you get denied access. That’s when you know that you’re looking in the right place. When you get threatened with arrest or the FBI starts watching you, listening to you. The real world we live in is a police state where any voice of dissent or person who doesn’t prioritize profits over people is considered a terrorist. Where corporations bully people in order to get what they want and then are protected by the state for “providing jobs.” But when we bully corporations about their treatment of the environment and people, we are considered terrorists. It’s time to get creative. It’s time to think of new and different tactics. There is no better time than now to take a stand.

What I learned in Houston is that there are really huge problems occurring around the world, and that those of us who have the privilege to speak up and feel only minor implications need to do so. More importantly we need to listen to the folks who are being directly impacted, and we need to stand in solidarity with them on the premise that the government and our elected officials are working out of the pocket books of the entities that are causing such harm and that it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on allyship, anti-oppression, and mutual aid if we want to stop perpetuating the patriarchal systems of oppression that control the decision making processes in most of the world.

Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference

Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference

Today the first all-inclusive Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference came to a close at Portland State University. I was incredibly excited to be invited to be part of the conference and help lead a visioning portion of the Student Summit with Amanda Maxwell, our Oregon Co-Director, on behalf of the Cascade Climate Network. The efforts resulted in a beautiful vision document that we hope will be used to further sustainability across the Northwest and which aligns with our CCN Declafesto. Please read the text of the document below or access the PDF version here OHESC Student Summit Vision.

Update: Student governments across the state are starting to endorse and pass resolutions in support of the OHESC Student Summit Vision. ASSOU endorsed the vision a week after the conference and ASUO Senate unanimously voted to pass the vision in resolution form on Wednesday (2/20).


OHESC Student Summit Vision

February 1, 2013

This document was developed by students from across higher education institutions in the Northwest at the 2013 Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference. The majority of institutions represented at this conference are signatories to the President’s Climate Commitment, which require, for example: “Establish a policy of offsetting all greenhouse gas emissions generated by air travel paid for by our institution.”[1]

The vision of the students in Oregon is to empower and develop leaders through a culture of sustainability that fosters relationships between all campus constituents and the broader communities of which they are a part. A culture of sustainability includes:

  • Expectations of inclusive and collaborative decision making processes, which include students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and the surrounding communities;
  • Embedded sustainability throughout curriculum in all departments;
  • An emphasis on active transportation, and a minimization of privately owned vehicles;
  • Physical spaces that reflect innovative understanding of systems and place-based, culturally responsible, identity; and
  • The establishment of structures to ensure the longevity of such practices.

Action Plan
From this date until OHESC 2019, we will partner with and expect our institution’s leadership to take action on the following tangible steps towards a true culture of sustainability.

Together, we will:

  • Finalize a plan for Zero Waste campuses that will be accomplished by 2025, which equates to 90% diversion from the waste stream;
  • Formalize a commitment to transparent endowments, socially responsible investments, and a complete divestment from fossil fuels;
  • Establish a Green Revolving Fund on each campus;
  • Develop a requirement in each major that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the field of study;
  • Halve the percentage of single-occupancy vehicles used to commute (students, staff, faculty);
  • Create a system for access to affordable, healthy, and just food, which could include establishing a food pantry and/or garden plots for the campus community’s use; and
  • Mandate programs that provide a holistic introduction to sustainability for first year students, new staff, faculty and administrators, which address oppression of both people and the planet.

Through this vision and the previous steps, the Oregon higher education students, will work with our campuses to build off of the work done at the 2013 Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference and bring innovative changes to our communities.

The Students of Oregon


Faculty and staff commuters: UO students are here to help

Faculty and staff commuters: UO students are here to help

It’s about time University of Oregon faculty and staff caught up with students – and LiveMove may be able to help.

In a 2009 survey from the Office of Sustainability, about 50 percent of faculty and staff reported driving alone each day in their commute to campus. That compares to the 11 percent of students who drive alone, the rest taking advantage of alternative transportation such as biking, walking, and riding public transit.

Something must be keeping faculty and staff from commuting in those cleaner ways, and the students in LiveMove want to encourage them to overcome whatever it is that’s keeping them behind the wheel.

LiveMove is a student organization composed primarily of Public Planning, Policy and Management students, says Paul Leitman, a LiveMove member and graduate student of Community and Regional Planning. The group’s mission: “Promote healthy, sustainable communities by integrating transportation and livability through collaboration, education, research and outreach.”

LiveMove’s new initiative, the Commuting Companions program, is right in line with the mission and the values of sustainable transportation.

Leitman says Commuting Companions is a program for faculty and staff to be paired with LiveMove students as a consultants for alternative transportation. Students will act as mentors, answering any questions participants might have, and even accompanying them on a few commutes to help them get used to any changes.

“Sometimes it’s scary to change how you get to work,” says Leitman. “Partnering up with LiveMove and the Commuting Companions program really clears that up and helps the faculty member understand what their options are.”

In the true spirit of service, the Commuting Companions mentor relationship is flexible to fit a given participant’s needs and expectations. “It’s whatever the faculty member wants to get out of it,” Leitman says.

Faculty and staff engaged in the program will collaborate with their student mentors to determine what they need to effectively switch to sustainable forms of transportation. Mentors will be able to help with everything from answering basic questions on which routes to take, to accompanying participants to the bike shop to pick out fenders and lights.

For Leitman, sustainable travel is not just about saving the environment. He says he has fun walking, biking, and taking public transit to campus. Beyond that, “it’s convenient to leave your car at home,” says Leitman. He cites exercise and time to read or do extra work on the bus as added bonuses to ditching your car and heading to campus in new ways.

“Right now we’re just in the stage of getting the word out and asking if any faculty or staff members are interested in getting involved,” Leitman says.

Though LiveMove is still in its beginning stages, and no faculty or staff members have signed on to be paired with mentors yet, Leitman’s enthusiasm signals hope for a successful and beneficial program.

“Livemove is just really excited about this opportunity,” says Leitman. “We strongly support walking, biking and taking alternate modes of transportation, and we’re just really excited to show other people how much we care and that we want to help them make smart commuting decisions.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Commuting Companions, contact Paul Leitman at [email protected].

– by Dillon Pilorget, UO Office of Strategic Communications intern

This article was reposted from Around the O.

Thousands Join in Defending North America from Toxic Tar Sands

Thousands Join in Defending North America from Toxic Tar Sands

Defend Our Coast, Victoria B.C.

On Sunday, I headed up to Victoria, B.C. with two other activists from the Cascade Climate Network. Little did I know that participating in a 5,000 person action to Defend the Coast from tar sands pipelines and oil tankers would continue to build momentum over the following days in many different capacities. I am truly inspired by my experiences of the past few days and wish to share them with you.

In the weeks leading up to the Defend Our Coast action on the BC legislature lawn, I kept checking the website. Originally the organizers set the participant goal at 2,000. Soon the numbers of people who pledged to participate exceeded 2,000 and new goals of 3,000 and 5,000 had to be made. The day before the action, more than 4,500 people had signed up to participate in the action in some way. Many people pledged to participate in civil disobedience by staking a 235 meter (770 feet) black banner, which symbolized the length of an oil tanker, into the lawn of the legislature. The Monday Defend Our Coast rally was by far the largest action against tar sands ever in Canada’s history.

No Pipeline No Tar Sands Legislature Steps
No Pipeline No Tankers Light up the Steps of the BC Legislature. Photo credit: Keri Coles

Upon arriving in Victoria, we took a bus up to the University of Victoria to meet up with others and receive training to prepare for the next day. I was fortunate to meet the director of the Backbone Campaign, Bill Moyer, and hear about the great work they do. The Backbone Campaign is a group that does creative tactics across North America. Here is a photo of their pre-action fun from Sunday night.

At the training, I was also able to listen to the heart breaking stories of many First Nations representatives who had traveled over 1,000 miles to take part in the action to defend the land that they live on, the water that they drink, and the fish that they eat. One spokesperson pulled a coin out of his pocket and said, “you can’t eat this. When our food is gone, money is useless.”

The First Nations peoples who were present at the training clearly articulated the importance of defending the land we have grown up on for many, many future generations to enjoy. There were elderly in their 90s who were there in support and were clearly participating for their offspring and the non-human animals who do not have a voice in political processes.

Amanda Maxwell, the Oregon Cascade Climate Network Co-director stated, “Having the opportunity to see people from all walks of life come together to protect our future is inspiring. The issue of fossil fuel dependency is bigger than just us; this is about safeguarding the future for generations to come.” This sentiment was definitely held by many people who showed up to be part of the action.

On the day of the action, people from all over emerged out of the woodwork to join in solidarity on the lawn of the legislature. The crowd included babies, elderly arriving by bicycle, First Nations peoples with drums, dogs and stuffed animals with signs, and this large salmon puppet provided by the Backbone Campaign (left).

Throughout the day, various speakers and performers sent their messages out into the crowds of applause on the main stage. Thousands of people were willing to risk arrest in order to stake the model tanker into the ground, but no one in the end was arrested. The messages were sent loud and clear with words, through song and dance, and by leaving painted messages on the tanker that was staked into the legislature lawn. The police even aided in the action by closing off the road for the end of the tanker to extend into the street.

Bill Moyer, Director of the Backbone Campaign, described the Defend Our Coast rally as, “a pivotal moment, a milestone in an unprecedented process of coming together to occupy our vision, our aspirations and our power to shape the future.” In just the past two days since the initial rally, it has become clear that it really was a pivotal moment that has continued to grow.

In conjunction with the October 22nd Defend Our Coast action, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) filed a lawsuit that would prevent tar sands extraction at the source in northern Alberta. To find out more and stand with ACFN against shell, visit the Stop Shell Now site.

After an incredibly exciting weekend filled with standing in solidarity with activists from many nations in the thousands at the BC legislature, the public push against tar sands continues to escalate. The domino effect has begun.

Momentum Continues to Build

Today, October 24th, people went to the offices of their representatives in over 68 communities across British Columbia to rally against tar sands. Over 5,000 people of all ages turned out in total at the various locations. To read more on the story, visit the main Defend Our Coast website or follow the media streaming in on facebook at

As I searched for more news on the continued actions related to Defend Our Coast, I also came across updates on the Tar Sands Blockade, which is a group of activists based out of Texas that is fighting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The Tar Sands Blockade in Winnsboro, Texas celebrates its month long anniversary today. Activists have been living in the canopy of a forest that would have to be bulldozed in order for the Keystone XL Pipeline to be built for a solid month now. If you wish to make a donation in support of the direct action efforts, please click here to donate.

Cherri Blocks TransCanada Trucks
Cherri Blocks TransCanada Trucks in Louisiana

I was also incredibly inspired as I came across the story of Cherri Foytlin’s arrest in Louisiana. Cherri Foytlin, an indigenous mother, blocked the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline construction trucks for an hour. She took action to have a direct impact on the construction of the pipeline needed to transport tar sands from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico through many communities and important clean water aquifers.

Watch Cherri Foytlin’s tar sands blockade testimony video or follow the blog about the action at

The past few days have been incredibly inspiring to me. Standing with thousands of people who care enough of about the land that we live on and the water that we drink to travel thousands of miles to convey the message that we want to give a healthy planet to future generations reaffirmed my commitment to doing everything I can to bring about a more thriving, just, and sustainable future for all.


See the album below if you wish to view moments that I captured in Victoria, B.C.

Defend the Coast Photo Album
Stop Coal Trains, Bring Climate Justice to Eugene

Stop Coal Trains, Bring Climate Justice to Eugene

Update: No Coal Eugene got some great local media today!

As coal plants in the United States continue to close, local organizations around the country appear to have struck a blow to the industry. But in reality, as coal consumption decreases in our country, global demand continues to rise. A result of this shift in demand can be found in recent proposals to ship Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming through several Northwest ports. One of these proposals would bring coal right through the city of Eugene, to the Port of Coos Bay.

Eugene has been given a unique opportunity to combat coal by rallying against this proposal. Not only are coal mining and combustion dirty; its transportation presents significant health hazards as well. The coal passing right through downtown Eugene, slowing traffic for up to eight minutes would be transported in open bed coal trains. More than 100 tons of coal dust per train will blow off between Montana and Coos Bay. The dust contains heavy metals such as lead and mercury and causes lung diseases, as well as pollution from the diesel that fuels the trains. Regionally, the health impacts of coal follow the transportation and watershed routes.

This is a major issue we face as a community, region, and nation and it represents a textbook environmental justice problem. Environmental justice (EJ) is a social movement that includes mainly people of marginalized communities and focuses on the environment directly around people in society who carry many environmental burdens in their everyday lives, including living and working conditions. EJ strives to bring communities autonomy through their fight for civil and human rights. The coal trains will be passing directly through the Whiteaker neighborhood, a historically working class part of the city.

Emma Newman, a Co-Director of CCN went on an environmental justice tour in West Eugene last week and saw the neighborhoods that would be hardest hit. “One neighborhood,” Emma said, “was literally surrounded by a train yard on one side and train tracks on the other. They are already suffering from a toxic plume in their well water and the last thing that they need is coal dust drifting over their park and onto their vegetable gardens.”

The consequences of building these coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest would be widespread and severe; from the direct impact on the health of citizens and the local economy, to the contribution of coal to climate change. There are very real implications when it comes to environmental justice, and the disproportionate amount of harm this project would present to people in our community, particularly those unfortunate enough to live close enough to the tracks to experience firsthand the pollution caused by the transportation of coal. These ports would not benefit the vitality of the Northwest or the individuals mining the coal, but they would continue to fill the pocketbooks of those most powerful in the coal industry.

People in the region are working to stop this, both through direct actions and legislative measures, as well as campus initiatives to show student support for alternatives to coal. The Climate Justice League, a student organization at the University of Oregon, is working with local groups including the community-wide group No Coal Eugene to assert the rights of Eugene over big coal. Say No to coal in Eugene. To learn more, please visit or

CCN Activists Scale Billboard, Expose Local Coal Threats

CCN Activists Scale Billboard, Expose Local Coal Threats

Portland, Ore. Three activists with Cascade Climate Network and Portland Rising Tide occupied a billboard at the corner of SE 12th and Sandy Blvd Sunday afternoon to protest proposals for coal export terminals across the Northwest. The activists altered the billboard with a giant banner that listed five potential coal export sites along the Oregon and Washington coast, while around forty protestors gathered below and spelled “no coal exports” with oversized letters.

Coal corporations including Peabody and Arch Energy are seeking to export up to 100 million tons of coal annually from six separate sites in Oregon and Washington. Last month, with minimal public input, the Port of St Helens approved an option to lease the port to coal companies Ambre Energy and Kinder Morgan. This comes nearly a year after Millennium Bulk Logistics temporarily withdrew an application to export coal from Longview, Washington after internal documents revealed inconsistent figures regarding the intended volume of coal for export.

“Big coal knowingly poisons our land, water and communities for the sake of their bottom line. Coal is the biggest contributor to global climate change, and as we teeter on the threshold of climate chaos we must reject all coal infrastructure,” said Chelsea Thaw, an activist with Cascade Climate Network.

This event was part of a regional day of coordinated action against Northwest Coal Exports. Actions occurred across Oregon and Washington near sites of proposed export and in Montana near the coalfields of the Powder River Basin. This is just a pre-cursor to increased efforts to prevent the exportation of coal in our region.

There is a call going out to anyone and everyone who wishes to participate in a mass civil disobedience action in Montana this summer. The goal of the action will be to stop the State Land Board giving permits to coal companies to mine coal that would then travel across the Northwest in trains and be exported across the Pacific Ocean.

Eric Jensen, one of the activists participating in the action remarked, “It was really meaningful for me to have this opportunity to partner with coal activists across the region.  The Coal Export Action this summer in Helena is going to be critical for fostering the type of regional solidarity we need to protect our communities from coal.”

The Cascade Climate Network has been working on the Beyond Coal campaign since its beginning nearly five years ago and will continue to lead the Pacific Northwest to a clean energy future. Stay tuned for details about a mass action in Montana this summer!


BIG WIN for the Climate! Obama Delays Keystone XL Pipeline!

BIG WIN for the Climate! Obama Delays Keystone XL Pipeline!

Today, the Obama administration delayed the Keystone XL Pipeline!!!

This is a huge win for the climate. For more information, see the links below.

NYTimes article:

Tar Sands Action letter from Bill McKibben announcing win:

CCN Members are Drawn to Washington, D.C. to Stop Keystone XL Pipeline

CCN Members are Drawn to Washington, D.C. to Stop Keystone XL Pipeline

CCN Members are Drawn to Washington, D.C. to Stop Keystone XL Pipeline

On August 20, 2011, Americans of all ages, including Bill McKibben and members of the Cascade Climate Network (Chelsea Thaw and David Kellner-Rode), kicked off the largest climate civil disobedience action in U.S. history by being arrested in front of the White House in protest of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. Over 2,000 people from all 50 states have signed up to risk arrest in the next two weeks as part of the Tar Sands Action.


James Hansen, a world-renowned climatologist, said that using the Alberta, Canada tar sands would be “essentially game over” for the climate. The tar sands are a huge threat to the climate since estimates say that they contain at least 400 GtC (equivalent to about 200 ppm CO2) according to the International Panel on Climate Change (see IPCC Fourth Assessment Report). They also require 4 barrels of water to produce 1 barrel of oil and produce 2-4 times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil.

While I was at the Sierra Student Coalition’s Shindig gathering in St. Louis this past week, I went to a presentation on the tar sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline. I learned that the pipeline threatens biodiversity, clean water sources for people in the western United States, and land owned by residents on the path from Alberta, Canada to the oil refineries on the Gulf of Mexico (see map of proposed pipeline route here). I was most shocked that a similar pipeline has spilled 12 times in the past year (averaging once a month) since the tar sands are incredibly thick and difficult to transport. The Keystone XL would open up the heartland of the United States to oil spills similar to the BP spill.


According to the U.S. Department of State, “the proposed Keystone XL Project would consist of approximately 1,711 miles of new, 36-inch-diameter pipeline, with approximately 327 miles of pipeline in Canada and approximately 1,384 miles in the United States” (Keystone XL Project). The miles of pipeline would destroy acres of agricultural and indigenous lands.


On Wednesday, I will be joining a cross-country caravan that is holding events in different states on their way to D.C. to take part in the action. To follow the tar sands actions and caravan, please visit and


Sign the Tar Sands Petition here:

Please contact me, Emma Newman ([email protected]), to help with spreading the word or taking other actions in solidarity of those risking arrest in Washington, D.C.

NW Youth Head to St. Louis, MO for Shindig Gathering

NW Youth Head to St. Louis, MO for Shindig Gathering

This weekend youth from the Cascade Climate Network are embarking on journeys across the country to St. Louis, Missouri for the national Sierra Student Coalition Shindig gathering. The gathering is a fabulous opportunity to organize with other youth from across the country around international conferences (Rio+20 and COP 17), beyond coal efforts, tar sands pipelines, and visions for the future. Expect to hear more when we return!