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Tar Sands – Cascade Climate Network

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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.

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 facebook.com/DefendOurCoast.

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 http://tarsandsblockade.org/10th-action/.

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
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: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/11/us/politics/administration-to-delay-pipeline-decision-past-12-election.html?_r=1&ref=global-home

Tar Sands Action letter from Bill McKibben announcing win: http://www.tarsandsaction.org/big-news-won-won/

Take Action to Protect the NW from Dirty Energy

Take Action to Protect the NW from Dirty Energy

 

The CCN proudly supports the following action described below by our Coalitions facilitator Natalie Eberts:

3 Targets . . . 2 Issues . . . 1 All-Out Action!

Join the Energy Action Coalition, Rainforest Action Network, ForestEthics, and Coal Action Network for an amazing march after Powershift to put all the amazing energy from the weekend into action for the crucial issues of TarSands and Coal Exports!

Here’s a snapshot:

  • “Returning” Grocery Bags of Tar Sands Destruction at Safeway, a giant corporate buyer of Tarsands Oil
  • A “Die-In” and Street Theater at the Bank of America, the single largest funder of Coal Exports, on the weekend of “Move Your Money Day”
  • A mock Clean Energy Campaign office at the Lane County Democrats HQ in solidarity with the Tar Sands Action at the White House
This march will be unique because there will be many ways for you all to participate beyond just holding signs and chanting– from carrying “oily” Safeway bags, to being outlined in chalk in the die-in, to being a “volunteer” at the mock campaign office.
That’s not all though, if you want to be more involved in this exciting action, there are lots of roles we need you to fill! These include: Media (photo/video, social media, bloggers, spokespeople), March leaders, Chant leaders, Police Liasons, Volunteers Coordinators, Set-up Crew, and musicians! Let us know if you’re interested–if you’d like to help but aren’t sure how,  we’ll figure it out. We’re also looking for a set of drums, other instruments, a truck, folding tables, 1-2 dress suits to borrow, Obama T-shirts and pins, and bullhorns, so let us know if you can lend any of these.Even if you’re not able to get directly involved beforehand, here’s two simple things you all can do to help make this action the huge success it’s shaping out to be:

  1. Spread the Word BEFORE the Conference by inviting friends in the area to this Facebook Event, Tweeting and reTweeting wth the hastag #pswaction, and reposting this email to any listserves you’re on.
  2. Spread the Word AT the Conference by recruiting people to come and passing around fliers available from our tables.
This is going to be an creative hundreds-strong action propelled from all the momentum of Powershift, so we’re excited to have you be a part!
Thank you for helping make this happen!
In solidarity,
Chelsea Thaw, Natalie Eberts, Nick Engelfield, and Adam Gaya
Action Organizers
Contact:
Natalie Eberts– [email protected]  |  #734-476-1310
Nick Engelfried [email protected]  |  #503-737-7666
#Occupy I-5: A Revolutionary Roadtrip

#Occupy I-5: A Revolutionary Roadtrip

Lauren Ressler, CCN interim Washington co-director and Sierra Student Coalition coordinator for the Pacific NW, wrote this blog about her trip to CCN-affiliated communities in Oregon and Washington. This post was originally featured on WeArePowerShift.org

After stops at twelve universities over the course of eighteen days in a journey totaling over one thousand miles I have reached an important conclusion: students in the Pacific Northwest are taking campus climate organizing to new heights. Here is what a small fraction of these schools are doing:

Did you know the students at Western Washington University are trying to protect their community from a massive coal export facility being proposed just a few miles off campus? Their first kick off meeting garnered the participation of more than 100 students inspired by some seriously herculean outreach efforts lead by a small number of young people who don’t want to breath the harmful dust from the coal trains; who don’t want their bay to suffer from black tides as a result of the same contamination entering the waterways of Bellingham; who don’t want their city to be the lifeline between the US and Asia for one of the dirtiest industries in the world. Western student, Chelsea Thaw, commented, “The energy at the meeting was palpable. This issue has been a galvanizing force for student activists and an opportunity to learn from elders in the community who have grown up the town are fighting to keep it the way they remember it.”

Have you heard about the creative way Whitman students are showing solidarity with the global movement to stop the development of the Keystone XL pipeline? At a school of only 1500 students, they are organizing more than 50 volunteers to visually represent how all students, no matter their origin, are affected by fossil fuel consumption by creating a human map of the US. This is the launch event for a bold beyond fossil fuels campaign that is already getting significant attention.

Moving south, my visit to Portland left me thinking about food in an entirely new way. I am an urban gardener and frequenter of many a farmers market, so you might be surprised that I had an incredible time planning a Fried Food Fest with students at the University of Portland. Members of the Biodiesel club at UP are turning grease to gas that will power many campus appliances. Co-founder, Dan Browne, says, “It has been fascinating hearing everyone’s different interests in biodiesel from business to engineering this year. There are so many different facets to biodiesel that anyone can get involved; you get out what you put in.”

Eugene, OR was the southernmost point of my epic journey and it did not disappoint. The students of the University of Oregon will be hosting Power Shift West the weekend of November 4-6 and they are working tirelessly to make this the most inspiring event of the season. During my stay I witnessed late evening phone bank sessions, logistical meetings, and some serious on-campus recruitment from the members of the Climate Justice League and OSPIRG. I can’t wait to return in just a few short weeks to witness this empowering event. If you want to see the energy and amazing work of students of the Northwest in person join us for Power Shift West November 4-6 at the University of Oregon.

Power Shift West Registration Open!

Power Shift West Registration Open!

Across the country a bold movement is emerging to demand a clean and sustainable future. People of all ages and backgrounds are coming together to show industry and politicians that we will not let our country continue its dangerous addiction to fossil fuels and youth are at the forefront. Whether it is in DC resisting the disastrous Keystone XL pipeline, in Appalachia resisting the destructive process of mountaintop removal or in cities resisting the placement of toxic industries near low-income communities our generation is taking a crucial role in this process.

In the Pacific Northwest, we face numerous and complex problems. There is the export of coal to Asian markets, the expansion of clear cutting in ancient forests, the importation of tar sands equipment, unsustainable food systems, close ties between industry and politicians, and the ongoing inequity in the distribution of environmental harm in our own communities. Yet we also know how powerful we are when we come together as a movement. Youth environmental activists have been victorious in gradually phasing out coal plants, defeating LNG export terminals, and passing some of the boldest climate legislation in the country.

That is why on November 4th-6th, members of the youth environmental movement from up and down the west coast are going to Eugene for Power Shift West. The weekend long conference will have speakers, panels, skill building workshops and opportunities to network with other leaders of the youth climate movement. We gather to deepen our understanding of the systems that are destroying the environment and to develop tools to dismantle those systems and construct equitable and sustainable alternatives.

We demand a viable future where the health of our communities and our land is put above the profit of corporations. Come join us and be part of this growing movement.

Get involved today by registering to join us at Power Shift West.

Attend on Facebook & follow us on Twitter.

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 http://www.tarsandsaction.org/ and http://notarsandscaravan.org/.

 

Sign the Tar Sands Petition here: http://www.tarsandsaction.org/obama-petition/

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.