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Direct action against tar sands pipelines

Banners at the Swamp Line 9 occupation
By: 
Evan Johnston

July 6, 2013

There is growing direct action against tar sands pipelines, from Line 9 to Keystone XL. These tactics shed light on pipelines, and—if connected to a broader strategy—can contribute to the mass movements needed to shut down the tar sands.
 
Swamp Line 9
The North Westover Pump Station is located on the traditional territory of the Chonnonton people, as well as of the Mississagi Anishinabec and the Onondawaga Haudenosaunee. The Swamp Line 9 occupation was an action in solidarity with the Idle No More campaign Sovereignty Summer.
 
On June 20, around 60 activists occupied Enbridge’s North Westover Pump Station in the Beverly Swamp, located just north of Hamilton, Ontario. Dubbing their occupation "Swamp Line 9," their aim was to prevent construction on Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline and block the transport of toxic diluted bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands through Ontario and Quebec.
 
The occupation helped expose Line 9 and the “public consultations” that Enbridge has been organizing as a cover for its plans. The Swamp Line 9 organizers describe the public consultation process as “a rigged game, where the political party most indebted to the oil industry had taken spectacular measures to remove the usual environmental oversights from Line 9 and other pipeline projects. The Line 9 reversal is, from the perspective of the powerful, a foregone conclusion and they have insultingly offered only the most meaningless opportunities for public engagement."
 
Early in the morning of June 26, Hamilton police moved in and arrested 20 people on and off the property after Enbridge served the activists with a court injunction.
 
No Keystone XL
This year has seen dozens of protests against the Keystone XL pipeline across America. The pipeline, if completed, will transport Tar Sands oil from Alberta to the coast of Texas. Construction at various sites across Oklahoma was disrupted repeatedly in February, April, May and June by activists chaining and cementing themselves to construction equipment.
 
In June, over a 1000 protesters marched across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to protest the pipeline. Kathryn Donahue of the California Nurses Association told The Real News the protest was, “to ask President Obama to please honor his campaign promises to stop the Keystone pipeline.” Also in June, 22 activists were arrested in Chicago while staging a sit-in at the offices of the State Department, including Elijah Zarlin who previously worked for the Obama presidential campaign.
 
Tactics and strategies
Across this continent the drive to exploit fossil fuels is running into resistance. These pipeline projects and the whole tar sands need to be shut down, and this can only be achieved by a mass movement.
 
Direct action is one of many tactics that can contribute to this overall strategy. There is also the Healing Walk in the heart of the tar sands, mass rallies against pipelines going west and south, petitions demanding an environmental assessment of pipelines. The line 9 occupation came after months of campaigning against the pipeline in communities across Ontario. In Toronto, there have been public meetings and petition campaigns launched against Line 9. In other cities across Southern Ontario that Line 9 passes through, such as Guelph, Hamilton, London, and Sarnia—some of whose police departments have received cash donations from Enbridge—there has also been organized resistance.
 
But as the organizers of the line 9 occupation experienced, direct action can shine a light on pipelines but does not automatically build a broad movement. As the organizers wrote, “We have also heard a great deal of admiration for what we initiated in Westover, and have received gratitude for pushing this issue into the limelight. Most people we’ve talked to would have been really excited about Swamp Line 9 and might have even participated in the action had they been consulted beforehand. In failing to reach out to the people on whose territory this action was taking place, we missed an enormous opportunity.”
 
The opportunity exists to build a mass movement against Line 9, learning from this experience and from the movements against pipelines west and south. We can build a mass movement—including indigenous communities, environmental groups and labour unions—to say “stop line 9”, if we link every tactic to this broader strategy.

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