Direct action as a tactic for confronting the fossil fuel industries is sweeping the United States – and recently took the form of a creative protest immediately after Power Shift West in Eugene, Oregon. Right after the official Power Shift conference ended, youth activists embarked on an un-permitted march which visited three outposts of industries and government entities that threaten a stable climate and the livability of our planet. Held in solidarity with the Tar Sands Action in DC that same day, the march was designed to springboard the type of movement-building solutions needed to truly address the climate crisis.
The first stop along the march route was Safeway – a corporation using oil from the Canadian Tar Sands to fuel its vehicle fleets. Unlike companies including Whole Foods and Bed Bath & Beyond, Safeway has not taken any significant steps to phase out tar sands oil – even after being pressed to do so by environmental groups like ForestEthics. Since Safeway doesn’t seem to believe its customers care about the impact of the tar sands, we decided to prove them wrong by “returning” dozens of paper bags from Safeway, complete with a giant receipt of purchase.
Next we paid a visit to Bank of America, the biggest financier of coal in the United States. In the Pacific Northwest, Bank of America is funding companies that are pushing coal export terminals and other destructive coal industry infrastructure. Every B of A branch is essentially a climate crime scene; so in recognition of this fact, participants in the march strung caution tape and warning signs between the pillars at the Eugene branch. A die-in outside the bank, some messages scrolled in chalk, and a bit of creative street theater rounded out the B of A action.
Our last stop was at the Eugene Democrats campaign office headquarters, where march participants pledged dozens of volunteer hours to fight for clean energy over the next year. Calling on the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and harness the power youth activists ready to devote their time to a candidate who stands up for the climate, we joined with thousands of people across the country who are ready to see the President take the kind of bold stance that will re-energize his base for the 2012 elections.
It’s no coincidence that four days after thousands encircled the White House, and people across the country held smaller solidarity actions like the one in Eugene, the Obama administration took the first major step toward terminating the Keystone XL pipeline. Yesterday the State Department announced it will re-assess the Keystone XL proposal, scrapping the original pipeline route and essentially sending the project back the drawing board. This is a major blow that could well prove Keystone XL’s undoing.
If there was any doubt that strategically focused non-violent direct action produced change on a massive scale, the setback to Keystone XL should be enough to convince anyone. Direct action has already prompted banks to begin the shift away from coal, stopped or slowed the trajectory of numerous fossil fuel projects – and now it has dealt a lethal blow to one of the biggest climate bombs on the planet.
Youth in the Pacific Northwest and across the country will continue to utilize direct action to confront direct action, in a tradition pioneered decades ago by leaders like Gandhi and King. With the scrapping of the Keystone XL plan, our movement had one of its finest moments yet this week. I anticipate many more such moments to come.