Pipe-Sitters Matt and Isabel Conclude Legal Case in Smith County!

Matt Almonte and Isabel Brooks, two blockaders who barricaded a mile-long stretch of pipe during an action on December 3rd, have recently concluded their legal case in Smith County, and won’t be serving any additional time in jail for their action.

Matt and Isabel, along with fellow blockader Glen Collins, were charged with three misdemeanors: criminal trespassing, illegal dumping, and resisting arrest. After having their bail set at $65,000 each, they were forced to serve a nearly 30-day sentence. (It took nearly a month to secure a bail reduction hearing.)

Needless to say, we’re very happy with this news and want to thank everyone who donated and wrote letters during their time of incarceration!

Glen is expected to receive a similar deal in the coming weeks.

In related news, out of this action came a recently-released photo exposing holes (literally) in the welding of that particular section of pipe in Winona, Texas. To be clear, discovering the faulty welding was an incidental find, but a shocking and pivotal one nonetheless. On January 31st, Blockader Ramsey Sprague stood up and disrupted an oil and gas pipeline conference and lambasted TransCanada for its horrific safety record, invoking whistleblower testimony and this very photo as prime evidence. Share this photo and blow the cover off TransCanada’s shoddy construction work, the effects of which will be felt by local east Texas communities whose backyards will become toxic spill zones when this pipe leaks.

Photo of sunlight through faulty welds taken from inside KXL pipe during our December 3rd, 2012 action.

Photo of sunlight through faulty welds taken from inside KXL pipe during our December 3rd, 2012 action.

Continue following our campaign to stop this pipeline and take action of your own to demonstrate your resistance to the fossil-fuel industry!

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/matt-and-isabel-case-closed/

Troublemaker Award

 

My name is Matthew Almonte and I’m 21 years old. I’m applying for the Troublemakers’ Award on behalf of Tar Sands Blockade.

On December 3rd, 2012, two friends and I barricaded ourselves inside a mile-long-plus section of the Keystone XL pipeline, right before it was to be buried in Smith County, TX.  The action was unprecedented in the environmental movement:  no one had ever before attempted to blockade a pipeline project by directly barricading themselves inside it.

TransCanada is a corporate monster and I felt responsible for doing what I could to put a stop to it.  So I crawled into the pipe and locked myself in.  My right arm was locked to one of two cement barrels each of which weighed over 600lbs, and my left arm was locked to a lockbox connecting my arm to Glenn’s.  Isabel was rollerskating up and down the pipe behind us, there to support us.

Our barricade action resulted in work stoppage for most of the day until our arrest.  We were finally extracted when the police decided to just pull on the heavy barrels and risk breaking both Glenn’s and my arms off.  We were in extreme pain when this happened and could have been seriously or even fatally injured.  We were charged with three misdemeanors:  criminal trespass, resisting arrest and illegal dumping (because of the cement barrels).  And despite the recommendation by the Texas Penal Code that our bail not exceed $5,000 per misdemeanor, each of the three of us had a bail of $65,000.  This bail amount was clearly punitive and was an amount that neither I nor the organization that was supporting us, the Tar Sands Blockade, could afford, so I ended up staying in jail for 29 days.  This was the first time I spent Christmas in jail, and indeed I was finally bailed out with only a few hours to spare before the start of 2013.

This was a crazy sacrifice I had to make that I was not expecting to going into the action.  In jail, I had to deal with wrists that continued to ache weeks later, and was forced to choose between going back on my respect for and belief in animal rights by being vegan and starving. But I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to do this all over again if it meant stopping Keystone XL for good.

Overview

The climate movement has exhausted nearly all the institutional means of stopping the Keystone XL pipeline; we’ve lobbied, collected petitions, testified at hearings, and held rallies. A year ago, 1,253 of us even got arrested in one of the largest acts of civil disobedience the environmental movement had seen in decades. Unfortunately, that was not enough.

Today, TransCanada’s bulldozers are rapidly leveling land and family farms in East Texas. It’s clear that to avoid a “game over” scenario for the global climate we need a game changer. Enter Tar Sands Blockade.

Tar Sands Blockade (TSB) is a coalition of impacted communities in Texas and Oklahoma and climate justice organizers using peaceful and sustained civil disobedience to stop the construction of the southern segment of the Keystone XL. The Blockade works directly with landowners whose property rights have been trampled, as well as with communities whose health and safety are being imperiled by industrial pollutants and the threat of toxic tar sands.

With a shoestring budget and an all-volunteer, unpaid team of organizers, TSB has seen remarkable success in a relatively short amount of time. The campaign has successfully halted construction operations, received regional and national media attention, united allies from across the political spectrum, and rejuvenated the climate movement to the KXL fight.

TSB recognizes that non-violent direct action alone won’t halt the pipeline; therefore, our strategy and tactics are as diverse as our allies. Rallies, vigils, community organizing, landowner legal support, national outreach and non-violent direct action are all different strategic prongs of our campaign. With your help, we will continue to escalate our tactics, grow our network, and act in the proud tradition of civil disobedience until it stops Keystone XL—permanently.

Goals                     

  • Escalate climate movement’s tactics to meet the urgency of the crisis we face by normalizing strategic direct action.
  • Create the organizational infrastructure for a sustained grassroots network of resistance across the pipeline route that’s powerful enough to halt any attempt to build Keystone XL (North and South).
  • Unite people across traditional cultural, social, and political divisions to rise up and fight extraction industries.
  • Mass action escalation, larger and more reach every time.
  • Stop KXL permanently.

Accomplishments

  • Successful direct action deployments that have halted Keystone XL construction operations across 11 counties in Texas
  • Hosted four mass action camps involving 70 to 120 participants each
  • Held a week of solidarity actions with over 40 communities worldwide taking action
  • Held multiple direct action trainings that have empowered hundreds of activists
  • Received press coverage in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Democracy Now!, regional TV and radio outlets, and saturation in the progressive blogosphere. Full list of media hits available here: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/press/coverage/
  • Resurrected Keystone XL as a national issue
  • Established deep, trusting relationships with affected landowners and industrial fence-line communities across Texas and Oklahoma
  • Secured organizational support from 350.org, Oil Change International, Energy Action Coalition, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network, Indigenous Environmental Network, Rising Tide North America, Greenpeace USA, CREDO Mobile and members of the Tar Sands Working Group. Plus over 50 others that have signed our solidarity letter

Needs: If we win the Troublemakers’ Award’s $10,000 prize, the money would go toward reaching our outlined goals via the following needs:

  • Materials – To build, train and facilitate our direct action network. Expenses include tools, wood, cement, rope, and technical gear.
  • Food and Logistics– Essential supplies like food, cooking utensils, water containers, and tents. Sadly, TSB incurs significant transportation expenses while tracking the nearly 500 mile long pipeline
  • Office Space – Allow for a home base of operations that would be used for a media and communications hub, a group meeting space, and many other campaign functions.
  • Tech – Needs include equipment acquisitions like wi-fi hotspots, cameras, computers and the need for a new and improved website to achieve media goals, as well as monthly tech expenses/bills.
  • Training – Professional trainers who specialize in nonviolent direct action tactics
  • Stipends – Campaign core organizers are unemployed full time volunteers and subsist on basic stipends that allow them to survive.
  • Legal – Expenses to inform landowners and organizers of their rights and help bail participants out of jail. To date, bail for TSB actions has exceeded $400,000.

For more information on Tar Sands Blockade, the communities we work with, and the movement to stop Keystone XL, click here: www.tarsandsblockade.org

Permanent link to this article: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/troublemaker-award/

Blockader Disrupts Oil & Gas Pipeline Conference

UPDATE: 10:00 AM – Ramsey has been released! Here’s a brief statement from him this morning:

After chaining myself to a speaker during a TransCanada engineer’s presentation on pipeline safety compliance at the PipeTech oil and gas pipeline conference yesterday morning, I was charged with Disrupting a Meeting or Procession. My bail was set at $500 and I was retrieved from Montgomery County Jail very early this morning by my friends in Tar Sands Blockade!

After I spent a good long time chatting it up with my arresting officer about why I do what I do and how SLAPPing me will never shut me up, I guess he passed along the good word, cause I had a more-than-hour long meeting with his department’s detectives. They assured me that they were just puzzled and  not fishing for new charges – they just wanted to know what was up. Apparently, TransCanada hadn’t visited their department to warn them against so-called “eco-terrorists” like me, so they were engaged, candid and actually very concerned. By the end of it, we shook hands and they thanked me for what I was doing.

Next thing you know, the deputy who transferred me from a satellite holding facility to the Montgomery County Jail dived right into a chat about censorship, corruption and the definition of “justice” – it takes all kinds, right?

While in jail, I met far too many men whose lives were on hold for non-violent drug charges, and while I’m sharing, I’ll just say that ending the drug war is another struggle we should not shy away from and which deserves just as robust and creative a resistance as we at Tar Sands Blockade call for against tar sands exploitation.

Thanks for all the kind words and for all y’all who have shared my video. You’re helping put TransCanada on point for trying to pass off a toxic pipeline full of holes in my friends’ backyards and the poisoning of my First Nation brothers and sisters downstream from the Athabascan tar sands exploitation mines.

A MASSIVE THANK YOU to everyone who oh-so-generously donated to help get me out of jail! Your donations will always go toward making sure we in Blockadia can continue our work, filling in the gaps where risk-wary NGOs don’t dare tread!

Ah, it feels good to be out of jail, but the struggle continues, and my heart goes out to those without the support network I’m blessed to have. I look forward to sharing many more moments of joyous resistance to tar sands exploitation with all y’all out there, but I mostly look forward to hearing about YOUR creative resistance to tar sands exploitation and the Keystone XL toxic tar sands pipeline in YOUR community!

Even if the mainstream media is going to marginalize or stereotype the people who have consistently been poisoned at every turn by the petrochemical industry, we are creating a new narrative for our time where we make space for oppressed folks to share their stories. Its focus is on justice, well-being, and celebratory resistance, and it, like all the restless hearts and spirits of our world, will be Idle No More.

Onward,

Ramsey

UPDATE- 9:30 PM: Ramsey, arrested around 11 AM today for chaining himself inside a tar sands, oil and gas pipeline conference and speaking out against the industry’s ongoing genocide of indigenous communities in Alberta, has been in police custody without food for over ten hours.

Show your support with a generous donation to his legal fund

UPDATE: 1:30 PM - Here is a first-person account from a blockader who accompanied Ramsey into the conference and documented the act on video:

“Early this morning, the PipeTech Americas Summit met at the Woodlands Marriot near Houston, Texas. Delegates from various pipeline construction corporations traveled to this venue to discuss the newest advancements in pipeline technology, how to facilitate a cozy relationship with regulatory agencies (a lesson given by the Army Corps of Engineers), and to give a collective pat on the back to this thriving ecocidal industry. Among the first scheduled speakers was Tom Hamilton, Manager of Quality and Compliance for TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline, set to deliver a case study of the safety measures of the Gulf Coast Project, the name given to the southern segment currently under construction. Tar Sands Blockader Ramsey Sprague and I dressed to match the crowd and joined the audience.

Ten minutes into Hamilton’s time at the podium, Ramsey stood up and chained himself to the sound equipment positioned next to the projection screen, quickly delving into an impassioned speech on the irony of TransCanada lecturing others on safety and compliance. The audience sat silent, cameras aimed at this impromptu act, as security officials attempted to address the situation without having to clear the room. As Ramsey spoke against TransCanada’s horrific safety record, as well as its treatment of indigenous communities and others whose land and lives are being adversely affected by tar sands extraction, authorities escorted him out of the assembly and into police custody. After being detained by three Montgomery County sheriffs for documenting the act (and subsequent arrest), I was given a trespass warning and told to leave the property immediately.”

TAKE ACTION: Stand up to toxic corporate power with an action in your own community!

Contact the Conference Organizer To Say You Support Ramsey and Don’t Want
Tar Sands:
Geoff Micks, Event Director, 416-214-2091 [email protected]

UPDATE: 12:00 PM – Ramsey has been arrested. Demonstrate your support and contribute to his bail here.

PHOTO: Ramsey Sprague being detained by police. Ramsey took the opportunity to educate the officers on the dangers of tar sand exploitation.

ramsey arrest resize

UPDATE: 11:00 AM – 3 detained blockaders are now being released and escorted away

UPDATE: 10:30 AM - 3 blockaders who are supporting Ramsey have been detained

BREAKING – 9:30 AM: Activist interrupts pipeline conference, releases photos of flawed welds on Keystone XL pipeline.

Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel, The Woodlands, TX – 9 AM this morning, TransCanada executive Tom Hamilton’s presentation of a Keystone XL case study at the Pipe Tech Americas 2013 conference was interrupted when a blockader chained himself to audio equipment and delivered a speech to the nearly 300 attendees. Hamilton, the Manager of Quality and Compliance for the Keystone Pipeline, was supposed to give a forty-minute talk about safety and regulations related to the southern portion of the KXL pipeline. Instead, Tar Sands Blockade organizer Ramsey Sprague gave an impassioned rebuttal highlighting TransCanada’s poor safety record.

For several minutes before security disassembled the audio equipment and took him away, Sprague described shoddy welding practices and dangerous corner-cutting throughout TransCanada’s operations as exposed by whistleblowers like Evan Vokes, a metallurgic engineer who came forward in May 2012, leading to an investigation by Canada’s National Energy Board. Sprague reminded attendees that TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline has already leaked over 30 times and that other industry leaders such as Enbridge are similarly negligent, with over 800 spills since 1999. He derided TransCanada for routing the KXL pipeline through ecologically sensitive areas and through communities like the one in Douglass, TX, where construction crews are actively laying pipe within sight of the Douglass public school.

“TransCanada’s safety record is beyond deplorable,” said Ramsey Sprague, a lifelong Texan with roots in Gulf Coast communities directly impacted by industrial pollution and waste. “TransCanada’s wanton disregard for the health of our communities is clear from it’s reckless construction practices. I’m taking action today to set the record straight: TransCanada cannot be trusted. There is now clear evidence that Keystone XL is not safe, and I will not stand aside while a multinational corporation poisons Texas communities.”

Sprague also described how activists who blockaded themselves inside the actual KXL pipe on December 3rd could see daylight through holes in welds connecting segments of pipe – and how Tar Sands Blockade has the pictures to prove it. That mile-long section of the pipe was laid in the ground on the same day; no additional welding or inspection occurred after the photos were taken.

Continue reading »

Permanent link to this article: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/17th-action/

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