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.
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.
- 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.
- 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