This morning, 5 climate justice activists who took action with Tar Sands Blockade last fall had to appear in court in Wood County, Texas, for charges levied against them for their efforts to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Although charged with a variety of offenses, Ben, Shannon, Alejandro, and Sarah were only convicted of criminal trespassing, and have fines and court costs totaling $1,581.
Below you’ll find profiles of these brave activists and recaps of their actions with Tar Sands Blockade. Please consider donating to our legal fund to keep them and other activists engaged in the struggle against tar sands devastation and for environmental justice.
Ben & Shannon
The day after 8 people occupied the tree village directly in the path of pipeline construction, Ben and Shannon took action and locked down to a piece of construction machinery to prevent it from clearing a path to the tree village. They were eventually arrested that day on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest, but not before being tortured by the cops, which included tasering, pepper spray, choke holds and stress positions. This is how Ben described it:
They started like schoolyard bullies – taunting us while twisting my arm behind me, and jumping on my back to put me in a choke hold. The lieutenant asked, “Is your goal just to go to jail? You can go to jail without the pain; it’s your stubbornness that’s making us do this.” I had to stop myself from replying, “I wish this cup would pass me by.” I didn’t say it because I was sure they would misinterpret it as blasphemously casting myself as Jesus, but I meant it; I wished there was another way to accomplish our goals. I wasn’t looking forward to what my time with the ACLU led me to expect they would do to us. But I don’t believe in giving in to terrorism; to follow one’s moral compass in spite of extreme challenges is the way we move forward…
Before breaking out the pepper spray, the officers handcuffed my unlocked arm to the backhoe. One officer then maneuvered my right arm so the nozzle of the can of pepper spray could be inserted into the lockbox anchoring us to the machine. Pepper spray is designed to be sprayed from a distance so the aerosol can dilute the active ingredients with air. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt badly at first, and I thought, “Oh, this is like peppers that gradually build up in intensity.” Then they repeated the spray on [Shannon’s] side and I could feel it entering the cuts on my fingers.
It was through a single finger each that [Shannon] and I were linked to each other. The pepper spray made our fingers slippery, and [Shannon’s] fingers were already numb from how our arms were twisted. But compassion only needs a tiny connection to be more powerful than despair.
When the pepper spray failed to produce immediate compliance, they broke out the taser…
You can read the rest of Ben’s account of the experience, ‘Why are they so frightened of us?’, on FireDogLake.
Several days after being released from jail, Shannon was riding in a car in the next county over when they were pulled over by the police. After checking their ID’s, the officer pulled Shannon out of the car and retroactively arrested her on a felony charge of use of a criminal instrument. She spent (several days?) in jail as she was transferred back to Wood County, when she could finally be bonded out.
After checking with the court numerous times to see if a warrant similar to Shannon’s existed for him and being told it did not, Ben traveled to Wood County to appear in court. When he did, the court bailiffs placed him under arrest with an outstanding warrant for felony use of a criminal instrument (the same charge that Shannon got), despite the repeated inquiries that were met with assurances that this would not happen. The charge was eventually dropped and Ben was released, but not before the head District Attorney for Wood County had to get involved and gave the assistant DA’s a stern talking-to.
When Susan Scott’s family farm started being destroyed for construction of the Keystone XL, Alejandro was ready to act. Out of sight of TransCanada workers, he sneaked onto the farm and attached himself to a concrete capsule buried underground on a devastated strip of Susan’s land that had previously been a patch of forest. Alejandro stopped construction for nearly the entire day while police tried to figure out how to remove him from the land. Here’s what he had to say about why he was taking action the night before it happened:
I’m willing to risk arrest because I have a certain amount of personal privilege that allows me to participate. I don’t live near a Gulf refinery, or on land that’s at risk from a devastating tar sands spill, so I’m able to play a small part in an action that will really help people’s lives. I’m here to stand up for people on the front lines because they’re being trampled to make way for corporate profits.
People in Port Arthur and my home in Houston are the ones who will be bearing the brunt of the toxic emissions from the tar sands refineries and they’re not going to see any of the economic benefits. This is just another example of how people of color and low-income folks are placed in “sacrifice zones” for our current economic system. A system ruled by fossil fuel industry greed and the trampling of the rights of people and our environment.
I’m sick of seeing these devastating affects on a personal and community level and on a grand global scale in which corporations and their profits call all the shots.
Exploiting tar sands is a ridiculous project and shows how desperate corporations are to scrape the bottom of the fossil fuels barrel and completely ignore the reality of the toll they are taking on people’s lives for a short-term profit. This pipeline means disaster for people here in Texas and all over the world.
When we put the call out for support and asked people to join us for our October Mass Action, Sarah heard the call and made her way to Texas to offer what support she could. On October 15th, she, along with seven other people, were arrested during an attempt to resupply the tree blockade, which, at the time, was still standing after 21 days despite 24/7 police surveillance and harassment.
Sarah, Alejandro, Shannon, and Ben took a big risk in facing arrest to stop construction of the Keystone XL and tar sands development, but they did so knowing that the far riskier path was to do nothing in the face of tar sands devastation and the climate crisis. Now they’re facing the consequences of the risk they took. Will you stand in solidarity with them and support the ongoing movement against tar sands?