Five Minutes With: Tar Sands Blockade Tree-Sitter
On Sept. 24, the Tar Sands Blockade movement unveiled a tree village in Winnsboro, Texas, that nine blockaders are occupying. They have pledged not to come down from the trees until TransCanada’s 1,700 mile-ling Keystone XL pipeline project is shut down—for good.
On the third day of the ongoing tree-sit, two blockaders locked themselves to construction equipment that was within feet of a 40-foot-tall wall made of timber scaffolding occupied by activists. The blockaders say local police subjected them to pain compliance tactics including pepper spray, violent arm-twisting, and multiple uses of tasers under the observation of TransCanada supervisors.
The wall is designed as a buffer to delay police and TransCanada workers from reaching the tree village. The lockdown action was the fourth of its kind, after blockaders shut down construction sites in Livingston, Saltillo, and now Winnsboro, Texas.
Campus Progress spoke with one of the activists currently occupying the tree village in Winnsboro before he climbed 80 feet in the air to stand against the pipeline. Because of ongoing security concerns, he requested to remain anonymous. He is also a personal friend of this reporter.
How are you feeling right now about going up?
Pretty stressed actually. I’ve never done this before. I don’t feel completely prepared. I don’t feel like I’ve had the time to … get up there and actually get situated, or practice the acrobatics that will be necessary to evade—well, to save— the village, because it’s not just sitting, it’s going to be a lot of traversing around, and reacting to what they’re doing.
I’m just stressed about how prepared I am because I feel like it’s an enormous weight that if I get extracted immediately, after everything that we have done, it would be unfortunate.
What are your personal reasons for doing this?
Mainly just ethical, really no other reason besides ethics. I just feel like this is something I have to do. This is something that I think is really important, and ethically I feel like I need to engage in the fight that this campaign is a part of, and that is trying to stop climate change and also just stopping all forms of oppression.
I’m doing it for the macro-level and the micro-level. I’m doing it so I can do everything I can to stop climate change, and to defend these trees and the landowners here. While I’ve been here, I’ve really gotten connected with these woods, and I really like them. These trees are magnificent.
I’ve always been an environmentalist, and I spent a lot of time in the woods when I was a kid, but I just find it interesting how much more you can value things when you just hang out with them all the time. I’ve been with these trees, and now I value them more. That’s sort of an obvious thing for a lot of people, but in our culture we don’t spend a lot of time with nature, we mostly are alienated from it, and we destroy it. If we had a system where we were more connected to it than we would probably value it more, and I have just seen that on a personal level.
How do you see your future playing out after you come down, whether that’s through extraction or through you coming down of your own volition?
Well, I hope to evade any form of arrest if possible, but I imagine that I won’t be able to evade the law altogether. My name’s going to be out there if that happens, and I may get sued, like some other folks have. So I’ll probably be dealing with this for months, which I’m pretty OK with. Hopefully I don’t spend any length of time in jail.
After the action I don’t have too much lined up. I want to take a break for awhile. I’m going to get some more climb training in November, if the action’s done by then, that is. I’m probably going to take a step back and just chill for a few months.
What do you plan to do when you’re up there?
Well, I brought some books. Hopefully, I can get some reading done and relax because it’s actually really awesome up there. It’s really beautiful and being up there sort of alone, and waking up really early is kind of nice, just waking up really high in the trees by yourself. There’s other people nearby too, which is good, but you can just sort of pick a good spot to meditate.
I’d like to have some peaceful moments, and I hopefully can, but if we’re under siege constantly than I’ll probably be having to defend things, which means things like having to go out on traverses so they don’t cut trees or things like that. It’s putting my body on the trees so they can’t cut them, which will be really stressful, and I’ll have to make choices that might result in the saving or the death of the trees that are around me.
How do you see privilege playing a role in this action?
I’m a tremendously privileged person. I’m a cis white male, so I have the privilege of being able to interact with the criminal injustice system and not be as discriminated against. That’s something that I’ve taken into consideration. I’m trying to use my privilege in a way that is being an ally as best I can. I also have male privilege, and I realize that my job in this campaign is really dude-heavy. What I’m doing gets all the attention and the glory and is flashy and things like that. That’s another aspect of privilege, that I might get more credit than the people on the ground, which isn’t fair. I couldn’t do this without the people on the ground, and I couldn’t do it without basically everyone out here.
There’s patriarchy influencing all spheres of society, and even within our campaign we have a problem where women are sort of more behind-the-scenes, so that’s something we have to deal with and rectify.
What do you have to say to young people out there who are concerned about climate change, or would even describe themselves as climate justice activists?
Keep it up. We have to step it up. Direct action gets the goods. If we’re really serious about stopping this we need to escalate and we need more serious campaigns, like this one. We need more people, basically. We just need thousands more, and they need to be in it for real, not just doing symbolic actions. Bring your friends.
Candice Bernd is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @CandiceBernd.