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reflections of a locked-down Enbridge blockader

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
locked to the fence, inside a barricade encasement
locked to the fence, inside a barricade encasement
looking up at a fellow blockader
looking up at a fellow blockader
our blockade encasement, set up in front of the access point to the facility
our blockade encasement, set up in front of the access point to the facility
arrests at the front gate
arrests at the front gate
cutting one of the last chains of the encasement
cutting one of the last chains of the encasement
taking a saw to my u-lock
taking a saw to my u-lock
bruising from handcuffs and whatever else
bruising from handcuffs and whatever else

I started writing this when my wrists were still red, swollen and raw from handcuffs. As I started to type I swear I could still feel the metal tight on my wrist and every once in a while I could feel pressure against my throat.

I’m not saying this to be whiny or dramatic, but rather to point out that sometimes things can have unexpected or unintended effects.

Clearly this action made an impact on me in more ways than one, and I wasn’t necessarily expecting all of them.

That said, I will continue to organize against Enbridge, the tarsands and Line 9 and I can do so without breaching conditions.

I will find a way because it is that important.

Sorry Enrbidge [not really], but stopping this reversal and this project is essential in our resistance to climate change, tar sands expansion and preventing regional ecocide.

###

We put it up in two hours, initially.

It was nailed together in haste; with determination, sweat and a little pre-planning.

According to most of us it was a work of art; according to Enbridge it was a crime.

Our commitment, however, wouldn’t wane based on the decision of a court. Commitments based on passion, morality and beliefs don’t tend to wane based on legalities.

It was a nice little protective barrier, meant to delay the inevitable – our arrests and the continuation of construction at the pumping station. We knew that eventually we would be removed - we just wanted it to happen later rather than sooner.

The barricade/encasement tested me - tested us - in several ways. We had anticipated that police would move in shortly after the deadline on the injunction (2 hours) so we hadn’t exactly built it with comfort in mind.

It wasn’t big enough for any of us to really stretch out and wasn’t tall enough to let us sit up straight. It was hot and sticky with abundant flies and three seriously sleep-deprived and grumpy activists.

It probably didn’t help that we couldn’t move more than a few inches either, since we were locked to the gate poles by our necks.

Even if Ken Hall, Enbridge's slimy PR guy, ridiculously disputes that.

[clearly he wasn't following our tumblr]

We spent our time dreaming up ridiculous demands to facilitate self-removal ( moratorium on mosquito breeding), dreaming up activist-related equipment (a super-thick spring-setting bike lock so you can send keys off-site before locking it) and our equivalent of a five-star barricade encasement complete with washrooms, fly tape and leg room.

Over the course of that night, and under very specific communication procedures between us and our security watch, we took a moment to stretch our legs and reinforce the hastily built barricade.

After having been inside for so long, and with the anticipation of police arrival, it was more nerve wracking to be outside than in. Every sound in the night and crackle on the radio spiked my adrenaline and sent me inching towards the encasement “entrance”.

[a small hole that required some creative body contortions to enter]

The echoes of hammering lasted into very early morning. Finally we navigated ourselves back inside and fell asleep, despite some seriously awkward positioning.

---

“I am being arrested.”

This was the radio call that woke us up.

The voice was of our police liason and it was about 7a.m.

Hamilton Police were apparently on site and not sticking to their previous agreement – that all involved would be given a last warning to vacate the property. They would not allow others to cross the street and be out of the way, but still nearby for support.

Media, except for Tim Groves from TMC who'd spent the night, was kept nearly a block away.

Across the site people scattered, slightly panicked. This hadn’t been the plan - not for them, anyways.

For those of us locking down it changed little.

We hastily got into position, locking ourselves down. I remember a sense of calm settling over me at this point and I thought back to a conversation I’d had with one of the other blockaders.

It had been during the intense construction of the encasement structure the day prior.

“I want to come into this blockade with my emotions in check. I want to come into this calmly.”

While I didn’t say it out loud at that point I distinctly remembered knowing that I would find my calm inside the barricade, but probably not before.

It was an odd realization at the time, though makes perfect sense upon reflection – I’m just that type of person; able to remain calm in emergencies and then process and freak out after the fact.

Waiting for the police to travel the 300 metre driveway seemed to stretch on forever. All of the sudden, though, the area was overrun with people, vehicles and movement.

Our first comrade, sitting on top of the barricade, was unlocked and arrested almost immediately.

After some brief consideration about ten people began pulling apart the structure on all sides. Within about ten to fifteen minutes those of us who were inside the encasement were accessible, and the “negotiations” began.

“It's just a matter of time before we get you out, and we don't want to hurt you. Do you understand that? I understand that you've got a cause, but at the end of the day we can get these zip cutters and make this a big arduous deal and put you guys in danger or you just have the keys we can just get you out."

[video of this part here ]

They were extremely persistent in saying they did “not want to hurt us”.

They even insisted on it several times, like after using pain compliance, after burning my neck and even after choking me with the U-lock when pain compliance didn’t work.

It was as if they thought repeating the mantra would excuse them from the consequences and moral dilemma of their behavior.

I loudly suggested that if they didn’t want to hurt us they might not want to do those things.

The idea didn’t fly.

I can’t overstate how painful pain compliance techniques are, and without ever leaving a mark. They had been used on me in Montreal previously to full affect so I knew a little about what to expect, which helped me persist in resisting compliance.

So much so, apparently, that they decided to then take a different approach: strangling.

For a solid twenty seconds, according to video, I was strangled with the U-lock. The lock was pulled hard and tight against my throat from behind. Without even thinking I let go to grab the front piece, trying to get air.

They continued to strangle me for another ten seconds until my hands were secured in front of me by a police officer.

There was an extreme powerlessness in it. An absolute vulnerability in which I couldn’t even communicate anything was wrong – not even to the person sitting right next to me.

Police looked on, unconcerned.

The grinder was next, and I have to admit I shut down mentally for this part. I was a little terrified it would slip and slice open my neck and cervical spine or that the sparks would catch my clothes on fire.

The fire threat was apparently so plausible they chose to have one officer at the ready with a fire extinguisher.

Not kidding.

I can see why, when I review the video. In some parts you can see large plumes of smoke unfurling from the drill because it is so hot.

It’s probably a good thing I was facing the other way.

Eventually I was cut loose and removed from the encasement. Immediately cuffs were put on me – tight. My watch was never removed, exacerbating the problem and forcing the cuffs towards my thumb, which was numb for a day afterwards.

My rights were read, picture taken and then I was handed over to my fellow arrestees in the back of the prisoner transport van.

Thanks to a couple individuals the mood remained relatively upbeat during transport, though sweltering. By the time we pulled into Hamilton Mountain Police Station for processing the steel walls were fogged up and sweating.

We contemplated hot yoga.

We passed.

It was too hot.

---

At the station we collectively negotiated for someone who required medication to be processed first. My comrades also demanded I be the first to have my handcuffs switched to the front, since I had long lost feeling in my thumb and pinkie fingers.

I got the feeling our bunch would be the last group any prison guard would want in jail together.

[Hurrah for prisoner solidarity!]

I knew – actually, we all knew - that I would be the last one called in for processing.

I said my good byes as each person was led away leaving me alone in the garage, surrounded by police. Eventually they transferred me to holding room two. It was freezing cold and monotonous, so it was super handy that I had managed to sneak my cell phone in.

[By admitting that I’m probably signing myself up for mandatory full body searches in the future, but I promise to make it as uncomfortable for them as it will be for me.]

I kept busy updating the tumblr and facebook with snippets of overheard police conversations about  numbers arrested, processed and thecharges being laid. I even snapped a couple photos and contemplated ordering a pizza to the police station for laughs.

Unfortunately I couldn’t text or make phone calls, which was more than a little disappointing.

Still, good times.

There is something to be said about slyly sending twitter updates from jail.

The best advantage though was having quasi-interactions with the outside world. I knew word was spreading like wildfire that we were here, and I knew folks had gathered outside. I knew people were already fundraising for legal support.

These were all things other arrestees didn’t know, making their hours in holding that much more isolated. I tried to let them know, calling out through the door whenever police vacated the hallway, but apparently sound didn’t travel out as well as it did in.

That or my fellow arrestees were busy napping.

After several hours delay my chat with counsel was brief. I gave them a heads-up about a couple others in holding that police were giving trouble and promises were made to call for them. Then I told her something she probably didn’t want to hear; “I might refuse conditions if they have to do with organizing, assembling or association.”

It’s what I had told myself fifty times, in fifty different circumstances. If I were ever being arrested, I would not sign conditions restricting my movement, capabilities or associations.

These things created a different sort of prison – a mental prison more than a physical one.  I ended trying to explain this to the sergeant who was surprised by my request for more time to consider.

“Really?” He was surprised. “If you don’t sign these you’ll be transferred to a jail until your trial. That’s almost a month away, and these places aren’t nice places to stay.”

“There are different types of prison. What if someone was suggesting you couldn’t talk to your friends anymore and suggesting it for your own good? Wouldn’t you want to think about it?”

“I think I would want to go home, have a nice shower and be out of here.”

“Then it seems like we’re pretty different people.”

“So you won’t sign them?”

“I want more time to think about it.”

He sighed – a deep, heavy sigh like he was disappointed.

I returned to my cell, wanting to know if my friends had been released on conditions. I wanted to know if they would – or even could – come visit me if I refused to sign and went to jail until trial. I also wanted to be at home. With a shower. With food. With my cat. With my bed. But would any of that be any good if I couldn’t speak with friends? Couldn’t organize? Couldn’t go to events?

I wanted a lot, and it hadn’t quite sunk in that I wasn’t going to get it.

For some reason, since my arrest, a little movie scene had been playing in my head: a nice little happy reunion outside the station with friends and some hugs and high fives.

Clearly one part of my brain wasn’t communicating with the other parts.

---

I was the last one to sign the papers and the last one out.

When I had been led into the holding room the hallway had been busy, bustling with fellow arrestees and officers. Being led out it was empty. Quiet.

It felt like it was echoing my life and my future, at that moment.

“If you go outside right now I’ll arrest you for breach!”

I had reached the windowed lobby of the police station and the desk sergeant was threatening me with breach of conditions if I walked outside. In front of the door an individual included in my non-association was doing an interview with a news station.

I paced, looking outside for some of the people I really wanted to see and hug. Maybe even cry with. None were there [they couldn’t be, for my sake] and I suddenly understood what the next month would be like; being separated from good people by invisible walls.

A pit of defeat and loneliness crept into my gut and interactions after that were on autopilot. I exhausted and longed to be home in bed.

Despite this I knew that there was no way in hell was I going to stop organizing.

No way in hell would I stop fighting against Enbridge, this project or the tarsands.

I would make it work.

I will make it work.

###


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kai (Trish Mills)
Hamilton and Toronto ON.
Member since March 2013

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