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90 for 90 Reportback & How-to: A Participant's View

a small-group highway blockade & guide

by Trish Mills

90 for 90 Reportback & How-to: A Participant's View
90 for 90 Reportback & How-to: A Participant's View

Highway 6 is a five-lane, well-travelled highway. On Monday May 6th, 2013 a group of us took the space where Enbridge’s Line 9b crosses the road, just south of Safari Road.

We did this for 90 minutes; one minute for each significant oil spill Enbridge has on average each year[i].  This was done as a way to bring attention to the dangers of reversing Line 9, and to the Canadian government’s exclusionary review process.

 

Getting There

The line 9 crossing is more than a little out of the city, so because it was inaccessible by public transit we split into two groups; a cycling group, which left earlier in the morning, and the carpool group.

We all met up within walking distance from the action point and it quickly became apparent that we should have risked [the security] doing some outreach on this front. While one business owner was truly supportive another was quite upset. We apologized and smoothed things over, but this became a point of contention by the end of the day when police tried talking the [rather unpredictable] property owner into laying trespass charges.

 

Setting Up

After sunscreen was passed around and legal numbers were Sharpie-tattooed to our skin [as always, with discussions of really tattooing it] we all went over the general idea, talking points and the exit plan. We then split into small groups depending on rolls or tasks and regrouped to head out. By that point some trusted media had shown up after having been given an early heads up.

 

Taking Space

Having successfully slowed and stopped traffic [a hypothetical how-to is at the end of this reportback] the group quickly took to the road. Many considered this to be an empowering and energetic moment. It’s hard to understand the size of a five-lane [plus shoudlers] highway until you’re standing smack in the middle of it, surrounded by cars.

I know I wasn’t the only one grinning here.

 

The Spectacle

The spectacle was pretty great. A pipeline was constructed out of those tubes children crawl through  and black fabric laid across the road to simulate oil. Someone had painted some "oil" onto donated stuffed critters.

I still feel a little sad about the tiny plush turtle. Maybe the bunny.

People were also dressed in hazmat suits. Their job was to ineffectively clean up the spill – just like real Enbridge cleanup guys!

 

The Blockade/Slowdown

When we were all comfortable, teams began directing traffic through one at a time. One of the first cars was incredibly angry, yelling about having a funeral to go to. They were wearing white, bright floral shirts.

Maybe we’ll call that one a celebration of life, instead?

While there were some other upset drivers most were pleasant, surprised about the pipeline and willing to take the literature being handed out. Fewer took our homemade treats, but that left more for us later!

There was one incident of a foot being run over, which was morbidly interesting because the individual was wearing steel toes so you could see the car go up and over his foot.

He was uninjured, and took it way better than I would have.

Way better.

 

The Police

As always, they show up.

Like mould in BC.

They arrived quicker than I anticipated [also like mould in BC] but they were surprised and confused.

It’s always interesting to have an advatage like this.

There was definitely a change in atmosphere when they arrived but it was minimal – probably because we had a good police liaison. When it became clear we weren’t moving they closed off the road. We knew at that point we’d eventually become an “island” which would put us at risk, and make at least one of the blockade goals [outreach/education] essentially ineffective.

The very last person through the north side the blockade was not upset but rather thrilled, stating that his "faith in humanity had been restored" - definitely rewarding! He was stoked with the treats.

When traffic cleared up a bit the police became more confrontational. They grabbed a couple people to direct them towards the shoulder and threatened others. They stopped interacting solely with the police liaison, instead trying to intimidate their way to success.

Typical cop BS.

It was time to wrap things up.

 

The Exit

As a group we left the highway, spectacle in tow. One van that had remained at the blockade drove away just as a tow truck was pulling up to the scene.

Three police cars followed it away.

Three!

Luckily, nothing seems to have come from this [yet].

By the time the group arrived back at the original rendezvous point police were already in the parking lot. Some were speaking with the property owner and others took down all the plates.

Everyone grouped back up. Some waited to leave until after most of the police had dispersed. Many were expecting to be pulled over down the road – but again nothing happened.

 

Summary

All in all, this was a pretty successful action. Sure, some things went wrong but they usually do –best laid plans and all that shit, right? The point is that 40 of us successfully took a huge space and made a huge impact that day – without injuries, arrest or [so far] tickets.

We also managed to up the ante in Ontario pipeline resistance and develop new networks.

[And we got leftover baked treats!]

 

Coming to a Road Near You!

What is really great about this action is that it remains simple enough to be duplicated. Even the number of people it took – forty – is achievable in many places. This type of action could be done in any community that Line 9, or any other pipeline, crosses or will cross – integral in this battle, since there are very few terminals or hubs that can be used as intervention points.

Blockades at pipeline crossings have the potential to be an effective way to engage the community and open up public debate on pipelines and their broader issues; something the Canadian government has gone to great lengths to repress.

 

A Creative & Hypothetical How-to

This was put together with some creative and hypothetical imagination.  It’s really just meant to give a broad idea as to one way this can be done relatively safely and effectively. Feel free to use it as a jump-off point, but ultimately you’ll know what’s best and what will or might work for your area.

Also: use it at your own risk! Just because we weren't ticketed or arrested doesn't mean the police in your area won't be complete dickheads about it!

 

Vehicle Slow Down: Busy & High-Speed Roads/Highways

You could have some willing individuals with vehicles coordinate and enter the roadway from each direction, moving slowly in each lane with hazards on. Cell phones [or walkies, if you're in the country] might help coordinate this. Drivers could pace each other and begin slowing down safely, eventually stopping at the action point to block the highway. Having a "lead" driver that knows the road and area [that other driver(s) can pace] will help with this. For safety, it might be a good idea that someone pull into the middle lane last minute so no one tries to speed through.

If you use something like this method, the slow-down vehicles should start far enough away to progressively slow down traffic. Remember that trucks need a lot of extra stopping distance - doing this part suddenly could cause an accident. Weather conditions needs to be considered – particularly rain, snow and fog – as well as lighting conditions such poor lighting and glare from sunrise or sunset.

What to do with the Vehicles

  1. The slow-down vehicles involved could be driven away once the space is taken and there is a traffic backlog for safety, but before police get there to reduce or eliminate risk to those drivers and vehicles. This reduces risk to drivers & vehicles, but might put people at the blockade at risk from angry drivers trying to push through.

 

  1. Some of those cars could remain in place, aiding in providing a partial blockade and safety, while others left the area. Cars might wish to disperse when ordered to by police and the blockade is being dismantled. This puts vehicles/drivers at extra risk, but helps with the blockade structure & safety.

 

  1. All of those vehicles could remain in place, providing a complete blockade. Obviously this is the riskiest option for drivers and vehicles and plans should be made in case of arrest/towing.

 

Vehicle Slow Down: Slow Roads & Small Highways

If there is already stopped or slow traffic [i.e. downtown core, stop lights etc.], or excellent visibility in both directions [a remote highway with lots of visibility and no grades in both directions], it could be possible for a group to just walk onto the road and take it when the opportunity presents itself. Obviously precautions would need to be taken. In city roads it’s important to make eye contact with drivers – not everyone is guaranteed to be paying attention. On remote highways you still have to make sure large transport trucks will have enough time to come to a complete stop after they see you [ this is where good visibility and no hills/grades is important]. Keep in mind weather conditions – particularly rain, snow and fog – and lighting conditions. Be aware of glare from the rising or setting sun and poor lighting conditions.

Police & “People Islands”

Even if you successfully keep your action off their radar beforehand, eventually [unfortunately] the police will shop up. Once this happens the game changes, depending on the situation.

Keep in mind that police presence has the ability to trigger some people, and makes a lot of others generally uncomfortable. It can be important to keep morale up during this period. Keep checking in with your comrades! Think about having a police liaison and someone filming any police interactions.

  1. If you’ve locked down and are completely blockading, you can expect some unhappy cops. They will shut down the road and begin directing traffic away. Understand that this will eventually create an “island” where it’s just you guys and the cops. [And maybe media, if you reached out]. This has the potential to be dangerous for your health, though probably not as much as an oil spill. Eventually folks will show up with the tools to dismantle your blockade, and you’ll probably be arrested. Hopefully you arranged legal support!
  2. If you have transitioned the blockade into a slowdown, when police first arrive they might try and get the story. Having a police liaison [and some cop watchers] is probably a good idea. Then everyone else can happily ignore the cops. When it becomes clear that you aren’t going anywhere right away, they’ll send officers to detour the road and start trying to clear up traffic. Again, this will eventually create that “island effect” where it’s just you and the police. This might take a while though, and you can utilize that time to continue working towards your goals. When the traffic is cleared up, or close to being cleared up, you can expect and escalation in police attempts to clear you out.

Other Stuff:

  1. Live updates can be released via twitter and pre-determined social media networks. Press releases can also be sent this way, but having a draft already made up would probably be helpful. Also – expect them to get caught in traffic if you don’t release it until after you start the action.
  2. Having drivers drop off large warning signs about a kilometre up the road in each direction might provide added safety for the beginning of a highway action.
  3. Pylons can be used to direct two lanes of traffic into one – space might be necessary for this so that trucks have enough time to merge over a lane without taking anyone out.
  4. Having a plan to allow fire/ambulance through is a solid idea.
  5. Always consider cell phone service/walkie range if you’re using these as methods of communication, or to put out press releases.


[i][i] The number was, in fact, a lowball number taken from one of the most recent years readily available - 2010. Enbridge’s record shows higher numbers of spills in other years. It’s also important to note these are the “reportable spills” – in other words the more significant spills Enbridge has no choice but to report.

 


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kai (Trish Mills)
Hamilton and Toronto ON.
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