[Jump to: Part Two: Downstream Community Leadership Training]
From Thursday, July 18 to Sunday, July 21, people from diverse communities and backgrounds gathered in Moab, Utah to organize a grassroots resistance to proposed tar sands and oil shale mining operations , as well as a proposed nuclear power plant within the upper Colorado river watershed.
Participants from “downstream communities”, including the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in southern California; the Gila River Indian Community in Sacaton, Arizona; Pheonix, Arizona; as well as Moab and Castle Valley, Utah, came together for both a lecture/panel discussion and later, an immersive two-day nonviolent direct action training workshop.
The gathering began on Thursday with a public discussion in the auditorium at Grand County High School. Topics varied, but the central theme of the night was regarding the importance of grassroots organizing in addressing the climate crisis. Speakers included David Harper, Traditional Spokesperson for the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe of the Colorado River Indian Tribes; Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice; John Weisheit, Conservation Director of Living Rivers and the Colorado Riverkeeper of the Waterkeepers Alliance; Kate Finneran, Co-director of Before it Starts; and Bill McKibben, co-founder of the international organization 350.org and bestselling author of the End of Nature. The evening was moderated by Moab local Christy Williams, Programming Director at KZMU 90.1 & 106.7 FM and former Moab City Council member. The event was organized by Moab-based nonprofit Before It Starts, which is dedicated stopping proposed massive tar sands and oil shale projects in the United States by activating a national resistance, led and informed by frontline communities.
Kate Finneran of beforeitstarts.org talked about her background working on mountaintop removal issues as National Field Organizer for Appalachian Voices, and why she came to settle in Moab.
Bradley Angel spoke about the threat posed by a planned nuclear power plant on the Green river (primary tributary of the Colorado River), and closed by pointing out that it is important to talk about health when working on movement building to address climate change, because health is a concern we all share, and impacts all people equally regardless of background. Read more about Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice here.
John Weisheit, whom is responsible for the litigation which has prevented tar sands and oil shale mining for over ten years, pointed out that he was very grateful, because “three years ago, there was no activism around the tar sands and oil shale, except for the lawsuits brought by my organization and our lawyers. It’s encouraging beyond words to see groups like Before it Starts, Canyon Country Rising Tide, Peaceful Uprising, Utah Tar Sands Resistance, Grand Canyon Trust, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and now even 350.org and other local and international groups jumping in to form a true grassroots direct-action resistance.”
David Harper talked about the importance of spiritual health in our activism and asked, “Where is our [communities along the Colorado river] movement? Maybe this is the beginning”
Bill McKibben took the stage (sitting on the edge of it, actually) and spoke about the emerging people-led movement to combat the climate crisis. He spoke about the fact that tar sands and oil shale mining at the scale we’re looking at in Utah not only destroys the land and pollutes the water for 30 million people, but represents a threat to all people everywhere for the carbon it would release into the atmosphere. (Recoverable tar sands and oil shale deposits in the region represent nearly a trillion barrels of fossil fuels, far more than is currently being mined in Alberta, Canada) “It’s important for people everywhere to rise up and oppose any fossil fuel industry projects that would contribute to climate change,” Bill said.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Bill, do you think we can win? Do you think it is too late to avert complete climate disaster?’ And I have to tell them, ‘I don’t know if it is too late. I don’t know if we’ll be able to turn it around in time, but if the last four years have taught me anything, it’s that we aren’t going down without a fight.’”
More photos of the event by Lee Gelat
Part Two: Downstream Community Leadership Training
July 20, 21, Moab Arts and Recreation Center and Swanny City Park, Moab, Utah
The DCLT was part of more than a week of complementary events and activities taking place in various locations in eastern Utah, all of which are designed to educate, activate, and empower activists and non-activists alike; to bring communities from both the front lines of imminent industrial development in the area, such as tar sands/oil shale mining, and a proposed nuclear power plant, together with concerned people from around the country. The DCLT offered a two-day nonviolent direct action 101 training with a focus on communities in the Colorado river bioregion, which offered an alternative for folks who cannot attend the more immersive and in-depth five-day Canyon Country Action Camp, which will take place on the shores of the Green River from July 24-28. (Click to support the camp and help us reach our fundraising goal.)
The morning began at the Moab Arts and Recreation center with breakfast and coffee. After that, John Weisheit of Living Rivers led a 20-minute introduction to three specific watershed threats: tar sands and oil shale mining, and a proposed nuclear power plant. John pointed out that the main reason behind building a nuclear power plant on the Green river was not to supply power to “the grid”, as it’s proponents claim, but rather, to run the infrastructure that would be necessary for tar sands and oil shale mining in the nearby Tavaputs Plateau.
Another important point that John brought up is that the “oil” being sought in the region through mining tar sands and oil shale wasn’t even for use in vehicles, rather, that it would be turned into low-grade diesel which powers cargo ships and products like paint thinner. “It won’t alleviate gas prices and will not reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
John’s presentation concluded with a question from a participant: “I guess I just don’t understand the other side. I mean, these tar sands and oil shale projects seem like such a risky proposition, and they are so filthy and dangerous, and the lack of water, and now this resistance, not to mention climate change…why do these people [the executives at U.S. Oil Sands and the other start-ups seeking investment capital to begin mining] do this? Why are they pursuing this business?”
Next up was Bradley Angel from Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice and David Harper Traditional Spokesperson for the Mojave Tribe of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, to talk about non-violent direct action. Instead of a lecture about definitions and abstract history, Bradley used multimedia, including television news clips, to illustrate examples from his direct experience advocating for environmental justice during the last 15 years. Examples of victories can be found here.
The presentation included a screening of “Defending the Sacred”, a documentary about the remarkable 113-day occupation of Ward Valley, which was ultimately successful in defeating the US government’s plan to use sacred Indian lands a dumping ground for nuclear waste. It is a remarkable story about frontline communities and activists from outside the area working together to achieve an unlikely victory.
Bradley also gave examples from other successful campaigns to stop industrial polluters, which were supported by Greenaction but led by the communities directly involved. (Instead of the other way around, as is often the case with environmental organizations.)
After lunch, we circled up the chairs in the adjacent meeting space and local-international organizer/activist Celia Alario facilitated as the group layed out some ground rules to guide the rest of the training.
After that, a go-around of brief introductions revealed the surprising diversity of people that had gathered together for the weekend. There were retirees from Castle Valley and Moab, some recalling their experiences protesting the Vietnem war; a group of students from the University of Colorado at Boulder, who were on a weeks-long trek around the Southwest to learn about environmental justice issues with a program called INVST –many of whom were eager to experience direct action training for the first time, and some of whom had been active in Occupy; a group of young activists from the Gila River Indian Community, a couple of whom were living in Phoenix, some of whom had already been involved in acts of civil disobedience and/or Occupy Phoenix. Two were rising hip-hop artists from Shining Soul who gave us a surprise an awesome a Capella show later on; and more. [update: the author was just informed that 2/3 of Requiem participated in the training. Check it out!]
After that, we did an exercise called the “Spectrogram”. The facilitators put up four signs on the four walls of a room, with signs reading “effective” and “not effective” opposite each other, and “violent” and “non-violent” completing the other axis. Participants are given scenarios and asked to stand in the room nearest the coordinates that agree with their opinion. For example, “burning the US flag” would be a given prompt, and participants who thought it violent would go to that side of the room, but perhaps on the “not effective” side. After people take their positions, the facilitators go around and let attendees expound on why they chose the place they did. Participants who hear something that changes their perspective can change their position in the room.
The final exercise of the day was something called “hassle lines”, where the group forms two lines, each person across from someone else, and are given scenarios where one person is agitated and the other practices calming them down. It is intended to provide skills in “de-escalation”, and it can get pretty animated!
Day two began at Swanny City Park with plenty of sunshine, breakfast and coffee. Participation grew to include parents who brought their young children.
Amanda Starbuck, an organizer from Rainforest Action Network with extensive experience in direct action training and planning (and friend of Before it Starts) traveled from San Fransisco as a volunteer to lead the morning’s workshops.
Amanda opened by inviting participants to share stories and experiences with direct actions and civil disobedience.
We then split into two groups and were asked to form a “blockade”, or a human barrier that would stop a theoretical truck from continuing on a road. Participants were intentionally given no preparation time, which led to an in-depth discussion and lesson on the different roles activists take when preparing for and carrying out direct actions like this.
Following the lesson on roles, participants were given another hypothetical scenario in which they were forming a blockade to prevent equipment which would be essential for commencing strip-mining operations from reaching a mine site. Many folks had a part to play, some acting as law enforcement, hostile television reporters, and so on. David Harper played a very convincing truck driver who was being interrupted just trying to do his job. It was a lot of fun.
After lunch we went back for two lessons from Amanda Starbuck: challenging corporate power and “knowing your legal rights” in an action scenario. She also talked about one of Rainforest Action Network’s current campaigns, which includes a “Pledge of Resistance” against the KeystoneXL pipeline (if it is approved by President Obama). Over 70,000 people around the country have already taken the pledge, which can be found here.
The last activity was an exercise borrowed and adapted from the 99% Spring Training Guide, in which we practiced refining our personal stories of who we are, what we are struggling against, and what we want the future to look like. Groups of four were formed (with people that hadn’t spent much time interacting grouped together) to write out their stories, then share them with the rest, then, as a group, discuss the commonalities they observed. They then filled in the blanks: We are _____, ____, and _____, and we struggle with _____, _____, and _____, and we want a future where _______, ______, and ______. The groups then sent representatives up to the front to present their statement, which was written down with all the others on a single piece of butcher-block paper. After that, we “mic-checked” the entire statement.
(Unfortunately, the group from the Gila River Indian Community had to leave right before this exercise, but they promised to complete it later and send us what they came up with so we can add it to the document)
The three days of speakers and workshops ended with a feedback session. Participants suggested that we do more media training, that we do the last exercise first next time, and that overall, it was empowering and fun, and that they were truly glad that they came. One comment that came up multiple times was that “At first I was nervous, but it’s been so encouraging to meet other people that want to do something. I feel like I am ready to take more action.”
The organizers were grateful that a self-motivated community of activists had taken shape, and look forward to working with these individuals for a long time to come.
Contact: ashley@beforeitstarts or kate@beforeitstarts