Trial by Fire:  A Rising Tide of Civil Disobedience

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When climate crusader Bill McKibben was here in May, he had a sobering message: we’ve run out of time to educate the masses about the reality of climate issues and the impacts of fossil fuels.

Joel Connelly wrote for Seattle PI that Bill told a crowd in Seattle on May 19th we don’t have the luxury of being polite any more. It’s time to get arrested. But wear a suit.

Jan Woodruff, a retired researcher making her home in Anacortes, missed the memo from Bill on dressing for arrest. But when she sat on the tracks outside the Tesoro refinery on Monday, July 28, to protest unsafe Bakken crude trains rolling through our communities, she looked very much like her model, the Raging Grannies.

Because Jan’s a slacks kind of gal, she had to buy a granny-type dress for the occasion. Luckily, her favorite thrift shop had just the thing—a blue and white polka dotted number—and matching pumps. A wide-brimmed hat embellished with the largest silk flower she could find completed the ensemble.

So it was that a 60-year-old housewife chained herself to two other people, risking arrest, to make a point, which she did in style and with much media coverage.

The next day, as soon as I heard about the action, I called Jan, a fellow researcher on crude-by-rail refinery proposals. Jan’s formidable academic skills had contributed greatly to comments on the Shell Anacortes crude-by-rail proposal, which is still in the permitting phase.

Jan was still high as a kite from the excitement of the experience, and giggled like a schoolgirl when I said, “So THAT’s what you meant when you called and invited me to your ‘little action’ you were having.”

She couldn’t tell me more when she called, Jan said, because the action, organized by Rising Tide Seattle, was intended to be spontaneous. Only her neighbors would have noticed the 22 young people who trooped into her house Sunday to spend the night, camping on her floors and sharing two bathrooms, and who filed out the next day to hold signs in support of the three people – including Jan – who would chain themselves together on the tracks as the volunteer arrestees.

Neither BNSF nor the local sheriff were given advance warning, Jan said. Nonetheless, responders were unfailingly polite, negotiating with the trespassers to voluntarily unchain themselves rather than face removal by force.

Being a “granny” apparently did the trick. Once arrested, Jan said she barely felt the station pat-down. “I don’t think they ever did take my fingerprints.” She was barely in her cell five minutes after processing when she heard a quiet tap on the door and a voice asked if she was hungry. Realizing she was starving, Jan gratefully accepted the leftover jailhouse food, she told me.

She doubts she was incarcerated more than an hour before she and her two cohorts were released on their own recognizance, with instructions to appear in court at 8:30 a.m. on August 5th for arraignment.

In a similar action Thursday the 31st, three protesters peacefully allowed themselves to be arrested after sitting on the tracks in Seattle, but there were several differences from the Anacortes action.

First, according to King 5 News, organizers gave Seattle police advance notice they would be at Alaskan Way near the waterfront, so rail carriers would have received advance notice, presumably because the protest was on a main line.

Second, public officials participated in Seattle. Socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant acted as a spokesperson, linking the action to a crude train derailment under the Magnolia Bridge the week before. Socialist candidate for the legislature Jess Spear volunteered to be one of the three people risking arrest.

Finally, according to The Stranger, Spear – wearing nice slacks, a blouse, and sweater – and her compatriots were held on $500 bail.

Maybe if she’d worn a dress ….

[Note: In spite of the light-hearted tone of this article, this is serious business. Rising Tide is engaged in an ongoing campaign of direct action to stop the movement of fossil fuels through the Northwest. Please consider attending court appearances and ​politely showing support for those who volunteer to risk arrest. There are defense funds being established, and I will update this article when I have a working link. There is a video of the Anacortes action here. To see if you are in the blast radius of an exploding crude train, see Forest Ethics' interactive map here.]

About Terry Wechsler

Citizen Journalist • Member since May 19, 2013

Comments by Readers

Marian Beddill

Aug 01, 2014

Maybe it is time for MORE strong action like this, by we the people.
A strategy goal, well illustrated by this, is to inform and educate the public about the problems and the goals.

Most agree with us, but do not have the time, skills, etc to be active participants - and that’s OK. Because there ARE folks who DO have the ability, and I suspect there are hundreds, just waiting for the right moment and event, to show our head count.

Think ahead for seven generations, and agree about how strongly that trumps money-profit for just a few, today.

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Terry Wechsler

Aug 01, 2014

Marian, your points jibe exactly with Bill’s message. In the Joel Connelly interview, he says he hopes college students won’t be the cannon fodder in this revolution.

The reality is that not only did our generation make this mess, or stand by as it was being made, we profited from it and lived very comfortable lives. Many of us now have the luxury of time, financial security, and no future employment opportunities that would be jeopardized by an arrest record. So it’s on us for our children and our children’s children and….

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Marian Beddill

Aug 01, 2014

...for our children and our children’s children and….so it’s about time to hit the streets in the hundreds or thousands. 

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Ellen Murphy

Aug 03, 2014

Rising Tide is a world wide movement with countless working groups, allies, and arrest histories, whose members are not interested in fashion except for enough padding to be protected from being dragged in certain circumstances, and with sophisticated strategic, law enforcement-relations and courtroom abilities and nonviolence knowledge for the extremely serious and often dangerous work they have been carrying out for years in this climate emergency. They are all ages, come from all walks of life by the thousands, offer climate camps and other trainings, and sacrifice much. Law enforcement is supposed to be polite whether given advance notice of direct actions or not. Advance notice is a strategic decision. Being a “granny” doesn’t do the trick for most elders in creative nonviolence. There is no trick. They know they could be hurt and/or imprisoned, no matter their age nor what they wear.

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Terry Wechsler

Aug 04, 2014

Actually, on the other side of that drum is Ahmed Gaya, of Rising Tide. When I interviewed him, we talked about Bill McKibben’s messaging. Of Jan’s attire, he said, “Didn’t she look GREAT?” and told me, “I hope you noticed I shaved my beard and wore a tie.”

I stand behind the story.

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Terry Wechsler

Aug 04, 2014

More to the point, here’s what Herb Goodwin had to say on Facebook yesterday:

“Much thanks to Terry Wechsler for this inside look at details of the Anacortes Oil Train Blockade (07/28/2014) and the arrests of the Anacortes Three, along with an account of the Seattle Oil Train Blockade (07/31/2014) and the arrest of the Seattle Three.

“Three Cascadian oil train blockades in one month - this is a direct action formula that maintains bomb train awareness in the mainstream media, the alternative media and social networks. The resulting media opportunities were handled splendidly, and the organizers and media teams saw that the Resistance got lessoned in the art of pulling off a successful direct action. Thank you all.

“Rising Tide Portland got the ball rolling with, well, the Portland Oil Train Blockade (06/30/2014) with one arrest. Rising Tide Seattle staged Anacortes, and Socialist Alternative staged Seattle. Largely.

“The Resistance needs to keep the pace up.

“The Calumet Hydrocracker MegaLoad - from the Port of Wilma, Clarkston, WA to Great Falls, MT - is going to be MegaHauled by Bigge Crane within the week.

“Consider joining Wild Idaho Rising Tide and Allies in coming direct actions in Idaho and Montana.

“http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/trial-by-fire-a-rising-tide-of-civil-disobedience”

Herb’s summary is consistent with Ahmed’s except that I am not certain about the relative roles of Rising Tide and Socialist Alternative in Seattle.

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Ellen Murphy

Aug 04, 2014

I agree with Mr.Goodwin and if the comment refers to Adam Gaya, I agree with him too.
My comment was intended to be educational only, not a critical analysis nor a negation of anyone.

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