We are standing up for our future.
On Saturday May 5th a group of British Columbians engaged in an act of civil disobedience by blocking coal exports on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railway line in White Rock BC. They did this to draw a connection between coal exports and climate change. They did it to make a statement about the need for morally conscious individuals to do all that they can to stave off a looming climatic disaster. They did it in hopes it would inspire fellow citizens to undertake similar actions before it is too late.
Over the course of a long, sunny day spent making music, talking and sharing food next to the tracks, 5 scheduled coal trains failed to arrive. At 5 pm spotters reported that a coal train was finally on the move south of the border. Individuals occupied the tracks, a train was stopped at 6 pm, and 13 citizens were arrested and taken into custody.
Here's what was involved in making the day possible: a small number of people willing to risk arrest to stand up for what they believe in. The support of prominent people like Bill McKibben, James Hansen and Mark Jaccard, who were ready to speak up in advance and say this is the right thing to do. A stoked-up group of supporters who, through their actions, helped set a tone for the day that was peaceful, creative and hopeful, but also focused and determined. A network of people in Washington State keeping us abreast of train movements. One Twitter account.
There was one person in particular we wanted to send a message to on May 5th: Warren Buffett, -- the owner of BNSF. Saturday was date of the annual meeting of his vast holding company, Berkshire Hathaway. In the letter we sent to him to inform him of our intention to stop his coal trains, we encouraged him to seize this opportunity to take bold action on climate change. To the best of our knowledge, he hasn't taken up the challenge.
We were never worried about anyone's physical safety because everything was planned out carefully and announced in advance. Freight trains moved as usual, and Amtrak service was cancelled due to a landslide. In any case, we had pledged not to interfere passenger rail movements that day. When the coal train stopped supporters moved down the tracks with police to ensure that no one attempted to go near the train.
We were prepared to break the law in an act of civil disobedience, but we had no desire to violate the court order granted to BNSF late Friday afternoon which ordered us not to interfere with their work. We had numerous discussions with RCMP throughout the day Saturday in an attempt to clarify the reach of the court's injunction. If we moved down the tracks could we make our point without disrespecting the court? The RCMP deferred to BNSF to interpret the injunction, but after repeated phone calls and at least one frustrating conversation on speaker phone the railway couldn't -- or wouldn't -- offer clarification.
Our interactions with the RCMP throughout the day were incredible – respectful, candid and ongoing. In the end we negotiated with them that in the interest of public safety we would occupy the tracks right where we had planned all day. Mile 122. Since we remained determined to physically stop the train, the police instructed BNSF to bring it forward to that point on the tracks.
After the train rolled to a stop, BNSF staff read their injunction. Those of us who were not willing to risk arrest left the tracks. The RCMP asked if those of us remaining would obey the injunction. When we said no – regrettably, as none of us wished to violate the court's order to make our point – the RCMP gave us a few minutes to make final statements before we were arrested and taken into custody.
Arrestees were taken to the White Rock RCMP detachment, processed, issued with a Federal Ticket for violating the Railway Safety Act and released.
Upon release, arrestees were overwhelmed by how beautifully everything had unfolded. The White Rock detachment of the RCMP worked hard all day in the interest of public safety while also acknowledging our right to peacefully stand up for what we believe in. It was a good day to be a Canadian citizen.
It all seemed a bit unreal at days end -- but that may have been because of the sunburn, dehydration and overall exhaustion. Still, the next day, on a sunny Sunday morning, anything seemed possible.
That 125 car coal train we stopped in White Rock did reach the port eventually, carrying 13,000 tonnes of coal that will release 26,000 tonnes of CO2 when burned. However, it did so under the watchful eye of hundreds of onlookers and media crews. The deal between Warren Buffett (owner of BNSF) and Jimmy Pattison (owner of Westshore Terminals) to ship dirty Wyoming coal out of B.C. is now firmly in the public eye. We've started to connect the dots between coal exports and climate change.
To everyone who took part, in any way: We stood up for our future on Saturday. You should be proud.