Monday, February 13, 2017

Without Consent: Tar Sands "Valve Turners" visit UC Berkeley

I spent Friday evening on the UC Berkeley campus, in a lecture hall full of activists and community members gathered for dialog with the Tar Sands Pipeline Valve Turners: five brave activists who could have stepped out of Edward Abbey's fiction, or Sunil Yapa's, or Michael Ondaatje's, or my own novel, Consequence. But in real life, these monkey wrenchers collectively stopped the U.S.-bound flow of tar sands crude oil from the so-called "sacrifice zone" in Alberta, Canada (images), where it is extracted in a mode that decimates forests, wildlife, and human communities. They did so by turning off emergency shutoff valves along the pipeline route, in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and Washington.

The Valve Turners shut down the flow of tar sands crude on 11 October 2016, in solidarity with a call by indigenous Water Protectors at Standing Rock for International Days of Prayer and Action from 8-11 October. Their action was not announced in advance, but it was performed publicly. In fact the Valve Turners arranged for videographers to record exactly what they did ... and livestreamed the shutdowns in the North Dakota and Montana. Then they waited for sheriffs to show up and arrest them.

All five Valve Turners -- Michael Foster, Leonard Higgens, Emily Johnston, Annette Klapstein, and Ken Ward -- are facing felony charges. Filmmakers who recorded and livestreamed their action were also arrested and charged; some of those charges have since been dropped. Ken Ward's trial ended in a hung jury the week before last. Ward was not permitted by the trial judge to mount a "necessity defense" but some jurors figured out what had really happened based on the little context Ward was able to provide in his own testimony; and decided that reasoning, motive, and intention excused his burglary and sabotage charges. He will be retried.

Annette Klapstein, a Valve Turner who is also a member of Seattle's chapter of Raging Grannies, explained that it's not hard to shut down an oil pipeline. One can -- as she and her comrades did -- learn all about shutting down oil pipelines on YouTube. It took the group about five months and twelve or fourteen thousand dollars to prepare for and execute their action.

Why this action and not something else? Ken Ward told the crowd in 145 Dwinelle Hall that he was "searching for ways to be effective." That doesn't mean that any of the Valve Turners or their supporters believe that shutting down pipelines carrying the nastiest crude for a few hours or a day is the goal. In fact, as their decision to shut the pipelines down publicly and face legal consequences demonstrates, the opportunity to broadcast their message was the strategic goal of the Valve Turners' shutdown all along. And the core of that message isn't the looming threat of climate change: that information is out there, and anyone listening is aware of it. No, the core of the Valve Turners message is this, articulated in a crisp sound-byte by Emily Johnston:
"These companies cannot operate without consent."
Erica Chenoweth, University of Denver professor and co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict described what she calls the "3.5% Rule" at TEDxBoulder in 2013. Consider this excerpt:
Researchers used to say that no government could survive if five percent of its population mobilized against it. But our data reveal that the threshold is probably lower. In fact, no campaigns failed once they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population—and lots of them succeeded with far less than that [...] 
The data are clear: When people rely on civil resistance, their size grows. And when large numbers of people withdraw their cooperation from an oppressive system, the odds are ever in their favor.
The secret sauce? Annette Klapstein gave it away on Friday evening:
"You just have to be absolutely relentless, that's how you get it done."
There's a lot to get done in the current era, in which authoritarian, oligarchic government is spreading like highly infectious disease. It can't be scoured away unless and until enough people resist, as the Valve Turners have shown is well within the realm of what's possible.

But you don't have to face felony charges to participate!

For example, have a look at Friday's Washington Post article, Swarming crowds and hostile questions are the new normal at GOP town halls -- particularly if  you live in or near a red state or congressional district. Yup. That could be you...

It's Valentine's Day tomorrow, and you can show the love you feel for fearless work that each of the Valve Turners has done on behalf of our common and humane future by helping to support their legal defense at

Whether or not you click the Donate link, consider inviting a few friends and neighbors over to work out how you will become a part of the 3.5%.

Thanks to TastyCakes and Jamitzky via Wikipedia Commons for the public domain image of Syncrude's base mine 25 miles north of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
A half-dozen things to consider three weeks after electocalypse
Oakland coal ban: real politics amid the Drumpfoolery
Sticking your neck out
Pope Francis' environmental encyclical in four core themes

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