I sit down to write this piece with bleary eyes and a head that feels like it is filled both with cotton and the tines of a pitchfork piercing into my skull. It has been a powerful, profound, and overwhelming last few days. But the intensity of what I have experienced is nothing compared to the on-going struggle of the courageous landowners and blockaders in ruralEast Texas facing the onslaught and ravaging devastation of TransCanada and its Keystone XL Tar Sands pipeline.
In January 2012, I, like many people thought the Keystone XL issue was over after hard-won victory in suspending the pipeline from crossing the border from Canada into the USA. But shortly after reveling in the victory which was a result of the efforts and sacrifice of so many people who organized and many who were arrested, I read the words of President Barak Obama (the same man who claimed to be for creating green jobs and leading America away from dependence on oil), “And today, I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.”
And that is exactly what he did.
And “cutting through the red tape” included allowing for Eminent Domain laws to be used to steal the land from families, farmers, and Native People in order to push this extremely dangerous pipeline, to be filled with highly corrosive and toxic Tar Sands oil, right through the heartland of America, potentially stretching from Montana all the way to the Gulf of Mexico where it is destined to be exported to other countries.
In April of last year, I went to Dallas, TX and met with one of the landowners, David Daniel and his family, who were facing imminent destruction of their land from TransCanada and standing against their stealing of his family’s land through Eminent Domain law abuse. He shared with me his story—how he and his wife had travelled to many places looking for their perfect place to buy a piece of property where they would care for and steward their little piece of “Heaven on Earth” and raise their child to feel connected to living with the Earth and not just on it. They found exactly what they were looking for in East Texas. A property that had beautiful woods, huge, old trees, and spring-fed creeks curving and meandering throughout the 22 acres. There was one, particular very large, very old tree right next to one of the creeks that had a magic to it, that both David and his wife both felt drawn to so powerfully, that it was on that spot, that they both knew this was “their place.”
One day while walking around his land, two years after purchasing it and almost finishing building their dream home made from salvaged, re-purposed, and recycled items, David found survey ribbons and stakes marking off an 150 foot swath cutting right through the middle of his property. TransCanada had entered his property without ever seeking or being granted land owner permission and marked the area they were hereby intending to take and claim as their own.
In our meeting that day, David told me that as he walked around and saw the surveying ribbons and stakes, one right next to one of his most favorite trees, he looked up into the tree, overwhelmed with how he was going to stand against such huge, politically connected corruption, and he immediately remembered interviews he had seen of me and my tree-sit in Luna. He said in that moment, it gave him the inspiration and resolve he needed to stand against such seemingly overwhelming odds.
After meeting this soulful, soft-spoken man and his beautiful family and feeling his deep heart-breaking anguish, and at the same time, his fierce resolve to fight with everything he had to protect his land, his family, and his child’s future to live on a safe and healthy planet, I knew I would do whatever I could to help.
Fast-forward to September, and I have been put “on-call” to be ready to go East Texas at a moment’s notice to help bring attention and support to what is happening. Sadly, in between all this time, David Daniel has been bulliedand threatened byTransCanada with losing everything he has worked so hard to build and as a result has agreed to end his efforts to stop TransCanada. At the same time, incredible activists calling themselves Tar Sands Blockade have been building blockades and doing direct action lock-downs in efforts to slow-down TransCanada’s destructive clearing of easements for the tar sands pipeline. Although their efforts are absolutely amazing, almost no one outside of social media sites and a very few progressive media sites have been sharing what is happening.
My manager, dear friend, and staunch ally in the work to protect this planet, Paul Bassis has been involved in this issue since the days to stop the pipeline from crossing from Canada into the US. My soul sister, amazing advocate, and actress, Daryl Hannah, has also been involved from that beginning, even getting arrested in the action in Washington D.C. which was a huge part in creating the media interest and elevating Keystone XL into the national dialogueat that time which was a crucial factor in President Obama’s decision that the full proposed pipeline project could not be quickly approved and without environmental reviews. Another fellow tree-sitter and amazing artist/activist, John Quigley, as well as another incredible friend and ally Janet MacGillivray Wallace who came along for legal support, also signed on to be a part of our team heading to Texas to do our best to help break through the media silence on this critical issue and provide legal and other support for both the blockaders and the landowners.
They arrived a couple days before I was able to scout out the situation and see what our best possible strategy was for hopefully breaking through the wall of silence. I arrived to a group of sleep-deprived yet incredibly committed people. Yet all of the strategizing and planning took a u-turn when, at the home of Eleanor Fairchild on October 4th, we were surprised to hear the heavy equipment of TransCanada on Eleanor Fairchild’s land and smelt smoke from burning piles of trees.
Our group, including photographers, videographers, and supporters quickly gathered together to rethink strategy. It was a clear message from Mrs. Fairchild, “Not on my land. Not on my watch. Not as long as I can do something.” The rest of us rallied around her resolve and after a little while of making sure everyone was as prepared as we could be, we took off towards the noise and smoke.
Mrs. Fairchild, Daryl Hannah, and John Quigley ran out in front of the huge earth moving excavatorswith their arms raised, yelling to be heard above the noise, telling the driver of the massive machinery to stop. The rest of us surrounded the site documenting what was happening as well as letting TransCanada’s armed, private security and workers know that there were observers, and they better behave legally and properly (as earlier actions by peaceful blockaders had been met with pain compliance and torture techniques including choke holds, pepper spray and tazers.)
Daryl Hannah was grabbed early on by a security man who then put a pain-hold compliance on her, twisting her wrist aggressively and bending it backwards. Eleanor Fairchild remained in front of the huge machine, in the midst of burning stacks of trees with her hands raised for an incredibly long time. I was in awe of her stamina and courage and her depth of conviction to peacefully defend her farm.
Eventually, the Sherriff showed up with backup. They approached Mrs. Fairchild and tried negotiating with her, offering her the chance to just walk away and not be arrested and trying to convince her that those of us who were there to support her were not really her friends (as if somehow TransCanada is.) She told them that unless they let Daryl go free as well, then they would have to arrest both of them.
The Sherriff and his men walked Mrs. Fairchild and Daryl to their trucks to take them to jail as the rest of us on the support team finished taking photos and documentary footage and returned to the house to regroup and start getting the word out to the media as well as wait for a call from the jail, so we could work on the release of Daryl and Mrs. Fairchild.
The judge calledinlet Eleanor Fairchild go on her Personal Recognizance. But he decided to make an example of Daryl Hannah and said her bail was $4,500 and had to be paid in cash, no credit cards, no checks, and no bail bonds. It was around 10 o’clock at night and absolutely impossible to come up with $4,500 cash. Eventually, at Daryl’s urging as to the fairness of the bail terms that had been imposed upon her,officers in the jail convinced the judge that his demands were unreasonable, and that Daryl was clearly not a threat to society or the community and should be allowed to have a bail bondsman post a bond and not be forced to stay in jail.
A few of us went to the bail bondsman to start the process of Daryl’s release, then right around midnight crossed over to the jail house to meet Daryl. She did an incredible job answering questions for the regional media, who had been stationed there for up to 7 hours, especially considering how much she had just been through and how exhausted she was. We then took her over to finish the bonding process (with the bondswoman) whom was incredibly nice and very helpful in walking us through the process of what to expect over the coming days and weeks.
Daryl, Paul Bassis, John Quigley, and myself went to a new friend’s place to finish writing the press release and send it out (internet is non-existent at Mrs. Fairchild’s and cell reception is negligible.) We made it back to Mrs. Fairchild’s home at about 4 o’clock in the morning, where we were greeted by Eleanor with hugs all around and acknowledging how incredible she and Daryl were throughout the whole process.
The next day we saw that the news was spreading like wildfire and Paul and John took Daryl and Eleanor off to the network affiliate television studios in Dallas to do live national media and respond to TransCanada’s release statement. I went to visit the courageous blockaders still holding down the line in the trees and on the “wall” (a wall made of trees and platforms and rope lines.) I told them they were our inspiration, thanked them for their courage and sacrifice, asked them what they needed in the realms of support, and told them that we were working hard to support getting their efforts out to the greater public and hopefully helping build the critical support necessary in stopping this injustice.
The TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline is a travesty, injustice, and huge threat to people, the planet and our democracy. It has been railroaded through by Obama (whose campaign hired a former TransCanada lobbyist) and is supported by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, whose former campaign director from her ’08 run for President is now TransCanada’s chief lobbyist for the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline project. Highly respected scientists have said that moving ahead with tar sands extraction is one of the single greatest threats to our ability to stop severe global climate change. Native Americans face their lands being stolen yet again for this pipeline. And families up and down the heartland of America face the absolute devastation of all they worked so hard to create. More and more is happening every single day with this campaign, and it needs all of us to pay attention, get informed, get involved, and support however we can. Families’ lives, beautiful land, and our future are at stake.
What you can do:
1) Go to http://www.rideforrenewables.com/2012/09/an-open-letter-to-president-obama-and-governor-romney-on-keystone-xl and sign on to this open letter to both Obama and Romney.
2) Go to http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/ and donate as well as stay up to date on the courageous efforts of the blockaders (so much is happening every single day!) As well as find other ways to support this critical movement.
3) Go to http://tarsandsblockade.org/donate-3/wishlist/ and purchase direct things they need to keep up the resistance.