by Rabb!t / Earth First! Newswire
As the saying goes: dress for the job you want [to undermine], not the one you have [been].
Lately, environmental activists have been shedding the flannels and camo and straightening their ties in order to infiltrate meetings, conferences and symposiums, disrupting dirty energy projects at the point of decision. Not only can you stop a lot of bulldozers by interrupting the executives who order the bulldozers—you also get to see the looks on those execs’ faces as they realize that all their power and money suddenly appear insubstantial in the face of passionate cries and steel bicycle locks.
Just yesterday, the Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported, protesters fed up with mountaintop removal coal mining crashed PNC Financial Services Group’s annual shareholder’s meeting. According to participants, PNC is one of the nation’s largest financiers of mountaintop coal mining. The activists, most of whom were from the Earth Quaker Action Team, called out the names of board members and asked them to state their position on mountaintop removal. PNC’s chairman and CEO, James Rohr, tried to continue the meeting in spite of the disturbance, but finally gave up, calling the meeting off about 15 minutes after it started.
[Update: Read George Lakey’s personal account of the action here]
On April 16, the anti-extraction group, Colorado Extraction Resistance, infiltrated an Oil & Gas Conference held in the Imperial Ballroom at the Grand Hyatt Denver. The event was sponsored by BP, and though they targeted Platts in particular, the event included a long list of “Industry Leaders.” The Colorado-based anti-extraction group snuck into the event, displayed anti-extraction propaganda disguised as advertisements, and used a technique they’re calling “Balloon Bloq” to cause a large enough disturbance to delay proceedings. Since the activists have explained their methods and are encouraging others to follow their example, I’ll let them speak for themselves:
When we first found out this conference was coming to Denver, we began planning our intervention. In order to blend in with the oil & gas industry crowd, we cleaned up and put on our best business attire. Phase one was reconnaissance of the hotel layout and any information we could gather about the event. Phase two was to insert as much modified industry art in bathrooms and display tables around the conference before the events began for the day.
We prepared several bundles of helium balloons, with the strings trimmed short and tied to “personal alarms” (tiny but loud noisemakers which screech until they are deactivated). These keychain alarms are cheap (around $8 apiece) and can be purchased online and at many hardware stores.
The Balloon Bloq team approached the conference ballroom ready to confront the toxic oil and gas industry executives who are poisoning communities across Colorado and the world. We made it all the way to the ballroom doors when we were intercepted by an off-duty Denver police officer. As the cop moved in, one team member was able to pull the pin on his alarm and release his balloons right before he was grabbed by the officer, slammed face-first into a wall and cuffed. Simultaneously other team members took advantage of this distraction to quickly deploy the 2nd noise balloons directly into the room where the fracking conference was taking place. Our captured comrade continued to yell “Ban Fracking Everywhere!” as he was escorted out of the building and into a squad car. The high pitched alarm echoed through the conference as the balloons floated to the ceiling and disrupted the proceedings until they were eventually retrieved from the high ceiling by event staff. Our arrested colleague was charged with disturbing the peace and trespassing, and was released on $100 bond about 8 hours later.
Let’s make a tradition of creatively disrupting Platts events wherever they go. They have already caught on to the sophistication with which Tar Sands Blockade has agitated industry events, and even offer unintentional tactical suggestions. Together, we will show the fracking and tar sands mafia that they cannot continue to poison our land, our water, and our future, and that we will hold them personally accountable for their actions even when they try to hide behind closed doors.
We had lots of fun infiltrating this conference, and it was much easier than you might think. All you need is fancy clothes, a few days for planning, and a little bit of raw nerve.
You can watch video of the action here.
The group’s website includes media that you can use when you host your own Platts meeting disruption, including pictures like this one:
As mentioned by Colorado Extraction Resistance, the Tar Sands Blockade has been using similar tactics recently, disrupting meetings regarding tar sands extraction while bringing attention to the negligence and apathy of the companies involved. On January 31 of this year blockader Ramsey Sprague chained himself to sound equipment during the PipeTech Americas Summit, where delegates from pipeline construction corporations met to discuss their dirty business. Like the Colorado group, Ramsey “dressed to match the crowd and joined the audience.” As you can see in the video of the action, the activist delayed the meeting by speaking out about the dirty, dangerous realities of TransCanada’s “safety” regulations, and by speaking up for communities of indigenous people and others whose land has been and continues to be bought, sold, and spilled upon for corporate profit:
Check out TSB’s report on the action for more info.
About a month later, blockader Ethan Nuss used a similar tactic, U-locking his neck to a projector during a TransCanada presentation at an oil industry gathering in Houston. As chron.com reported, Ethan’s action did not go unnoticed at the conference:
“Nuss remained locked to the screen for about an hour until he was arrested,” said Kim Huynh, Tar Sands Blockade spokeswoman.
In a statement issued through the blockade group, Nuss said his conscience wouldn’t allow him “to watch this multinational corporation and their profiteers poison impacted communities.” Huynh said her understanding was that the roomful of about 100 people was evacuated while Nuss, the only protester in the room, was locked to the screen.
Democracy Now! reported that, as the event coordinator told attendees to “take a break,” Ethan Nuss had this to say:
“You can no longer hide from us, because we are everywhere. We will continue to show up at your functions. We will no longer allow business to continue that brings this kind of climate chaos.”
It’s difficult not to be inspired by Ethan’s passionate pleas to the oil giants:
These stories just begin to touch on the extent of similar actions going on all around the country. For example, on April 15, Joe Solomon and David Baghdadi were arrested in Charleston, West Virginia, after locking down during a coal industry-funded energy research symposium, chanting “Coal kills, science lies!” The activists had to be removed by police, and successfully delayed the meeting. You can read the full story here.
There is no reason these types of actions should not continue. By combining the media attention and symbolic nature of typical aboveground rallies and protests with the delay of business and weakening of economic incentives that direct action is all about, these relatively low-risk tactics, while obviously not an answer unto themselves, have an important place in the current, multi-faceted fight against extraction industries. I’m excited to see more groups follow the example of these righteous individuals. At the very least, it’s nice to know that, with the subversives wearing suits, corporate elites will have a harder time feeling relaxed even in their own conferences.