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Why We’re Putting Ourselves on the (Pipe)Line With the Tea Party

Occupiers, Tea Partiers, landowners, and environmentalists are challenging construction of the Keystone XL pipeline’s Gulf Coast segment—together.

Don't Mess With Texas Waterways photo courtesy of Tar Sands Action

Photo courtesy of Tar Sands Blockade.

Will Wooten, Candice Bernd and Ron Seifert are organizers with the Tar Sands Blockade.

On July 27, TransCanada Corporation announced that it had received the last permit required before breaking ground on the Gulf Coast Segment of the Keystone XL pipeline. Although this news elicited many emotions among landowners and local communities, surprise was not among them. The campaign to stop the pipeline is now entering its fifth year, and pipeline opponents everywhere are mobilizing.

The Tar Sands Blockade is a peaceful direct action campaign designed to unite everyone and anyone committed to stopping the pipeline. We stand in solidarity with landowners in Texas and Oklahoma whose property rights have been trampled, as well as with  communities whose health and safety are being imperiled. And it’s not just local communities along the pipeline route who stand to be harmed. First Nations communities downriver from tar sands extraction sites in Alberta, Canada, are suffering from abnormally high cancer rates. Meanwhile, Keystone XL would threaten us all by opening the floodgates to the largest untapped reserve of carbon in North America.  

Why Direct Action?

In 2008, TransCanada was granted the extraordinary power of eminent domain—the ability to legally condemn and appropriate private property—and the corporation immediately leveraged it to pressure landowners into signing contracts. “TransCanada lied to me from day one,” says East Texas landowner Susan Scott. “They bullied me and said either I sign their papers or they’d take me to court.”

According to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, eminent domain may be used only for projects that serve a public use or purpose. The Texas Landowners Bill of Rights, too, says that property can be taken only for public use. Yet at no point did Texas officials verify that TransCanada’s pipeline would do either. The fact that Texas officials granted a foreign corporation the power of eminent domain without ever requiring them to demonstrate public use is unconscionable. As a result, landowners like Susan did what most people would do: they appealed to local representatives and regulators for help. 

Dozens of people attended the Keystone Convergence training....They ranged in age from twenties to seventies, in political positions from left to right, and in experience from newbies to veteran activists.

Unfortunately, their lobbying, letter writing, and testimony at public hearings fell on deaf ears. All of our representatives, both state or federal, are beholden to the oil and gas industry. Not one opposes the Gulf Coast Segment. Our public officials have been captured, rendering useless all traditional means of addressing our grievances. There is but one tactic left powerful enough to withstand the weight of TransCanada’s heavy hammer: nonviolent direct action.  

Putting Differences Aside

Blocking the Gulf Coast Segment with human bodies is not going to be easy. Fortunately, the campaign’s momentum has been building for years, as demonstrated by the overwhelming response to the launch of the Tar Sands Blockade website and the popularity of our Twitter and Facebook postings. Some of that support comes from the landmark sit-in action at the White House that took place in 2011, followed weeks later by an enormous rally in Washington, D.C. That event provided a groundswell of energy and a network of participants eager to take the next steps. The Tar Sands Blockade is uniting  these passionate individuals with landowners along the proposed pipeline route. We invite anyone willing to line up, as equals, to join us in civil disobedience.

Dozens of people took us up on that offer and attended the Keystone Convergence training weekend from July 27 to 29. Despite the late-July Texas heat, participants spent two full days discussing action plans and support roles, and practicing nonviolent blockade techniques. The enthusiasm on display was remarkable, and so was the diversity of participants. They ranged in age from twenties to seventies, in political positions from left to right, and in experience from newbies to veteran activists.

In an age of political polarization, it was refreshing to see older, self-identified Tea Party members who deeply value property rights literally holding hands and linking arms with bright-eyed young environmentalists and Occupiers, some of whom owned nothing but their clothes and the food in their travel packs. The traditional categories often applied to climate justice activists break down when we look at the coalition of pipeline resisters now ready and willing to put their bodies on the line.

It is once again time for ordinary people to act collectively in the proud American tradition of civil disobedience to confront this injustice.

Even more surprising than the diversity of supporters is that this call to action comes from the heart of oil country. Texas and Oklahoma would seem unlikely places from which to recruit a team of anti-pipeline activists. Nonetheless, the din of outspoken landowners is finally reaching sympathetic ears across the nation. David Daniel, another East Texas landowner, knows as well as anyone what it feels like to have elected officials refuse to listen to legitimate grievances. “I have been told by too many people that even though I am right, these multinational companies have too much money and power,” he said. “They say I can’t fight and win, that I just have to let the pipeline happen and try to make the best of it.” David finds this unacceptable, and so do we. We hope that you do, too.

The next chapter in the Keystone XL pipeline story is being written now, and it has the makings of a thrilling climax. The Tar Sands Blockade team recognizes that this story is far more complex than a simple conflict of economic versus environmental interests. This pipeline is too dangerous to exist. It threatens our health, security, and constitutionally protected rights.

The truth is that the Keystone XL story is about injustice, and it is once again time for ordinary people to act collectively in the proud American tradition of civil disobedience to confront this injustice. We must rely on nonviolent direct action as a proven method for seeking justice so that, finally, we the people can close the book on the Keystone XL pipeline.


Will Wooten, Candice Bernd and Ron Seifert wrote this article for YES! Magazine a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. They are organizers with the Tar Sands Blockade.

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