Reflections from the Tar Sands Reality Check Tour


It has been almost two weeks since the Tar Sands Reality Check tour ended, and I’m still reeling a bit from the experience. The heady mix of engaging with excited crowds at our events and constant news of resistance, from protests at the National Energy Board Line 9 hearings to the Mikmaq anti-fracking blockade, was an enormous amount of energy packed into one week. The end of the tour feels like it is more of a launching point into a new phase of climate activism.

The audiences were a vibrant mix of people: from folks who came because they saw Do The Math a week before, to those still battling legal challenges from Swamp Line 9 efforts months before. Each audience got a crash course in the history of tar sands activism from CYCC director Cam Fenton, which situated the divestment campaign as the newest, and insanely viral, piece in the growing resistance to tar sands. Conversations ranged from the grim realities experienced by Lindsay and Vanessa Gray in Aamjiwnaang, a reserve surrounded by refineries in chemical valley, to a presentation from Sabrina Bowman about the basics of the anti-Line 9 struggle and the undemocratic nature of the National Energy Board hearings.

Coming from feeling blocked in my own activism at Divest McGill, this tour was personally inspiring in remembering the importance of escalation. Sometimes we feel afraid to agitate in our communities for fear of losing the support of people around us. But on the contrary, meaningful actions like the ones we saw over the week while we were on tour actually brought out incredible numbers of supporters. It was especially inspiring hearing Cindy Spoon talk about her experience in the Tar Sands Blockade, where they coordinated a year-round direct action campaign in partnership with (often conservative) landowners in the region. The establishment of trust, and the commitment to actually doing something, is extraordinarily powerful.

It made me remember that making your statement in a big way is not just something that feels right, but also builds movements. If there is any evidence of that, it was the rush of urgency that people felt as we saw footage of Mikmaq anti-fracking demonstrators standing up to violent actions from the RCMP; it was the burst of pride that came from protesters in Toronto literally shutting down the Line 9 National Energy Board hearings.

What makes the divestment campaign feel unique in these efforts is that it aims at the source: the fossil fuel industry itself. While confronting each pipeline is important in holding off tar sands expansion and building momentum, the divestment movement is the first to throw the spotlight on the fossil fuel industry as a whole. As Heather Milton-Lightening pointed out, that is where the money is. That’s where the political power lies that consistently destroys our environment and our communities, that continually steals land and quashes dissent, and is accountable to no one. But as Naomi Klein qualified, we aren’t going after the industry because we hate them; it’s because our very survival depends on it.

The most powerful outcome of this tour would be for students to build on this momentum in your own communities, and to be unafraid of getting our hands dirty. It’s a mix of inspired, challenged, confused, excited, but mostly being fired up to take on the next steps in divestment.

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published this page in Divestment 2013-11-04 00:35:56 -0400