Written by Trevor Culhane, Media Co-Coordinator, Team Maine
For all the planning that we had done, the morning of August 4th was surprisingly quiet. We woke up slowly, eating the morning’s oatmeal and checking email with little excitement. Of all the calls to media outlets I had made, none had committed to the event; I had a small list of people who might show up. But when I called that morning, a news station said they would be at our event. I was thrilled; a TV station would mean a lot of people would get to see our event.
But when I went back inside, nothing changed; our calm daily oatmeal breakfast persisted through the news. I think the experience of doing something different every day, from biking 50 miles through the heat to harvesting garlic for 8 hours, has made our oatmeal breakfast unique and sacred, an untouchable ritual. When we got to Monument Square, our mood persisted; we calmly set up our stuff without much fanfare. We quietly covered the fence around the monument with our banners, including our 20 foot banner that read “TAR SANDS KILL”. We tied our deadly energy tags to the fence, propped up our large cardboard foot, and waited for people to talk to us. Had we been doing a different kind of protest, say one at a coal plant, our demeanor might not have worked. But here, next to a busy street with heavy foot traffic, we were able to get people to start talking without getting in their face about it.
Our banners may not have been particularly informative, reading that “tar sands = climate change” didn’t give anyone an informed opinion on the issue, but as long as some people look up tar sands and the pipeline, or ask their friends, we’ve made the impact we needed to make. There are not legions of people calling for tar sands in Portland, some do, which is a different issue, but most people we talked to had never heard of tar sands, let alone the Trailbreaker Pipeline. And as long as people know about tar sands, they will be much easier to oppose. It’s not as if we are the experts on the substance, there were many times when we were discussing the event when we had to stop look up exactly tar sands are and what the pipeline is. But we were able to help spark that conversation that needs to happen, to create the basic knowledge base that allows people to make informed decisions.
One of my favorite moments from the event was when we overheard someone walking by telling his friends about tar sands, and how they require more energy to extract than they produce. None of them had stopped, but Lilyanna yelled her approval to him anyways. it’s one thing for us to explain to someone what tar sands are, but it’s much more authentic and meaningful for a trusted friend to explain it. He must have learned about tar sands before, but had never talked about them with his friends until we gave him that excuse, with our banners and bright orange shirts, to share something. Not everyone we talked to made a deadly energy tag, some didn’t want to take the time while others weren’t sure about tar sands, but at least they had learned about them, and knew there were people working to oppose them.
At 2:00, our team and some community members biked a few miles to the pipeline’s source in South Portland, to attach the deadly energy tags to the pipe’s fence. Our group was small, but our work here wasn’t to bring huge numbers to the pipeline; rather it was to make the message as clear as possible, to show what the pipeline would take from us. We quickly tied the tags to the fence, scrambled for the duct tape, and attached our banner to the pipeline fence. The event seemed at odds with the pipeline itself, an unobtrusive green structure quietly pumping the oil that was causing droughts and wildfires. Once everything was ready, the television station and Occupy Maine TV captured the moment, and our action was over. A few quick goodbyes and we were off, “back on the hard pack,” as Sara would say.