I Committed Civil Disobedience by Blocking Oil Trains in Portland, Oregon — and Won
By Jan Zuckerman
A few weeks ago, I showed the world that I am not a criminal, despite having been arrested and charged with first-degree criminal trespass. In a five to one vote, a Multnomah County, Oregon, jury refused to convict me and four fellow activists in our historic trial for blocking tar sands oil trains entering Portland.
A week later, the Multnomah County District Attorney dismissed our case. The dismissal offers an implicit admission that with consciousness of the climate crisis growing every day, prosecutors here would not be able to secure a conviction of people who engage in civil disobedience on behalf of the planet.
Here's the background to this victory. Last April, on Easter Sunday morning, along with other members of Extinction Rebellion, I helped build a garden on the railroad tracks at the Zenith Energy Export Terminal, blocking the processing of trains carrying tar sands crude oil for export. As I sat on the tracks with my friends that day, I thought about my grandchildren's future, a future that has been made uncertain by the existential threat of the climate crisis. Thirty-four hours later we were arrested by Portland Police and charged with criminal trespass in the second degree.
A week later, we came back and did it again. This time, the police charged us with criminal trespass in the first degree.
Five of us pled not guilty "by reason of necessity." With the help of our legal team and the Civil Liberties Defense Center, we presented a "choice of evils" defense to a jury.
The first hint that the prosecution was going to have trouble convicting us came during the voir dire portion of jury selection. In questioning, each of the 35 prospective jurors acknowledged that climate change is real, is human-caused, and is serious. Several members of the jury pool said that they would be unable to convict anyone for civil disobedience on behalf of the planet.
Once our jury was seated, we argued that we were obliged to break the law in an effort to prevent the greater evil of climate catastrophe. The judge allowed three days of extensive testimony from the five defendants, along with expert witnesses. Jury deliberation took almost a full day, at the end of which, the jury announced it was deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial. Later we learned that five members of the six-person jury voted for acquittal.
Actions like ours are the only tactic that we — everyday people — have left to address the climate crisis. We have lobbied our elected officials, organized demonstrations, and supported litigation, all to no avail. Even our few wins have turned out to be short-lived.
We worked tirelessly to push the city of Portland to adopt a ban on the creation or expansion of new fossil fuel infrastructure within city limits. This organizing was victorious when, in 2016, Portland's city council adopted the Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments. But the fossil fuel industry has continued to challenge the law and expand in our city. And using an old construction permit, Zenith Energy flouts community sentiment and the city's intent and has almost quadrupled its capacity, from 12 to 44 rail cars at a time.
To make things worse, much of the crude oil that Zenith processes is Alberta tar sands oil, perhaps the most dangerous and dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet. In 2018, Zenith "flipped" an old, run-down site and increased crude oil exports from a value of $2,532 a year to $71 million in 2018. Portlanders were outraged, yet city officials claimed they could not stop this expansion.
In the face of this grave injustice, we must ask ourselves, who are the real criminals here? Me — a mother, grandmother, and retired teacher, who sat on railroad tracks? Or Zenith Energy, the Texas corporation subverting our local democracy and putting our city and climate at risk?
In 2019, 9,167 rail cars came to Zenith, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. That's more than three times the 2,836 cars that came in 2018. With an industry standard of 90-100 oil-filled cars per train, that's more than 90 trains a year — almost two per week. And with each train carrying as much as 70,000 barrels of oil, that amounts to 6.3 million barrels of crude oil a year. Consumption of that oil is the equivalent of 2.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide spewing into our atmosphere, the same as 583,000-plus cars driving for over a year. And that is just from combustion, without accounting for the much larger emissions from tar sands oil or its full life cycle. To me and my co-defendants, Zenith's contributions to the climate crisis are a crime against humanity.
If we want to ensure a future for our children and grandchildren, companies like Zenith must be stopped.
The strategy of mass civil disobedience is the most effective tactic that we can use. When all legal methods of change have been tried and proven ineffective — a mass movement of non-cooperation that shuts down business-as-usual is the only choice that we have left.
I used to tell my kids: "When you are in a hole, the best thing to do is to stop digging." Yet, it seems that our leaders are unwilling or unable to drop the shovel. It has fallen upon us to tear that shovel from their hands.
I urge you to join us.
Jan Zuckerman taught elementary and middle school in Portland, Oregon for 30 years, and now works with Extinction Rebellion and the Portland Public Schools Climate Justice Committee.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- Extinction Rebellion Portland - XR PDX - Home | Facebook ›
- Oregon Jury Refuses to Convict Extinction Rebellion Portland ... ›
- Native Americans gather in Portland to protest oil sands shipments ... ›
- City Of Portland To Host Forum On Zenith Tar Sands Terminal ... ›
- Protesters block train track near NW Portland oil export terminal ... ›
- Israeli Oil Spill Is a 'Severe Ecological Disaster' - EcoWatch ›
- Endangered Sea Turtles Recovering After 'Cold Stunning' Event ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As the weather grows more severe, and its damages more expensive and fatal, current weather predictions fall short in providing reliable information on Earth's rapidly changing systems.
- Are New Extreme Global Warming Projections Correct? - EcoWatch ›
- Are We Really Past the Point of No Return on Climate? Scientists ... ›
By Brett Wilkins
Accusing California regulators of "reckless disregard" for public "health and safety," the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday sued the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects without the required environmental review.
- New Bill Seeks to Ban Fracking in California - EcoWatch ›
- Fracking Likely Triggered Earthquakes in California a Few Miles ... ›
- California Won't Buy From Automakers 'on the Wrong Side of History ... ›
- Chevron Has Spilled 800,000 Gallons of Crude Oil and Water Into a ... ›
By Kate Whiting
From Greta Thunberg to Sir David Attenborough, the headline-grabbing climate change activists and environmentalists of today are predominantly white. But like many areas of society, those whose voices are heard most often are not necessarily representative of the whole.
1. Wangari Maathai<p>In 2004, Professor Maathai made history as the <a href="https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/Prize-winners/Prizewinner-documentation/Wangari-Maathai" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize</a> for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She started the <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Green Belt Movement</a>, a community-based tree planting initiative that aims to reduce poverty and encourage conservation, in 1977. More than 51 million trees have been planted helping build climate resilience and empower communities, especially women and girls. Her environmental work is celebrated every year on <a href="http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/node/955" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wangari Maathai Day on 3 March</a>.</p>
2. Robert Bullard<p>Known as the 'father of environmental justice,' Dr Bullard has <a href="https://www.unep.org/championsofearth/laureates/2020/robert-bullard" target="_blank">campaigned against harmful waste</a> being dumped in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the southern states of the U.S. since the 1970s. His first book, Dumping in Dixie, highlighted the link between systemic racism and environmental oppression, showing how the descendants of slaves were exposed to higher-than-average levels of pollutants. In 1994, his work led to the signing of the <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/albert-huang/20th-anniversary-president-clintons-executive-order-12898-environmental-justice" target="_blank">Executive Order on Environmental Justice</a>, which the <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-tackling-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad/" target="_blank">Biden administration is building on</a>.<br></p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7983f54726debdd824f97f9ad3bdbb87"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/T_VjSGk8s18?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Pollution has a race problem. Elizabethwarren.com
3. John Francis<p>Helping the clean-up operation after an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in January 1971 inspired Francis to <a href="https://planetwalk.org/about-john/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stop taking motorized transport</a>. Instead, for 22 years, he walked everywhere. He also took a vow of silence that lasted 17 years, so he could listen to others. He has walked the width of the U.S. and sailed and walked through South America, earning the nickname "Planetwalker," and raising awareness of how interconnected people are with the environment.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="09b968e0e9964e31406954dcea45981d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vgQjL23_FoU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
4. Dr. Warren Washington<p>A meteorology and climate pioneer, Dr. Washington was one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change. These models now also incorporate the oceans and sea ice, surface water and vegetation. In 2007, the <a href="https://www.cgd.ucar.edu/pcm/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Parallel Climate Model (PCM)</a> and <a href="https://www.cesm.ucar.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Community Earth System Model (CESM)</a>, earned Dr. Washington and his colleagues the <a href="https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2007/summary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nobel Peace Prize</a>, as part of the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change</a>.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="09fbf6dc37f275f438a0d53ec0fe1874"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bvJ4jTy2mTk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
5. Angelou Ezeilo<p>Huge trees and hikes to pick berries during her childhood in upstate New York inspired Ezeilo to become an environmentalist and set up the <a href="https://gyfoundation.org/staff/Angelou-Ezeilo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Greening Youth Foundation</a>, to educate future generations about the importance of preservation. Through its schools program and Youth Conservation Corps, the social enterprise provides access to nature to disadvantaged children and young people in the U.S. and West Africa. In 2019, Ezeilo published her book <em>Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders</em>, co-written by her Pulitzer Prize-winning brother Nick Chiles.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce4547d4e5c0b9ad2927f19fd75bf4ab"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YojKMfUvJMs?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
- Youth Climate Activists Want a Role in Biden's White House ... ›
- As Protests Rage, Climate Activists Embrace Racial Justice ... ›
- The Power of Inclusive, Intergenerational Climate Activism - EcoWatch ›