On December 12th, 2011, Occupy Bellingham protesters joined Occupy Oakland’s call for a shut down of West Coast ports by halting trains en route to ports in Vancouver, British Columbia and Seattle, WA. For more than five hours, about 100 protesters stopped train traffic on lines operated by Burlington Northern-Santa Fe. This action targeted port companies like SSA Marine and EGT for poor labor practices and their participation in the destruction of the environment.
Five individuals, using U-locks, locked themselves to each other on the tracks and an additional seven people linked arms around those who were locked together, effectively forming a blockade. Bellingham Police officers physically removed the seven who were linked in by their arms. Police then used angle grinders to cut the locks from the necks of the remaining five. All twelve were arrested and held overnight at the Whatcom County Jail.
Occupy Bellingham’s shutdown of the railways was one in a series of direct actions carried out by other #Occupy cities on the West Coast that day. This national day of action was called forth by Occupy Oakland in an effort to disrupt the flow of capital which benefits the 1% through the exploitation of resources, workers and communities.
Jon Robitaille, an organizer with Occupy Bellingham said, “Ports are publicly funded but corporate controlled– they are Wall Street on the waterfront. Companies like SSA Marine, and EGT frequently attack workers economically and engage in environmentally destructive activities for their own private interests. The 1% profit while the rest of us suffer for their actions.”
Two BNSF trains were halted as a result of the blockade, one of which was carrying coal headed for BC, thus highlighting the effectiveness of the physical action. While protesters were optimistic about the success of the blockade, they underscored the long-term outcomes of the action in the community.
“We want to show those in power that our community has the ability to stand up to the economic and environmental injustice in our own backyard,” protester Eric Jensen said. “We are working as a community to create an economy that is rooted in environmental, social, and economic justice. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to future generations to stop those in power who wish to maintain these forms of oppression.”
The twelve who were arrested were released the following morning at around 10:00 a.m. on personal recognizance. More than twenty supporters attended the arraignment, waiting with breakfast and coffee for the arrestees as they were released. All twelve were charged with trespassing and obstructing an officer, and will appear in court for a pre-trial hearing on February 13, 2012.
Occupy Bellingham has created a legal defense fund to cover the court costs of the protesters who were arrested. The Bellingham 12 support team has begun organizing fundraising and other outreach to gain further momentum in the struggle against the proposed Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal.