On December 12th, 2011, we (Max Wilbert and Dillon Thomson) spoke at a rally in Bellingham in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and the shutting down of ports along the west coast. Bellingham was one of several west coast cities to carry out actions in support of Oakland protesters.
Around noon, the rally marched to the railroad tracks near the waterfront. Five people immediately locked themselves together by their necks with bicycle u-locks and laid down across the tracks. Their aim was to block freight trains for as long as possible: in other words, to obstruct the flow of trade and capital which is destroying the natural world and human communities.
The protesters were able to hold the tracks for about five hours before being removed by Bellingham police. As night fell and trains backed up, the police were forced to use specialized drills and bolt cutters to remove the locks.
This action shows that small numbers of people who are willing to take risks and make sacrifices can have a decisive material impact. What happened in Bellingham could be used as a model for disrupting other targets such as refineries, coal terminals, mines, factories, etc. With proper support, repeated use of such tactics over a sustained period of time could bring industries to their knees.
The protesters who locked themselves down on the railroad tracks were supported by at least a hundred other protesters, who impeded police officers for as long as possible and boosted the spirits of all who were present with speeches, chants, and music.
These kinds of actions are most effective when many roles are filled. Some are prepared to take direct action and risk injury and arrest. Some are public speakers. Some are willing to donate time, money, or food to support actions. Others can provide legal counsel. Together, we are strong.
The protesters who were arrested in Bellingham during this action will need continuing support and solidarity.
This is just the beginning.
Max Wilbert and Dillon Thomson are both board members of Fertile Ground Environmental Institute.