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.
From the June 2011 Fertile Ground newsletter.
‘Solidarity.’ That’s what you said to me as we stared into the blinding headlights of imperialism. Except your ‘r’s’ sound like ‘w’s’ so what I heard was, ‘solidawity.’
I can’t tell you how much it helped me to hear that single word as we stood there having a stare down with the state, our hands locked tightly to each other’s. The cops hadn’t arrived yet, and all we could do was stand our ground and hold our breath so that we didn’t drown in our own anticipation. The driver had stopped the truck just a few feet from us, and our bones were shaking from the rumbling engine—or was it the chill of the night?
We had done it, I thought. For the next fifteen minutes we would be a wrench in the gears of the U.S. war machine. This truck that was carrying military equipment slated for deployment in Iraq, this beast of domination, would NOT arrive at its destination on time. You and I made sure of that.
Of course I knew, as you did, that this single act of rebellion wouldn’t really do shit towards making any real meaningful change. It was a statement. I’d spent the last year with increasingly boiling blood as I learned more and more about the military industrial complex—not just about how it was operating in Iraq, but how it had already conquered much of the world. People everywhere were suffering because a few people with power perceived that they owned resources that just happened to find their way onto someone else’s land, and they had the military muscle to take them. And it was that word you said—‘solidarity’—that made me remember those suffering people. That’s why we were standing there in the middle of an overpass at 2 o’clock in the morning blocking a truck that belonged to the United States military. We were saying ‘fuck you’ to imperialism, ‘fuck you’ to the police, ‘from all the people that you’re screwing over, fuck you.’
And then your grip tightened suddenly and that sense of solidarity I was feeling quickly returned to the cold of the night. It returned to you and me. Those fifteen minutes had seemed like hours, and now we noticed in the reflection of the truck’s cab windows the red and blue lights of police cruisers.
‘Solidawity.’ You said it again. It strengthened my resolve. I began to take deep breaths because I was finding it more and more difficult to take in air. But suddenly breathing didn’t matter anymore. Six cops surprised us from behind. A hand grabbed a huge chunk of my hair and was pulling my head back. Our hands were ripped apart. My feet were suddenly knocked from beneath me. I went down hard. My breath was gone. When I opened my eyes I watched your jaw hit the pavement as the cops threw you down. Our arms were twisted behind us and used to keep us immobile. Solidarity. I kept saying it to myself to hold back the waves of fear. We were hoisted up and made to stand against the guardrail of the overpass. The people in cars passing under us on the freeway were watching.
Solidarity. I looked over and saw that your chin was gushing blood. A tear was running down your cheek. Solidarity. And then that asshole cop strolled over to us and said that he didn’t like your tone. You weren’t saying anything. His face was inches from yours, and you just kept staring straight ahead. ‘Why are you talking like that to me, boy?’ the cop asked you. ‘Why don’t you just keep talking and see what happens?’ That fucker. He could have picked either of us to harass, and he chose the one of us who had brown skin. I wanted to throw him over the guardrail, but I couldn’t imagine what you were feeling.
We were thrown in the back of a police car. You leaned your head against the plastic divider in front of us and closed your eyes. And just as I was thinking it, you said it. ‘Solidawity.’
Dillon Thomson is the lead lecturer and archivist for Fertile Ground. He has been an active member of the board since its founding in 2009. Dillon's love for wildness and the diversity of life fuels his passion for resistance. He has honed his public speaking talents by lecturing for various classes at Western Washington University and along the west coast in preparation for a national tour in the fall of 2011.