Direct Legal Defense Dispatch: Live from the Lone Star State
by Lauren Regan ‘Civil Liberties Defense Center’
I’m sitting in the Houston airport trying to keep my eyes open as I type this. For the last week, I have been on the frontlines of the Tar Sands struggle, to assist in a national day of action, week long training. and numerous protests around Northeast Texas. The week started with a Tar Sands action camp with over 200 activists from around the country. During the camp, I provided know-your-rights trainings and facilitated several other meetings over the course of several days.
Activists from around the country assembled to learn and share skills to advance grassroots organizing against climate change and life-threatening pipeline projects like TransCanada’s Keystone XL oil pipeline, currently under construction in northeastern Texas. Pipelines and the fight against short-sighted energy policies and multinational corporations are not limited to Texas: folks from Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Montana, Oklahoma, Minnesota, California and many other states are facing similar threats to the environment, health and jobs in their bioregions as well. We will need a concerted strategy as well as shared resources and tactics in order to win against these behemoth earth-destroying corporations. It was really inspiring to see all of the dedicated, smart activists working together, and just in time.
If TransCanada has its way, the Keystone XL Pipeline will split the US in half. The proposed route would stretch from Canada all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and would carry tar sands oil, the most toxic form of petroleum product known to man. The pipeline would devastate the environment, endanger the health and safety of all living things in its path and hurt local economies, while exporting the oil outside the US. It is one of the worst environmental justice threats, will gravely increase climate change—and is one of the most blatant examples of corporate bullying and profiteering in recent history.
Then it was off to practice some of those new skills. The team organized five protests in five days across three counties resulting in 15 arrested. Check out tarsandsblockade.org to see photos and details of those actions, which included several actions on the pipeline itself, as well as two protests in Houston, the corporate headquarters of TransCanada, which is the multinational corporation behind this outrageous debacle.
The Texas court system is extremely harsh on non-violent civil disobedience. In one county, two young activists spent 30 days in jail waiting for their arraignments as we struggled to get the courts to even entertain a release hearing to reduce their bail. Many nonviolent protesters face multiple felonies for simple tree-sits. Others were tased and maced repeatedly by police while locked down in nonviolent resistance. It is repugnant and infuriating to witness, let alone experience this repression. Yet activists continue to pour into Texas to participate in the campaign, despite the conditions.
CLDC is coordinating and spearheading all of the activist defense cases for the campaign (over 65 cases and growing), as well as working to sue cops brutalizing activists and deter other cops from perpetuating these crimes. TransCanada has also sued over 20 activists in a SLAPP suit. CLDC is also coordinating the legal defense for those activists, as well.
I can see that the CLDC is a unique activist legal support organization that combines criminal defense, police misconduct and SLAPP defense, as well as providing know-your-rights and other trainings. We are often situated in the background of campaigns like the Tar Sands Blockade, supporting and empowering people in the fight to save the planet from greedy companies like TransCanada.
We were asked to support the Texas based campaign because they could not find any comparable resources willing and able to work with them without cost. All of the work I am doing for them is performed pro bono (free). However, we need urgent financial support to cover basic costs, including travel and legal fees.
In the next week, we will be launching a grassroots fundraising campaign for CLDC’s new Tar Sands Legal Fund.
If you are looking for an incredible campaign to support and believe that all earth defenders deserve top-notch legal representation, please consider giving a generous donation to CLDC to support our work for the Tar Sands Campaign. We can’t do it without you!