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Podcast: Arrested Activists Discuss Taking Direct Action to Stop Oil Trains at Risk of Explosion

Photo from Rising Tide North America

Five residents from the Seattle area took direct action on September 2 and constructed a massive tripod that blocked trains transporting crude oil through a rail yard in Everett, Washington. The action was organized by the environmental action group, Rising Tide North America, and was initiated to call attention to the need to halt the transport of crude oil, which is at risk of explosions.

All five individuals were arrested and face misdemeanor charges for putting their bodies on the line. Yet, they recognized that working to push elected officials to act by going through the standard political processes was not enough anymore. They hope other Americans come to this realization as well and learn they may need to make a bit of a sacrifice to ensure a survivable future on Earth.

This week’s guests on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast are Liz Spoerri, an assistant middle school teacher who has organized with environmental groups, and Patrick Mazza, a veteran climate activist who has been organizing for the last 15 years. Both Spoerri and Mazza were a part of the direct action they took against oil trains. They each share why they took the action and why they feel it is important for others, to take direct action as well.

During the discussion portion, we talk about the Islamic State in Iraq and potential plans by the United States to destroy the terrorist group. We also discuss a 2009 intelligence report provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to journalist Glenn Greenwald, which contained a blueprint for spying to help US corporations maintain their dominance in the world. Then, we discuss journalist Ken Dilanian, who The Intercept exposed as the “CIA’s mop-up man” while he was working for the Los Angeles Times. And, finally, we highlight how an appeals court, which opposed releasing photos of a Guantanamo prisoner who was tortured, sounded similar to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

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More after the jump

“Our blockade began about 6 am. We erected a tripod on a railroad track and locked ourselves in and basically stayed there for about eight hours until we were arrested and left,” Spoerri recounted.

“I was one of the people on the basis of the tripod, as was Liz and two other people. One of our folks, Abby, climbed to the top and positioned herself on top of the tripod all day. We all experienced a measure of physical danger from being on a railroad track, though our people were well-briefed on how to stop an approaching train with flares,” Mazza explained.

He added, “Before we were in it, a train approached and one of our folks threw a flare and stopped the train. Abby took the greatest personal. “She was 18 feet in the air so she could have been seriously injured or killed.”

Everyone was aware that this particular rail yard, the Burlington Northern Santa-Fe Rail Yard in Everett, was a regular conduit for oil and coal trains going to refineries at the end of Puget Sound and Coalport in Canada.

Spoerri said she took action because the oil is so volatile. The train tracks run “under Everett and Seattle,” and she did not want to see what happened in Canada in July 2013, where 47 people died in a runaway oil train explosion.

The train had been carrying oil from the Bakken region, which “stretches across North Dakota, south Saskatchewan and Montana, and, according to the Toronto Star, is “more volatile than traditional crude” and the transport of it has “risen drastically.”

Residents wanted to take this action to call greater attention to a petition to Governor Jay Inslee to issue a moratorium on all new “oil by rail” permits.

Mazza shared that most people involved in supporting blockade actions are concerned about climate change and climate disruption. The oil trains are filled with new “fracked oil” from North Dakota, and the problem is the “fossil fuel frontier” is being expanded at a time when carbon emissions need to be drastically reduced.

He also said, “I have not been working on these kind of actions. This is my first action. I had been working very much within the conventional political system, working on moving policy, moving state legislators, moving agencies to implement solutions to climate change, such as solar energy, wind energy, energy efficiency, electrified vehicles.”

But every move that is made to expand the fossil fuel economy is disrupting the global climate system, and Mazza realized that he could not stop with the standard political action. “I needed to take a stand and do some direction. I needed to put my body on the line. I needed to put my body where my mind is, and so I did,” Mazza added. He also wanted to do something special for his daughter, who turned 18 the same day.

Spoerri said this was her first direct action too. And, when asked if she was worried about whether she and others would have support while they were prosecuted, she shared that she had met a public defender when everyone was being released on bail, who offered his services in addition to our lawyer. The whole team of Rising Tide had been personally supportive, and the group of resisters had been a “cohesive group.”

In fact, she urged people to consider an action like the one she took as a way of keeping the public aware of these issues. She suggested there is a great potential in many “small actions” over a long period of time instead of one large action that gets a lot of press and then disappears.

Rising Tide has organized multiple actions to block oil trains. Days after the action in Washington, people in Richmond, California, chained themselves to a fence to stop fossil fuel transportation.

CommunityThe Dissenter

Podcast: Arrested Activists Discuss Taking Direct Action to Stop Oil Trains at Risk of Explosion

Photo from Rising Tide North America

Five residents from the Seattle area took direct action on September 2 and constructed a massive tripod that blocked trains transporting crude oil through a rail yard in Everett, Washington. The action was organized by the environmental action group, Rising Tide North America, and was initiated to call attention to the need to halt the transport of crude oil, which is at risk of explosions.

All five individuals were arrested and face misdemeanor charges for putting their bodies on the line. Yet, they recognized that working to push elected officials to act by going through the standard political processes was not enough anymore. They hope other Americans come to this realization as well and learn they may need to make a bit of a sacrifice to ensure a survivable future on Earth.

This week’s guests on the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast are Liz Spoerri, an assistant middle school teacher who has organized with environmental groups, and Patrick Mazza, a veteran climate activist who has been organizing for the last 15 years. Both Spoerri and Mazza were a part of the direct action they took against oil trains. They each share why they took the action and why they feel it is important for others, to take direct action as well.

During the discussion portion, we talk about the Islamic State in Iraq and potential plans by the United States to destroy the terrorist group. We also discuss a 2009 intelligence report provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to journalist Glenn Greenwald, which contained a blueprint for spying to help US corporations maintain their dominance in the world. Then, we discuss journalist Ken Dilanian, who The Intercept exposed as the “CIA’s mop-up man” while he was working for the Los Angeles Times. And, finally, we highlight how an appeals court, which opposed releasing photos of a Guantanamo prisoner who was tortured, sounded similar to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. For a direct link (and direct download), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast that will automatically start playing.

Also, below is a player for listening to the podcast. You can listen to the podcast this way or you can go to iTunes and find the podcast listed there.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."