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VIDEO: Chipmunks Shut Down Utah Tar Sands

An activist wearing a full-face chipmunk mask and gogges, gives a double thumbs up sign in front of a construction vehicle, against a background of a blue sky with a few clouds.

A “chipmunk” from Utah Tar Sands Resistance gives the thumbs-up in front of a construction vehicle at Utah’s Book Cliffs, the first domestic tar sands mine, September 23, 2014.

Activists dressed as chipmunks shut down construction at the first US tar sands mine on September 23. It was the latest in a series of actions by Utah Tar Sands Resistance targeting the 213 acre Book Cliffs tar sands mine.

A video released by the group shows chipmunks spreading rapidly through through the camp site where they block construction equipment with their bodies. Though the finale of the video playfully describes the chipmunks fates as “poisoned by tar sands waste water,” activists actually shut down construction for part of a day, resulting in five arrests. There have been 27 total arrests since the beginning of the campaign to halt construction.

Music: “Unscorch The Earth” by Sole and DJ Pain 1

A bellweather project

Anti-tar sands activists in Utah believe that if construction at Book Cliffs is allowed to continue, it will result in more tar sands extraction in the state and elsewhere in the country.

“This project is a bellweather project,” said Raphael Cordray, an organizer with Utah Tar Sands Resistance. “If they can make this project successful than it will open up the flood gates for a whole lot of other tar sands and oil shale strip mining projects in the area and in America in general.”

According to Cordray, the site was chosen because it is public land administered by the state, letting US Oil Sands, the firm constructing the mine, take advantage of the state’s comparatively lax environmental regulations.

“They’re pursuing it in the easiest place they can with the least amount of regulation. The [United States] Bureau of Land Management identified 860,000 acres within Utah, Wyoming and Colorado that’s available in the future.”

The group has hope that continued direct action can shut down the mine.

“It’s a good place to focus on because it’s not an operating mine and because they leased this land in 2005 and they’ve yet to produce a commercially successful product,” Cordray told Mint Press News.

Other tactics being considered include lawsuits over water pollution and pressuring the EPA to enforce their strictest standards, because this public land actually belongs to indigenous people.

“It’s considered Indian country so there’s a whole new standard that […] the state of Utah pretended like they didn’t know applied.”

Global crisis, local action

One of the concerns local activists have raised about the recent massive Climate March in New York City is that it might take energy from local environmental issues and direct action.

In “I Think I’ll Just Stay In Texas (But Bring Me Back A Bagel)” on Rising Tide North America’s Growing Deep Roots blog, Eric Moll writes:

The only problem is that 350.org can’t seem to find the real frontline. Those of us who were in New York during and after Sandy know the frontlines: the Rockaways, Coney Island, Staten Island, Redhook. What will the so-called “People’s Climate March” do for the people who were most affected by Sandy and are most threatened by the next big storm?

Did anyone ask these communities what [thousands of] climate activists could do for them? Logistical nightmares aside, do they have any buildings that need repairing, any gardens that need expanding? Is there anything the marchers could do to oppose local forces of gentrification, police violence, or racism in a way that might actually improve some lives? Some local target with a bit more relevancy than the United Nations?

Mint Press News asked Cordray what activists can do to find targets for direct action and climate justice in their own communities. One possibility are Environmental Protection Agency lawsuits.

“The good news is that the EPA is citizen enforceable. It’s one of the few things in government where a citizen can sue to enforce a regulation. It’s uncommon for citizens to be able to enforce government laws on other entities.”

It’s also important for activists to plan for the future, as many destructive environmental projects require years of infrastructure construction before extraction begins.

“If you look closely at what’s going on in local communities, there are a lot of activities lining up to support local industry that aren’t the best for the community. Things like refineries are constantly in violation of the law but nobody has the energy to follow up. […] Just a few phone calls could start a lot of action in your community.”

Chipmunk communique and legal support fund

The chipmunks issued the following statement through Utah Tar Sands Resistance:

The tar sands industry is not threatened by symbolic media actions. Direct physical intervention is necessary to halt the completion of this toxic project. What we did was necessary, but it was not enough. We need more people to intervene to roll back US Oil Sands’ assault on land, water, plants, animals and indigenous sovereignty. We encourage everyone to act to halt construction and note that it is no one’s duty to hand themselves over to the state each time they disrupt dangerous projects. We knew we were risking arrest of ourselves or nearby friends who weren’t even involved in this action, and we do not regret our actions.

But please, anyone who is able: disrupt the tar sands industry, halt construction and operations and get away with it! Hundreds of thousands of people Sept. 21 marched in New York City just to have a parade for the media. If just 5 percent of those people came to Utah and engaged in direct action, we could shut down tar sands construction for good–and probably get away with it.

Our friends who were arrested were subjected to abuse and trasmisogyny from police and jailers that left all of us in a state of terror regarding the welfare of our trans woman friend who was kept in solitary confinement–where the jailers had ample access to abuse her without witnesses, a regular occurrence for incarcerated trans people. No justice seeker should feel compelled to subject themselves or their friends to this kind of state-sponsored abuse that comes with arrest and jail just to live up to some class-privileged individuals’ problematic views on what types of protest deserve respect.

Lastly, the video of the chipmunk work stoppage on US Oil Sands’ strip mine project–occurring on stolen Ute land–demonstrates this company’s blatant disregard for the life and safety of people on the work site. US Oil Sands CEO Cameron Todd made claims in the media that workers stop work immediately if anyone is present on the worksite–a requirement of federal safety regulations. But the video shows what we’ve seen again and again: rampant deviation from this guidance and thus rampant violations of safety regulations. KBR-contracted Stubbs and Stubbs’ reaction to our presence echoes their disregard for the amazing ecosystems of the Book Cliffs and beyond, and the lives that they are systematically poisoning and destroying.

A donation page has been set up so that anyone can offer financial support toward bail money and legal defense of this and future actions.

Crossposted from MyMPN

Photo by Utah Tar Sands Resistance.

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and Occupy.com.

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