Nonviolent direct actions against coal: 2004-2007

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Around the world, nonviolent direct action—a term which, in contemporary social movements, is usually used to refer to acts of civil disobedience, in which activists blockade or occupy public or private space—became an increasingly common tactic of anti-coal climate activists in 2004. Between 2004 and 2007, direct action protests occurred in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States (California, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and elsewhere). Targets included American Electric Power, AMP-Ohio, Bank of America, Citibank, E.ON, Dominion, Duke Energy, Fortune Minerals, Massey Energy, Merrill Lynch, Miller Argent, Mirant, National Coal Corporation, Sithe Global Power, and Solid Energy. Information on earlier actions as well as on the anti-coal movement in particular states or countries can be found at the following articles:

Contents

Background

Nonviolent direct action - a term which, in contemporary social movements, is usually used to refer to acts of civil disobedience, in which activists blockade or occupy public or private space - has become an increasingly common tactic of anti-coal climate activists since 2005. While Greenpeace has used direct action tactics since the 1970's, since 2004 other climate justice, Appalachian environmental justice and anti-mountaintop removal movements (such as Rising Tide, Rainforest Action Network, Earth First! Mountain Justice Summer, and indigenous groups) have used direct action tactics in order to escalate pressure on coal mining and power companies, financial institutions which invest in coal companies, and government officials that support the coal industry. Anti-coal activists have staged dozens of such direct actions in the past few years, many of which have been highly successful at directing public attention toward the growing anti-coal movement.[1][2]

Definition and history of nonviolent direct action

The term "direct action" refers to political activities which attempt to bring about changes in the world in a direct and unmediated way. This concept of mediation is key to the distinction, drawn by many proponents of direct action, between direct and symbolic action: in a symbolic action, participants appeal to government officials or other power-holders to make changes on their behalf, while, in a direct action, participants directly make the changes that they want to see in the world.[3]

Several categories of political and economic activities can thus be understood as direct actions:

  1. Strikes or boycotts against economic authorities
  2. Blockades and occupations of physical spaces
  3. Destruction of property or resources
  4. Violent resistance against authorities
  5. Building alternatives to existing social/economic relationships

Aug. 18, 2003: Blockade at Zeb Mountain

On August 18, 2003, the Rocky Top Trio affinity group of Katúah Earth First! locked into concrete-filled steel barrels, blocking the entrance to the Zeb Mountain mine in Tennessee. The three protesters, john johnson, Dan Anderson, and Matthew Hamilton, were arrested and released that day. Near the mine on the same day, the Banner Busters affinity group climbed a nearby 150-foot billboard off Interstate 75 and hung a banner reading "Stop Mountaintop Removal."[4][5]

Nov. 10, 2004: Chesapeake Climate Action Network blockade of Dickerson Power Plant

On November 10, 2004, a group of Chesapeake Climate Action Network activists, students, farmers, and religious officials held a protest against the coal-fired Dickerson Power Plant in Montgomery County, Maryland. During the protest, six people were arrested for blocking the entrance road to the plant. The protestors called on the plant's owner, the Mirant Corporation, to stop opposing state and federal legislation against power plant pollution.[6]

Save Happy Valley Coalition activists occupy the headquarters of Solid Energy in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Mar. 6, 2006.

Mar. 6, 2005: Save Happy Valley Coalition occupation of Solid Energy headquarters

On March 6, 2005, four Save Happy Valley Coalition activists locked down at the corporate headquarters of Solid Energy in Christchurch, New Zealand, in protest of Solid Energy's plans to build a coal mine in Happy Valley. Supporters hung banners and pitched tents on Solid Energy's property. The occupation came one day after Solid Energy sued three activists for defamation.[7]

May 31, 2005: 16 arrested in Sundial, West Virginia

On May 31, 2005, 16 people were arrested after crossing into Massey Energy property in Sundial, West Virginia at a protest against Massey's coal processing plant near the Marsh Fork Elementary School. The arrestees were taken to the Whitesville State Police detachment, where they were given citations and released, Vessels said. Vessels did not have a list of names, but said one woman was 80 years old, one was from Alabama, another from Tucson, Ariz., and some were local residents.[8]

Activists disrupt National Coal Corporation's June 7, 2005 stockholders meeting.

June 7, 2005: First stockholders meeting of National Coal Corporation Disrupted

On June 7, 2005, approximately 45 Mountain Justice Summer activists, some in animal costumes, surprised the first-ever shareholders meeting of Knoxville-based National Coal Corporation with a marching band, chants, drumming and noise makers. Demonstrators demanded that National Coal stop mountaintop removal mining and distributed informational flyers to shareholders. The sheriff and National Coal Corporation responded by assaulting protesters with pain compliance, choke holds and arrested three on bogus felony charges. [9]

WV citizens arrested on June 30, 2005 after refusing to leave Massey's Richmond VA headquarters until their demands heard.

June 30, 2005: WV citizens occupy Massey headquarters

On June 30, 2005, Concerned parents, grandparents and other citizens of Coal River Valley, West Virginia, with support from Mountain Justice Summer participants, delivered a list of demands to Massey Energy's headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, insisting that Massey respond. Two were arrested for trespassing when they refused to leave the premises until Massey responded to their demands. The citizens demanded that Massey shut down its preparation plant, coal silo, 1,849-acre mountaintop removal coal mine and 2.8 billion-gallon coal sludge dam - a toxic waste storage facility — located feet from an elementary school, Marsh Fork Elementary, in Sundail, WV. [10][11]

Police at a First Nations blockade of a road leading to the Mt. Klappan coalfields in northwestern British Columbia in July 2006.

July 16, 2005: First Nations Mt. Klappan mine blockade

On July 16, 2005, representatives of three British Columbia First Nations tribes - the Telegraph Elders, the Tl’abânot’în Clan, and the Iskut First Nations - blockaded a road leading to the Mount Klappan coalfields in northwestern British Columbia. Tl’abânot’în tribe members had notified the mine's owners, Fortune Minerals, that their mine infringed upon Tl’abânot’în Aboriginal Title and Rights, as the company had failed to consult adequately with the tribe; Fortune Minerals had ignored the tribe's appeals. The blockade was maintained for seven weeks.[12][13][14]

Three Save Happy Valley Coalition activists blockade coal train tracks in New Zealand - two are attached to the tracks, while the third is hanging from a tree 100 feet in the air, attached to a support rope that is tied to the tracks.

Aug. 13, 2005: Save Happy Valley Coalition coal train blockade

On August 13, 2005, a group of 25 Save Happy Valley Coalition activists and allies blockaded train tracks leading from Solid Energy's coal mines to the port of Lyttelton, New Zealand, in protest of Solid Energy's plans to build a coal mine in Happy Valley. Two people locked themselves to the tracks, while a third suspended himself from a tree 100 feet in the air, attached to a support rope that was tied to the tracks. Four Solid Energy trains stood on the tracks for five hours, while police cleared the blockade; the company claimed in court that the blockade cost them $150,000. The three blockaders were arrested.[15][16]

Earth First! and Mountain Justice Summer activists blockade a road leading to National Coal's mountaintop removal coal mine on Aug. 15, 2005.

Aug. 15, 2005: Earth First!/Mountain Justice Summer blockade of Campbell County mountaintop removal site

On August 15, 2005, Earth First! and Mountain Justice Summer activists blockaded a road leading to National Coal's mountaintop removal coal mine in Campbell County, Tennessee. Activists stopped a car on the road, removed its tires, locked themselves to the vehicle, and erected a tripod with a person perched on top of it. National Coal workers arrived and threatened the protestors; one tried to ram the tripod with his car. Eleven people were arrested; the police treated the arrested activists very roughly, endangering their safety.[17][18]

Rising Tide allies attempt to block a coal ship in Newcastle, Australia, on Nov. 3, 2007.

November 10, 2005: Anti-coal Greenpeace activist in Philippines is beaten

In November 2005 a German Greenpeace activist was beaten by guards at the 600-megawatt Masinloc coal-fired power plant in the Philippines after the activists entered a compound to protest the plant's use of coal. In all five activists were taken to a local hospital and 12 more protesters from New Zealand, Australia, China and the Philippines were arrested. The Associated French Press reported that, "German Jens Loewe, 36, was badly beaten and hit on the face and head with a crowbar while he was lying on the ground, along with Filipino activist Tomas Leonar, 24, Greenpeace said. An AFP photographer at the scene said Loewe was repeatedly hit with the crowbar and was later carried away on a stretcher and rushed to a local hospital. His condition was not immediately known."[19]

June 5, 2006, and Nov. 3, 2007: Rising Tide boat blockades of Newcastle port

On June 5, 2006, in a Rising Tide Australia action, 70 people used small boats to blockade the port of Newcastle, Australia, which exports 80 million tons of coal each year. The protest aimed to call attention to a planned expansion that would allow the port to export twice that amount.[20] The action was repeated by 100 people on Nov. 3, 2007: at this second action, participants attempted to block ships from entering the port for four hours, but police boats managed to escort three ships into the port. At one point, a police jetski rammed one woman's kayak, resulting in her hospitalization.[21][22]

Earth First! and Rising Tide activists blockade a bridge leading to the Clinch River power plant on July 10, 2006.

July 10, 2006: Earth First!/Rising Tide blockade of Clinch River Power Plant

On July 10, 2006, 75 Earth First! and Rising Tide North America activists blockaded an access bridge leading to American Electric Power's coal-fired Clinch River Power Plant near Carbo, Virginia. Several people stretched a rope across the bridge and suspended themselves off the bridge's edge; others waved a coal truck onto the bridge, blockaded it, deflated its tires, and locked themselves to the truck. The protestors demanded that Clinch River and other outdated coal plants be shut down, and that mountaintop removal coal mining be ended. After several hours in which coal trucks were unable to get into the plant, police agreed to make no arrests if the activists would dismantle their blockades.[23][24]

August 26, 2006: Three killed in massive Bangladesh protest against Phulbari project

According to Asia Energy, 40,000 people would be involuntarily resettled by the Phulbari Coal Project, an open-cut coal mine, and activists say the number of people evicted is likely to be ten times more. The mine and associated infrastructure will use up 10,000 hectares of primarily fertile agricultural land. The project would also divert a river for the water needed, pumping out 800 million litres of water daily, and lowering the groundwater in an area covering 500 square kilometers. Dynamite explosion, environmentalists say, would cause noise and dust pollution, increased by the trucks and trains that will haul away the coal to the port in Sundarban. Asia Energy plans to create a huge lake after the project is over, but activists predict that the water is likely to be toxic.[25] On August 26, 2006, more than 50,000 people took part in protests against the proposed mine. The Bangladesh Rifles, a paramilitary force, opened fire on the protesters. Three young men, Tariqul, son of the municipal commissioner and panel chairman, Ameen, a young carpenter, and Salehin of the adjoining upazila Nawabganj, died instantly. One to two hundred people are reported to have been injured.
[25]

Aug. 31, 2006: Drax Power Plant blockade attempt

On August 31, 2006, around 600 people attempted to shut down the Drax coal-fired power plant in Selby, England, in a widely-publicized action - organized by a variety of environmental groups - that was billed as "the battle of Drax." Several raiding parties of activists were arrested while trying to break through the perimeter fence. A larger crowd of people then pushed through police lines, and were arrested as well. 38 people were arrested throughout the day, in a massive show of force by area police. Many power plant staff didn't show up for the day, and others locked their doors.[26][27]

November 2, 2006: Greenpeace protest at Didcot A Power Station

On the morning of Thursday 2 November 2006, 30 Greenpeace volunteers invaded the power station. One group chained themselves to a broken coal-carrying conveyor belt. A second group scaled the 200 metre high chimney, and set up a 'climate camp'. They proceeded to paint "Blair's Legacy" on the side of the chimney overlooking the town. Greenpeace claims Didcot Power Station is the second most polluting in Britain after Drax in Yorkshire,[28] whilst Friends of the Earth describe it as the ninth worst in the UK.[29]

Diné tribe members blockade the road leading to the Desert Rock site on Dec. 12, 2006.

Dec. 12, 2006: Dooda Desert Rock blockade

On December 12, 2006, members of the Diné tribe blockaded a road leading to the planned site of the Desert Rock coal-fired power plant near Farmington, New Mexico, in protest of Sithe Global Energy's failure to fully consult with members of the community. Ten activists with the group Dooda Desert Rock set up a campsite on the road. On December 22, under threat of arrest, the campsite was moved to a nearby location, and company vehicles were once again able to access the site. This second campsite has been continually occupied ever since. No arrests have been made.[30][31][32]

Rising Tide activists blockade the New South Wales Labor Party on Feb. 27, 2007. The woman in center is attached to the barricade with a bicycle lock around her neck - a common direct action tactic.

Feb. 27, 2007: Rising Tide blockade of New South Wales Labor Party

On February 27, 2007, 15 Rising Tide Australia activists blockaded the headquarters of the New South Wales Labor Party, in a protest of the provincial government's proposed plans to expand the Newcastle coal port. Activists blocked the door with several 44-gallon drums, and one woman chained herself to one of the blockades. The protesters demanded that the provincial government announce whether or not the port would be expanded. Two people were arrested.[33][34]

Local resident Frank Young is handcuffed at a sit-in of West Virginia Gov. Manchin's office on Mar. 16, 2007.

Mar. 16, 2007: Sit-in at West Virginia Gov. Manchin's office

On March 16, 2007, dozens of West Virginia community members - together with activists from Mountain Justice Summer and Rising Tide North America - occupied the office of West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, in protest of the State Mine Board's approval of construction permits for a second coal silo near Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia. Community activists demanded that the state move the school; state officials have failed to comply thus far. Eleven people were arrested at this action, and many were treated roughly by police.[35]

Apr. 13, 2007: Blockade of Asheville Merrill Lynch

On April 13, 2007, two people calling themselves members of the "Climate Justice League" entered a Merrill Lynch building in Asheville, North Carolina, dumped a sack of coal in the lobby, and used a bicycle lock to blockade the door. The activists demanded that Merrill Lynch stop funding mountaintop removal coal mining companies such as Massey Energy. No arrests were reported.[36]

June 8, 2007: ASEN blockade of New South Wales Department of Planning

On June 8, 2007, Australian Student Environment Network activists blockaded the office of the New South Wales Department of Planning. The protesters criticized the Department's June 7 decision to allow the Anvil Hill coal mine to fully drain the Hunter River, in order to supply its mine with water. One person, dressed as a polar bear, chained herself to the doors of the building.[37]

July 3, 2007: Greenpeace blockade of New South Wales Department of Planning

On July 3, 2007, Greenpeace Australia activists dumped four tons of coal in front of the door of the New South Wales Department of Planning, blocking the entrance to the building. The protesters criticized the Department's June 7 decision to allow the Anvil Hill coal mine to fully drain the Hunter River, in order to supply its mine with water. The sign outside the office was changed to read "Department of Coal Approvals." No arrests were reported.[38]

SCAN activists occupy a Bank of America branch in Asheville, NC, on Aug. 13, 2007.

Aug. 13, 2007: Southeast Convergence for Climate Action occupation of Asheville Bank of America

On August 13, 2007, 150 activists from Southeast Convergence for Climate Action occupied a Bank of America branch in Asheville, North Carolina. The protesters condemned Bank of America's ongoing funding of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. Two people locked themselves to the main lobby, while others blockaded the entrance to the branch, and delivered coal to the bank's managers. Five people were arrested.[39][40]

Activists chain themselves to the coal conveyor belt at the Loy Yang Power Station in Traralgon, Australia.

August 30, 2007: Greenpeace stops coal shipment in Canada

On August 30, 2007, activists from the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise boarded a ship carrying coal to Canada's single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, the Nanticoke coal fired power plant in Ontario. The activists boarded the ship, as well as painting the side of it, while being pursued by police boats.[41]

Sept. 3, 2007: Occupation of Loy Yang Power Plant

On September 3, 2007, activists from Real Action on Climate Change occupied the coal-fired Loy Yang Power Station in Traralgon, Australia. Two people chained themselves to the coal conveyor belt, and others hung several large banners from the plant. The action took place several days before an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney, and was intended to draw attention to Prime Minister John Howard's failure to limit Australian carbon emissions. Four people were arrested.[42][43]

Sept. 4, 2007: ASEN Occupation of Newcastle coal port

On September 4, 2007, 20 activists from the Australian Student Environment Network occupied the coal port in Newcastle, Australia. Five people chained themselves to machinery at the Carrington Coal Terminal. The action took place several days before an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney, and was intended to draw attention to Prime Minister John Howard's failure to limit Australian carbon emissions. Eleven people were arrested.[44]


Oct. 1, 2007: Greenpeace occupation at Boxberg plant construction site

Beginning October 1, 2007, 34 activists occupied the construction site of a new coal-fired plant in Boxberg, in eastern Germany. The activists, 10 of whom remained camped atop cranes on the site for 60 hours, demanded that Vattenfall, the utility sponsoring the plant, stop building coal plants and instead invest in renewable energy. A giant banner hung from a crane read: "Vattenfall: Stop building! Climate protection instead of brown coal!" Six smaller banners reading "Stop CO2" hung from other cranes. 20 volunteers painted "Stop CO2" onto a smokestack under construction.[45]


A Greenpeace activist chains herself to the coal conveyor belt at the Kingsnorth Power Plant near Kent, England.

Oct. 8, 2007: Greenpeace occupation of Kingsnorth Power Plant

On October 8, 2007, 50 Greenpeace UK activists occupied the Kingsnorth Power Station near Kent, England. One team of people shut down the conveyor belts carrying coal into the plant, and then chained themselves to the machinery. Another team scaled the plant's chimney, upon which they painted the phrase "Gordon Bit It." Greenpeace held the action in protests of plans by the plant's owners, E.ON, to build two new coal-fired plants at the site - which would be the first coal-fired power plants built in the UK in 20 years. Police arrested 18 people during the action.[46][47]

October 23, 2007: Rainforest Action Network banner hang at Bank of America corporate headquarters in Charlotte, NC

On October 23, four activists with Rainforest Action Network, scale a 15 story crane across the street from Bank of America's corporate headquarters in downtown Charlotte. Reading "Bank of America:Funding Coal, Killing Communities" the banner hang protested the bank's funding of mountaintop removal and new coal plant development. The banner hang disrupted traffic for several blocks until police and firefighters brought down the activists. All four were arrested.

Rainforest Action Network activists and allies blockade a Citibank branch in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 5, 2007.

Nov. 5, 2007: Rainforest Action Network blockade of D.C. Citibank branch

On November 5, 2007, activists from Rainforest Action Network, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the Student Environmental Action Coalition joined hundreds of student activists in blockading Citibank branch in Washington, D.C., in protest of Citibank's ongoing funding of new coal power plant development. RAN activists performed a "die-in" and delivered a wheelbarrow full of coal to the bank's managers. Police shut the branch down for the day, and no arrests were made.[48]

Rainforest Action Network activists stage a "cough-in" at a Citibank branch in San Francisco, CA, on Nov. 15, 2007.

Nov. 7, 2007: Greenpeace protesters block coal shipment at Spanish Port

On November 7, 2007 activists associated with the group Greenpeace blocked a shipment of coal into a port in northwestern Spain to protest coal's involvement in climate change. Six protesters were arrested during the action. Four members of the press who were accompanying the activists were also arrested. Additional Greenpeace activists chained themselves to ship offloading cranes that were responsible for removing 155,000 tons of coal that was shipped in from South Africa.

"Coal destroys the climate," the protesters painted on the ship.[49]

Nov. 15, 2007: Rainforest Action Network Day of Action Against Coal Finance

On November 15, 2007, Rainforest Action Network activists - acting together with allies from Coal River Mountain Watch, Appalachian Voices, Rising Tide North America, Mountain Justice Summer, Student Environmental Action Coalition, and Energy Justice Network - staged dozens of actions against Citibank and Bank of America branches in cities across the county, in protest of those two companies' refusal to stop funding new coal power plant development and coal mountaintop removal mining. In San Francisco, RAN activists attached caution tape - reading "Global Warming Crime Scene" - to dozens of Bank of America and Citibank ATMs, and held "cough-ins" in several branches. Similar ATM closure actions were held in New York City, Davis (CA), Los Angeles, Portland (OR), and St. Petersburg (FL), while protests against the two companies were held in numerous other cities.[50]

The two polar bears, immediately after their arrest for blockading the Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte, NC, on Nov. 15, 2007.

Nov. 15, 2007: Student blockade of Duke Energy headquarters

On November 15, 2007, two Warren Wilson College students - dressed as polar bears - chained themselves to the door of Duke Energy's headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, in protest of Duke's plans to build the Cliffside coal-fired power plant in western North Carolina. Several dozen people held a rally in support of their blockade, dressing as Santa Claus and elves and presenting a stocking full of coal to the company. The two students were arrested on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct.[51][52]

Greenpeace activists paint "Coal Kills" on the roof of the occupied Munmorah Power Plant near Wyong, Australia, on Nov. 15, 2007.

Nov. 15, 2007: Greenpeace occupation of Munmorah Power Station

On November 15, 2007, 15 Greenpeace Australia activists occupied the Munmorah coal-fired power plant near Wyong, Australia. Two teams of five people - including engineers - switched off the conveyor belt that brings coal into the plant, and then chained themselves to the machinery. Another team painted "Coal Kills" on the roof of the plant, and hung a large banner inside. The action took place several days before Australian parliamentary elections, and was held in protest of the climate change policies of both major Australian political parties. All fifteen people were arrested by police.[53]

A Rising Tide activist blocks a train carrying coal to the port on Kooragang Island, Australia, on Nov. 19, 2007.

Nov. 19, 2007: Rising Tide Kooragang Coal Terminal rail blockade

On November 19, 2007, several Rising Tide Australia activists blocked a train carrying coal to the Kooragang Island coal terminal - from which 80 million tons of coal are exported each year. One person chained himself to the train; he was later arrested. The protestors demanded that the Australian government begin to reduce Australia's reliance on coal.[54][55]

A group of activists - including some polar bears - occupy a construction vehicle at the Ffos-y-fran coal mine in South Wales on Dec. 5, 2007.

Dec. 5, 2007: Blockade of Ffos-y-fran coal mine construction site

On December 5, 2007, about thirty local residents and activists from a variety of environmental groups - many of whom were dressed as polar bears - occupied the Ffos-y-fran coal mine construction site in South Wales. Several polar bears chained themselves to bulldozers, while other people hung a banner from one bulldozer criticizing Prime Minister Gordon Brown's ongoing support for coal power (the action was timed to coincide with the Bali climate change negotiations). Miller Argent, the company digging the mine, plans to remove 11 million tons of coal from the site. Several community groups have spoken out against the mine, which is being built about forty yards from several homes.[56]

Resources

References

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