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Kayakers (Kayaktivists) Take on Big Oil in Portland and Seattle

Kayakers (Kayaktivists) Take on Big Oil in Portland and Seattle

Maybe we should call it the spring of the kayaks.

It began in January, when the Port of Seattle agreed to allow the Shell Oil Company to use Terminal 5 to moor the vessels of its Arctic drilling fleet.

Then, even before the Federal Government had affirmed the Arctic leases, Shell started moving its drilling ship and a drilling rig toward Seattle to begin preparations for its Arctic exploration operation.

Well, that called people to action.

Soon after, local activists began talking about organizing a group of kayakers to "escort the rig." Ironically, a galvanizing event turned out to be a leaked audio, where Seattle port commissioner Bill Bryant was heard poking fun at the idea that they were being threatened by a "flotilla of kayaks."

"We were already thinking about a water action," said Bill Moyer, executive director of the activist group Backbone Campaign, "but when we heard him talk about kayaks, and make fun of it, it was like - now we have to do it."

The result was that more than 100 on-call "kayaktivists" turned out to surround Shell's drilling rig, the “Polar Pioneer,” to show their opposition. News of this action spread quickly, and later when the rig started moving north towards its drilling site, the grass roots Alaska Climate Action Network (Alaska CAN) coordinated simlutaneous protests in Juneau and Anchorage in support of the Seattle action.


Down the coast in Portland, Oregon, when Shell's icebreaker ship, named "Fennica," arrived to prepare for deployment in the Arctic, protesters on the shore waved signs with slogans like, "Shell No, Save the Arctic," and more than 200 "kayaktivists" took to the water and circled the ship.greenpeace-protesters-on-bridge

The crowning event took place at the end of July, when the "Fennica" prepared to depart for the Arctic.

A group of 13 climbers, organized by Greenpeace, rappelled off the historic St. Johns suspension bridge, and spent the next 36 hours on slings and small platforms about 100 feet above the water in an effort to block the ship from leaving the city's port. According to Greenpeace, the climbers had an additional 13 people providing backup support for them, and had enough supplies to last for days (including diapers)! Other protesters were floating in kayaks in the Willamette River below.

And it worked.

On the first try, the "Fennica" turned around, but after a short delay in succeeded in getting through and on its way. Nevertheless, the innovative protesters still declared victory. The imaginative, colorful, and peaceful event got huge exposure, largely through the extensive use of social media. It was noted and endorsed by many environmental activists, including Bill McKibben.

greenpeace portland protester

When it was over, one of the dangling protesters, Razz Gormley, told Oregon Live: "It was tough to see the boat go through there, but every second counts. I consider it a victory." And Greenpeace USA's executive director, Annie Leonard said, "The last two days have been a very emotional experience for all of us at Greenpeace, as well as all those who supported this action around the country and the world.

Between the kayaktivists, the streamers, and the blue sky we have seen something new emerge, a sign that we can stand up to one of the most powerful companies in the world if we work together."

At ClimateStore, we’re passionate about keeping fossil fuels in the ground where they belong. It’s a known fact we have way more fossil fuel reserves than we are allowed to burn - if we want any chance of saving the climate we have come to know. We also covet the last pristine ecosystems on the planet.

Most of us don’t have the skills to belay from bridges – or perhaps the courage to kayak in front of coast guard boats and oil tankers - but we do have the power to reduce out personal carbon footprint and a responsibility to spread the message about the climate crisis.

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