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After Burnaby Mountain:

Some thoughts on civil disobedience, diversity of tactics, and coalitions (Part 1)

First I was being sued. Then I wasn’t being sued. Then I wasn’t being sued, again. Life fighting pipelines can be confusing. But that’s not what I want to write about right now. The first round of Kinder Morgan shenanigans looks like it is finally and completely finished—we will likely have to wait for the NEB decision, and the federal election, to see what may happen next. In the meantime, the reflection back on the experience can begin in earnest.

What I find myself reflecting on, and wanting to write about, are activist tactics and our wider strategies. I do so tentatively—not having the time to write about this topic as fulsomely as I would like, and as it deserves, and aware that what I’m going to write is probably not going to make anyone happy (I will, democratically, piss everyone off, I fear). This is also tentative because I ultimately haven’t made my own mind up yet—I’m sifting through the debris and rhetoric, trying to find the way to a better, more coherent movement. But I don’t have all the answers—just questions I feel I need to articulate.

I think whatever success the Burnaby Mountain resistance had it was largely success on the “public relations” side of things: many people heard about and supported the action (a late December 2014 Angus Reid poll suggests well over half of British Columbians were “closely” or “very closely” following the story, while 54% opposed the pipeline and supported the protest); and Kinder Morgan’s advertising efforts, and decision to drop the civil suit, even if that means they have to pay the defendants’ court costs, is a clear sign that they, too, feel they lost the public relations battle, and have to back peddle now.

How was this “success” (remembering that, so far, no pipeline has been stopped, so very much a qualified success) achieved? First, it helped that all this unfolded in an urban environment, where many people felt directly concerned, and where the media had ready access to the scene of the action and the many participants. As someone who played a spokesperson role (another topic I would like to write about at some point), I can say that I have never before experienced such a (largely) sympathetic media: reporters also seemed to consider themselves directly concerned about the project, and often expressed outrage or surprise when asking questions about the company’s plans and tactics. Secondly, it helped that the City of Burnaby was so vocally opposed to the project. Thirdly—and no doubt building from these first two factors—the campaign on the mountain was able to draw together a fairly broad “coalition” of activists, ranging from elderly local residents, First Nations elders, and “seasoned” activists, to young anarchists and first-time protestors. It was a wide swath and cross section of society, and included a very wide range of approaches and commitments.

What wasn’t always clear, on the surface at least, was how fractious and volatile this mix of individuals and groups was. In my reading of the situation, there were three main groupings. First, there were local residents and general “concerned citizens,” many of whom had been organizing opposition to Kinder Morgan’s plans under the umbrella of BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan Expansion) for some time prior to the fall of 2014. This grouping tended to favour less confrontational tactics: town-hall discussions to raise awareness about the issue, rallies or peaceful street marches, pressuring various levels of government through their representatives, and working closely with the City of Burnaby. BROKE successfully applied for intervenor status with the NEB, in order to have a voice in the decision process (however limited and biased that process is).

The second group was comprised of diverse grassroots activists, including First Nations, who organized via loose affinity groups to take up a more direct action oriented position: on the ground occupation, and eventually a blockade of the proposed work site. This group was very small at first, more or less structureless and leaderless, and committed to placing their bodies in the direct path of the project.

Finally, the third group were the seasoned activists—many of them affiliated with environmental NGOs, and all of them with experience in multiple previous campaigns (including a group of Clayoquot Sound veterans). This group came in late, and it is indeed on the ground of the actual conflict—after the attempt by Kinder Morgan contractors to begin work on October 29 2014, and after the subsequent injunction hearing in early November, when the enforcement of the injunction began on November 20—that all three of these groups “came together.”

(Full disclosure: I worked, at various points, with both of the first two groups mentioned here, and actually saw merit, and sometimes fault, in both of their approaches. In time, I became more committed to the “caretakers” on the ground on Burnaby Mountain, and it was as a spokesperson for this group that I found myself being sued as a “conspirator” against Kinder Morgan’s interests.)

There are many things to say about NGOs, but I’m not going to focus on them here. What interests me, and seems to me to be at the heart of the matter, is the ability, or inability, of those first two groups to work together. The first group was anxious about the second group’s direct action focus, worried that more “radical” tactics like occupations and blockades would wind up losing the support of the “general public,” and felt that, tactically, a more moderate approach, loosely affiliated with the City of Burnaby, was most likely to succeed under these circumstances. The second group, in turn, felt that the first group’s tactics would take too much time, that Kinder Morgan would waltz in to do its work despite popular opposition and the attempts of the City of Burnaby to stop them in the courts (which of course turned out to be true), and that, contrary to the first group’s worries, the “general public” would be galvanized and motivated by the actions of protestors on the ground, giving their all to stop the pipeline.

This is all old hat to anyone who has spent any time around activism and social movements. This division reigned at Occupy Vancouver, just as it did on Burnaby Mountain. The point, to me, is not who is right and who is wrong—whose tactics are better, or more likely to succeed, and whose are doomed to failure. We could armchair quarterback this through the next fifty Superbowls and still not get anywhere. The question to me is how a diversity of tactics—which is what was more or less on display on Burnaby Mountain—might actually function, and how coalitions might—if they can be—be built around this functional diversity.

The dramatic and fast-moving events on Burnaby Mountain left these two groups little time to either a) completely split from each other, or b), really work out a means of organizing together. Rather, they were thrown together, had little time to do more than groan and complain about their differences, and, as the drama crested and the NGO activists moved in, the differences of these two groups in some ways disappeared behind the sound and fury of more than a hundred arrests, the appearances of “star” activists like David Suzuki, and the headline-catching stories of the arrests of 84 year old grandmothers and 11 year old daughters. Once again, the opposition of the state (in the form of the courts and the RCMP) did not allow time for a true movement to flourish—or collapse under its own weight. It never does. So what can we do?

In Part 2 of this series I will take a closer look at civil disobedience specifically, before turning, in Part 3, back to the question of diversity of tactics, coalition building, and movement organization.

And when I get this off my chest, I can go back to writing poems, plays, and other possibly less fractious things.

A personal note – some 2015 plans

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.”

That’s Ursula K. Le Guin, from her recent National Book Awards speech. I’m going to, in whatever way I can, try to meet this call, and re-dedicate myself to writing this year. That means I’m going to try to step back, for a time, from organizing, and even step back a bit from social media. I want to be scarcer, less public, and more focused on writing. We’ll see how that goes! But I’m going to try.

There are three things I want to work on. First, I have a half-written book of poetry and essays, Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands, that I need to finish for a 2016 publication date. This is writing shaped by walking through the restrictive and restricted spaces of resource extraction—an attempt to open and contest these spaces where capital is indeed and quite directly killing the planet.

Second, I have written the first draft of a play, Blockadia, coming out of the recent Kinder Morgan experience. It’s terrible. But maybe I can make something out of it in revision. We’ll see. If you never hear about this again, you’ll know why.

Finally, I want to write essays on this blog—essays on movement tactics and strategies, on where we are, and where we may need to go. I’m tired of being so reactive—to always be in a position of having to react to the latest move made by the state and corporation as they try every trick in the book to keep extracting wealth from people and the land. What we really need, I think, is to get out ahead of them—to have the vision, and the capacity, that they are currently counting on us lacking. I want to make whatever small contribution to that that I can.

I know many amazing and dedicated organizers. I know spirited and fearless activists. Coming out of the (still not finished) struggle on Burnaby Mountain in the fall of 2014, I see people re-dedicating themselves to organizing and to action. I see people stepping into politics. What I feel I need to do, what I can do, is write, and speak, and teach. It’s not a matter of choosing words over actions; it’s a matter of bringing some good words to the action.

—Stephen Collis

Solstice 2014: A Poem

Waking that voice
That talks to you
Always just alongside
Always that presence
Of some others
Within or nearby
Saying you might be
Forgiven for thinking
It can’t get any
Darker than this
That just around
The intricate social
Corner those old
Strains of utopia will
Sound or final
Stores from harvest
Break open in
Winter feast as we
Spend these reserves
Knowing daylight cracks
On its axial tilt
Towards renewal

But you’d be
Mistaken the voice
That talks to you
Not gloating or
Even sad really just
Noting how we
Can’t breathe arms
Up don’t shoot
Another black man
Down another law
Passed to protect
The police from
Our social witnessing
To criminalize our
Dissent and boost
Budgets for new
Wars and the
Regulatory skids greased
For every new energy
Project that kills
Climates while lining
Select pockets and
Women aren’t safe
Where you’d think
They would be safe
And there’s 500 years
And counting of
Unremitting colonization
Eating up lives
And lands here

The voice that
Talks to you is
And isn’t without
Optimism or not
Hope exactly but
Some residual knowledge
Or perspective gained
By time spent
Amongst communities
Of resistance so
While this might
Not yet be the
Bottom of our
Descent we know
Each lower layer
Reveals new pockets
Of resistance new
Sparks and embers
Glowing against the
Long night of Empire
Host that voice
Invokes from edges
Of dream how you
Entered the street
And with love of
Companions rocked
A cop car back and forth
Until it rolled over
With a loud
Crunch and cheer

Walking Backwards up a Mountain

Yesterday, I walked up a mountain backwards.

This could be a useful metaphor. It is also literally true: on one of the most moving days of this moving movement to protect the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area and to protect our global environment from the tar sands and more fossil fuel development, First Nations elders and chiefs—including Grand Chief Stewart Philip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Ian Campbell of the Skowmesh nation, and Amy and Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation—gathered with hundreds of supporters.

They spoke of their passionate commitment to their land, their communities, and the natural environment generally. They spoke of their determination to stop this pipeline and protect the oceans, animals, and trees. And then they marched, with the gathered throng behind them—up the mountain, into the forest, and towards the police lines.

I was the marker they were to follow, their guide to the forest frontline. I walked backwards in front of them, holding a sign high above my head for them to follow. In some ways it felt like these incredible elders were pushing me, backwards, up the hill, into the path of this pipeline. They were the driving force, the magnets around which we—settler allies and committed pipeline opponents, land defenders and grandmothers, Burnaby residents, university faculty and students—were arrayed.

Backing uphill, it seemed to me, was also indicative of our slow realization and maybe even reluctant awareness of what we need to do and where we need to go. It’s difficult—walking up slope towards an uncertain future. We can’t see it—but we slowly edge towards it. We have to have a little trust—that we won’t fall off a precipice or down a bottomless hole. We worry—but we go on, because we must go on. Really, we need to go a lot faster than this—but this is how we approach the changes we must make—we fear rushing right into their midst—so we edge slowly, backwards, towards them. It’s not perfect. But we are far from perfect. We go on.

An alternative, renewable energy system is feasible and achievable (as long as we get our consumerist, artificial wants under control). Meanwhile, oil and gas companies are running our government and ruining our environment. We have lost our sense of the common—of common responsibility to a common land for a common future on a common planet. We are relearning this—to the extent that we are—through the leadership of indigenous teachers and teachings.

When I think about this pipeline running under our feet, my mind runs up to its source. I think of the tar sands and the utter destruction being wreaked upon the land and indigenous communities there. I think of the desert we have made in the boreal forest, depriving it of water and life and leaving only poison behind. I think of the Athabasca Fort Chipewyan First Nation, their illnesses and the fact that they may have to abandon Fort Chip. I think of the tailings ponds, the diseased moose, the scale of deforestation.

We are directly connected to that here, at the other end of the pipeline. We are standing, right here in Coast Salish Territory, on one corner of the tar sands, on the edge of the destruction we have wrought. We are walking, backwards, up a mountain—to stop this devastation, and to fashion a new future we can as yet barely see, but which we must trust will be there, the other side of fossil fuels.

The Growing Resistance to Climate Change

On Monday November 17, the BC Supreme Court will decide whether or not to grant Kinder Morgan an injunction against protestors who have been occupying the public and unceded lands the US oil giant wants to carve its pipeline through. This will, or will not, potentially lead to acts of civil disobedience and arrests. Kinder Morgan will, or will not, proceed with its testing and “surveying” for its pipeline (it’s worth noting, since so many of us have no faith in the impartiality of the NEB, that this “surveying” is more likely in actuality the beginning of the pipeline’s construction). Respondents in a civil suit filed by Kinder Morgan may, or may not, have to defend themselves in court, and they may, or may not, be held liable for millions of dollars of supposed “damages.”

All of this seems momentous—and in many ways it is—but I also have my eyes on the proverbial “bigger picture.” Whatever happens in this one site of resistance on Burnaby Mountain, Coast Salish Territories, the struggle against fossil fuels, and thus against climate change—the struggle for renewable, green energy alternatives—is only growing. Events like those unfolding on a mountainside in Burnaby galvanize resistance. The charges against activists are widely seen as excessive and bullying, a classic case of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, intended to subvert democratic process and our freedoms of speech and assembly. A wave of outrage has arisen against Kinder Morgan, sweeping up critical energy insiders and economists, but more importantly, this wave has arisen against the power of corporations to tilt the systems of governance and the law in their favour, against an industry bent on profit over public interest, and against a system seemingly satisfied to burn the future for a few more dollars and diversions today.

What I’m learning, from this experience, is that we are rising, we are growing, and we are building our capacity, at every step, to resist the status quo, and demand another world.


Everywhere this growing movement is led and inspired by frontline indigenous land defenders. They are the Secwepmec Women Warriors and Klabona Keepers, standing resolutely against Imperial Metals, demanding justice for the Mount Polley tailings pond disaster—and protection against any repetition of such a disaster. They are the Wet’suwet’en people of the Unist’ot’en Camp, dug in north of Houston BC, in the path of the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Pacific Trails pipelines. They are here on unceded Coast Salish Territory too, refusing Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion and the exponential rise of oil tanker traffic in these delicate coastal waters.

The climate justice movement lines up with and behind indigenous leadership because the impacts of fossil fuel production, and climate change, hit such communities first and hardest. It lines up here because there can be no justice without a just accounting with our colonial past, and without a just relation to the land. It also finds its crucial alliance and solidarity here because traditional indigenous land use and conceptions of the relation between human beings and the land they live on provide a window into a world that is vastly different from the one currently carving up tar sands and attempting to lay fossil fuel pipelines. This other world is, first and foremost, a world of responsibilities rather than rights, and a world premised on access not just to land today, but to the lands of tomorrow as well. It is a world in which we actively care for those who are not yet born. We see this clearly in the Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court definition of aboriginal title:

“It is collective title held not only for the present generation but for all succeeding generations. It cannot be … encumbered in ways that would prevent future generations of the group from using and enjoying it. Nor can the land be developed or misused in a way that would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”

This is a dream of the common good—a dream of a world of shared responsibilities and shared benefits. We know that this world requires not only an end to our dependence on fossil fuels, but a change in our social and economic outlook—a change from competitive models of growth to practices of commoning and limited growth. We struggle for this world on many fronts. Social change functions by being diverse and multiple. People vote for change, they organize under the umbrella of NGOs to advocate and campaign. They organize as community associations and as grassroots activists willing to do direct action and even civil disobedience. They march and rally. The blockade and occupy. All these various practices—and more—contributed to what we have thought of as our democracy: we simply would not have universal suffrage, would not have work place protections and benefits—there would not have been a civil rights movement or a women’s liberation movement—without all of these democratic practices being engaged.


Today, we will stop pipelines, close the tar sands, and develop a new, renewable and sustainable energy system by all these means. We will do so not by denying or decrying our differences, but by respecting them and finding a new capacity for solidarity.

I choose to align my own efforts with grassroots climate justice movements and indigenous struggles for decolonization. As a privileged settler, I feel this is the only just thing I can do. And I hope that whatever abilities I have as a communicator can benefit those struggles I am aligned with.

Personally, this has been a difficult time. A $5.6 million lawsuit was not one risk that I, or anyone else I have organized with, could have foreseen. Strangest of all has been having my words read in court (as evidence, it would seem, that I just don’t like pipelines). When corporate power—through its lawyers—uses a writer’s words against that writer—when those words become flesh torn between the teeth of capital and the state—the writer is left numb and dumbfounded. This is the intention of course: condemn to silence. Remove the inconvenience. The experience has certainly caused me to stumble. But I am trying to find my feet—and my words—again.

Sometimes We Resist

I was in a park

I could not see
Global capitalism

Its dinosaur bones
Covered in chrome

I saw     trees
Their leaves
Turning yellow and
Golden brown

I saw the harbour
And the city set
Down below
The mountain

A place you’d descend
To or ascend from

I asked someone
How do we resist?

Consider the trees
Bending in the wind
Their root grip
Deep in the land

Consider the mountain
That does not drift
A little east or west
North or south

But remains a marker
We chart day’s circuits round

I asked
What if they come
With saw teeth
For the trees

With horizontal
Directional drilling
For pipelines through
Mountain’s immobile heart?

And one there said
Sometimes the voice
Sometimes the voices
Tear teeth from saw’s blades

Sometimes a body
Sometimes all our bodies
Blunt the bits of drills
Dull dollar’s desire

Someone said
Someone just like
You or me

Sometimes we resist
Sometimes we win

The last barrel of oil on Burnaby Mountain

Sometimes the world narrows to a very fine point. A certain slant of light. The head of a needle you need to pass through. I don’t care right now about the National Energy Board of Canada (merely a corporate tool for shoehorning global energy projects into other people’s territories—a funnel for money from the public, to the private sector). I don’t care about this or that court of law, appeals and constitutional challenges. I don’t care about the drones, unmarked cars, or CSIS agents. I don’t even care that much about the rain.

I care about the people who have come together to stand in a forest, on a mountain, in the path of a pipeline. I care about them because of their passion and commitment, their awareness of the fact that they are standing at once against local destruction (a nature conservation area, the animals we meet here every day, right near the edge of a large city) and against global destruction (adding carbon to an already warming planet through new fossil fuel infrastructure—the last thing we should be doing, if we truly care about the continuation of life on this planet, in the near future). I care too, about the trees I can touch, the animals I can see, and the future commons we need to preserve for life to continue, for this planet to be a place of biological diversity and human sharing.

As has been our intention all along, we will occupy public land, a city park, and prevent Kinder Morgan from carrying out its destructive work—work opposed by local First Nations, opposed by the City of Burnaby, and opposed by the majority of Burnaby residents. While the case goes back and forth in the courts, out intention is to keep Kinder Morgan wrapped up dealing with us, either until a court somewhere sides with the people against this mega-corporation, or until the NEB’s December 1 deadline for KM’s complete application.

We are doing this to protect the local environment and people. And we are doing this because we know that people everywhere have to begin taking a stand against fossil fuel projects, and thus doing whatever we can to mitigate climate change. This is no time for new carbon projects. This is the time to build a new economy, based on new, renewable sources of energy, providing new, clean energy jobs. There is simply no benefit to the citizens of Burnaby to have this pipeline here—it benefits only the US-based Kinder Morgan, and the global market its oil will be sold on. And there is no benefit to our ailing global climate. The time to change course is now, and the many volunteers on Burnaby Mountain, and their many, many supporters in the community and around the world, have realized this, and they are taking direct action.

In Northern BC there is a camp—the Unistot’en Camp, of the Wet’suwet’en people—dug in in the path of the Enbridge and Pacific Trails Pipelines. It has been there for four years, blocking the proposed pipeline routes. Now, here in southern BC, right in Greater Vancouver, a new camp has sprung up, in the path of another, even bigger pipeline, and we will not be going anywhere until this project is stopped. We are young and old, men and women, professionals and the unemployed. We are standing in the forest between shifts at work and duties with our families and children at home. We are doing this because it matters—it matters a great deal.

As barricades were assembled from garbage dumped down a hillside from the parking lot in Burnaby Mountain Park, an old, rusted oil barrel was uncovered and rolled up the hill. It’s a talisman, a symbol of the old world we are trying to resist and change. It is, we hope, the last oil barrel that will have anything to do with this mountain forest.


Pipeline Struggles: We are many, they are few

Where we at? Seems like doom is around the corner daily. How many degrees global warming scientists now predicting? Two, four, six degrees? Threat to civilization? Forget civilization—threat to life on earth (sixth extinction underway, more than 50% of the planet’s wildlife lost in the past 40 years). We’re not just not hitting the breaks—we’re stamping on the accelerator!

Inequality growing—the super rich clearly comfortably in charge—got the banks, got the governments, got the media—check, check and check. So—what are we going to do?

“We”? A problematic concept, much of the time. Full disclosure: I’m a white male settler on these indigenous lands—easy enough for me to say “we,” since history has danced to my tune (and I to its). But I think we need to remind ourselves of the we we can be, and need to be, in the face of the threat we all face (however diversely, and unevenly, it threatens us).

We are many, they are few. Sure, most are sitting on their cell phones, groping in their pants for the next digital distraction. But everywhere I look, indigenous people are rising up in the face of neo-colonial, expropriative extraction projects—mines, pipelines, LNG terminals, Tar Sands and fracking fields—met head on by the Wet’suwet’en at the Unist’ot’en Camp, the Tahltan, Tsilhqot’in, Tsleil-Waututh. And I have never seen so many, and such diverse, and so hungry for solidarity a host of grassroots groups organizing their opposition to ecocide and the totally and blatantly unsustainable capitalist system—Rising Tide, Ecosocialists, Climate Convergence, Left Front, BROKE, the Caretakers of Burnaby Mountain, to name a few here on these unceded Coast Salish territories.

We are many, they are few. But—equally as important—the spaces they, the exploiters, need to work in and move through are surprisingly small. A pipeline is a narrow device, no matter how long. The forest clearing Kinder Morgan has made in the Burnaby Mountain conservation area is small, the size of a good size back yard. They intend to drop equipment from a helicopter here, for seismic testing. Doesn’t take too many bodies to make that a difficult proposition.

I’m not sure what, exactly, it might take to stop the bastards who are ignoring climate change, ignoring indigenous land title, and doubling down on profit and exploitation. I don’t understand them—they who shrug off the science, shrug off any feeling of humanity, and decide to profit from the ride while it lasts. But I know this—because we are many, and they are few—because the spaces they need to work in, to make their billions, are really, actually, often quite small—I know we can bottle them up. I know, at this point, with enough of us, and putting ourselves in the right place—we can non-violently plug these money holes with our bodies, and force change in this system. Force it—by making the old way of making money too expensive, and forcing them to try something else.

I’m not sure I will like their “something else.” But I would take the reprieve, and in that reprieve, I hope we look around, see the solidarity we have built, see the people power we have engaged—and use that power to build a new world that leaves no room for rich and powerful exploiters of life on this planet.

There is considerable urgency. The National Energy Board will this week likely yet again give Kinder Morgan permission to continue its work on Burnaby Mountain. The time to stand up is now. Join us. Join the struggles. I’d be happy to put you in contact with organizations that are working on the ground. And if you want to keep US oil giant Kinder Morgan out of Burnaby and out of the Burnaby Mountain conservation area, please see:


Kinder Morgan vs the Future: A Commoner’s Tale

In alder     in maple fern salal and salmonberry     near train &

bird sound     & plane sound     on mountain     on watch


Among stumps     red rounds     starling flocks bespeaking a theory

of the swarm     plane drone     train echo     mountain     on watch


Beside dead cut boughs their     drying leaf curl     by fallen

trunks & bear presence   on unceded territory     occupied     on watch


Over the inlet     down slope     attached to social media     over

proposed pipeline route     under capital     on mountain     on watch



Since we learned, a few weeks ago, that Texas-based oil behemoth Kinder Morgan had entered the conservation area on Burnaby Mountain (in the middle of which sits the public university where I have taught for 15 years), a group of us have been keeping watch for the company’s re-appearance. I think of us as “citizen rangers.” We have chased them off more than once already. And if they return, we will make their attempts to work on the mountain…difficult, to say the least.

We hike downslope in the park, from a field where much of Vancouver and its harbour can be seen. Or we ascend from the base of the mountain. The trail is narrow, steep, muddy. We settle ourselves in the forest clearing Kinder Morgan made—illegally—there with our bodies to prevent their helicopters from landing equipment in the forest conservation area. This is their plan: drill and conduct seismic testing. Then re-submit their proposal to the National Energy Board of Canada.

Our bodies sitting in the forest tell a different story. This is grassroots resistance at its grassy and rootiest. The thing about massive energy projects—the devastation they can wreak on local ecosystems, and the global atmosphere as well—is that they have to pass through very small and localizable spaces. We are small. But a pipeline is narrow. The forest clearing just large enough to set down equipment. Or just small enough for a handful of volunteers to occupy.

Meanwhile, the struggle continues on other levels too. Community groups like BROKE (Burnaby Residents against Kinder Morgan Expansion) are organized, vocal, active. The City of Burnaby continues to pursue legal means of preventing Kinder Morgan from expropriating city parkland. Burnaby NDP MP Kennedy Stewart continues to pursue parliamentary means of opposition. And the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, stewards of these unceded lands, are also making their own constitutional challenge.

Kinder Morgan, with all its wealth and power, of course has the federal government in its back pocket. The National Energy Board, far from an objective arbiter, has provided Kinder Morgan with over $130 million of Canadian tax payer’s money to pursue its application.

And so—sitting on unceded land, in the middle of an urban park and conservation area (where we have on several occasions seen two black bears, amongst many other creatures), and under threat of a massively wealthy private (foreign owned) corporation flush with public Canadian funds—questions about the nature of publicness and the commons almost always come to my mind.

Fossil fuel production threatens the global commons—that shared material fact (I don’t like to say “resource”) of what all living beings depend upon: breathable air, drinkable water, a life-sustaining climate, a sustainable food supply. These things cannot be “owned,” and yet the activities of private corporations directly dispossess us of them, prevent access to them, and destroy them—for us and future generations. Thus what is coming to a head on public land on Burnaby Mountain is the very destruction of the common and public on a planetary scale.

But—and I keep coming back to this issue too—can we consider “common” what is also unceded (that is, never deeded or surrendered) indigenous territory? How does a concern for the global biospheric commons intersect with indigenous claims to traditional and long-occupied land?

My own answer is—delicately, and not unproblematically. The idea of the commons comes from the European (especially British) tradition of common lands as a system for sustaining local communities: much land was technically private (owned by various aristocrats), but people had local access and use rights to unoccupied (non-agricultural) land, which they depended upon for their survival. These rights were taken away, and common lands “enclosed,” between the 16th and 19th centuries—alongside the development of capitalism.

An indigenous sense of land use is not always easy to reconstruct, after 500 years of colonial occupation. Like the idea of the commons, the survival of indigenous communities depended upon access to and use of land—however, no system of property-based ownership seems to have existed. One did not own land: land owned you and your people. As such, you were responsible for the careful stewardship, and even defence, of the land to which you belonged.

Here is the overlap I want to note for now: both the European common and indigenous territorial systems were carefully managed with their extension into the future in mind. They didn’t only have to sustain the community now—they had to do so for generations to come. This is made clear in the recent and landmark Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court definition of aboriginal title:

“It is collective title held not only for the present generation but for all succeeding generations. It cannot be … encumbered in ways that would prevent future generations of the group from using and enjoying it. Nor can the land be developed or misused in a way that would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.”

Unlike capitalism, commons-based and indigenous senses of land use are premised upon the importance of future access and use. Companies like Kinder Morgan operate according to a logic of limitless accumulation of profits: the only sense they have of the future is future profit. Often, fossil fuel companies only need a short-term access to and use of land. After they are done, the land is often destroyed, irreparably. They move on—seeking something else to destroy in their pursuit of tomorrow’s gains on the stock market, the next-quarter’s returns.

So we sit in the forest—we small group of citizen rangers—trying to ward off tree-fallers, drill operators, and helicopters with our bodies occupying trails and clear-cuts. We are, I like to think, commoners too, one and all—keepers of future possibilities, future access and use of this green lung-space we all need to breathe—these waters we all need for provision. And when I say “we” I think of the black bears too, and the Pacific Sideband Snail, and the raven whose call echoes off the mountain slopes.

70 Theses Against Tar Sands Pipelines

  1. Today is a sensitive location.
  2. Life is not settled it’s unsettling.
  3. Clouds we make form what seems but isn’t really haphazard weather.
  4. Today brittle pipes might crack beneath our feet, loosing toxins.
  5. Today we walk a line between a fossil past and a future afire.
  6. But maybe we could still walk in unspoilt fields of tomorrow, erasing this line.
  7. Maybe we could still walk breathing and indeterminate and open to possibilities not described by this line.
  8. Observe that large jets are missing despite their loads of fuel, technological instrumentation.
  9. Observe that waterfowl in this area and elsewhere seem no less precarious.
  10. Observe the concept of the ocean as a “sink” for carbon and runoff.
  11. Observe that we are walking the path of the pipeline that is a property cutting across properties as it will to the harbour transecting lived space with fossils afire.
  12. Now who I ask is a pauper, who a prince?
  13. Now upon whose door can we nail these theses and stake our honest complaint?
  14. Because you would lay pipe beneath Eagle Creek and Squint Lake.
  15. Because you would lay pipe beneath Stony Creek and Lost Creek, beneath Heron and Dynamite Creeks, and beneath Silver Creek.
  16. Because you would lay pipe beneath great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, belted kingfishers, red-winged blackbirds, the occasional pheasant, river otter, beaver, and raccoon, beneath cutthroat trout and spawning salmon, beneath black-tailed deer and coyote.
  17. Because you would lay pipe beneath big leaf maple, red alder, western hemlock, western red cedar, Douglas fir, salmon berry, Indian plum and red elderberry.
  18. Because you would lay pipe beneath Forest Grove Elementary School, Southside Community Church, and the homes of Drew and Gail Benedict, Allison Stroun, and the entire Dhaliwal family, amongst others.
  19. Because 55 species of fish use the Port Moody Arm Basin for loafing, foraging, in-migration and out-migration, and for all or part of their life-cycle ecology.
  20. Because the Tsleil-Waututh people have lived on beside and around these waters for thousands of years and they are the keepers of these waters sacred to them and unceded and balanced stewardship is how they have always lived here.
  21. Because the Musqueam and Skwomesh peoples have lived near or around here for uncounted generations and clean water has been their necessity too crossing forest paths to take a deer or medicines home.
  22. Because we have a love of parks, green spaces, waterways and coastlines, bays and inlets where we might walk swim and fish away the days at leisure.
  23. Because there is of course oil in the pipe lying beneath our feet.
  24. Because the estimated frequency of significant oil spills on any given new pipeline is approximately two per year.
  25. Because in this case the existing pipeline is over 60 years old and instruments don’t last species do or might longer than banks we will see.
  26. Because the diluted bitumen which in this case Kinder Morgan pipes here beneath our feet is moved at much higher temperatures and under higher pressure than conventional oils, and is more corrosive than conventional oils.
  27. Because when a diluted bitumen spill occurs the chemical condensate evaporates resulting in toxic air-born vapours and the release of carcinogenic benzene and hydrogen sulphide into low-lying areas and waterways.
  28. Because the bitumen once separated from its condensate sinks to the bottom of bodies of water, impacting the very base of the food chain and all the existing methods of spill recovery are based on surface removal (by booms or burning).
  29. Because in July 2007 Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline burst at the intersection of Inlet and Ridge Drives spilling 250,000 litres of crude oil into streets and the front and back yards of homes and Dynamite Creek and eventually into Burrard Inlet; 250 residents were evacuated and $15 million spent on clean-up—it could have even been worse and it is worse.
  30. Because in January 2012 a pipeline rupture at Kinder Morgan’s Sumas Mountain tank farm spilled over 100,000 litres local resident’s breathing and burning eyes.
  31. Because to take another example after almost four years and $1 billion they are still cleaning up the 2010 Enbridge spill in Kalamazoo Michigan which has caused adverse health effects to some 58% of local residents and killed more than 3000 turtles 170 birds 40 mammals and has essentially eliminated fish and macroinvertibrates from local freshwater habitats that have not recovered and might not ever.
  32. Because as Rex Weyler once said every drop of oil you don’t spill into the water still spills into our atmosphere as carbon dioxide, adding to global climate change.
  33. Because the climate is warming faster and more dangerously than previously believed and the science is clear—this is anthropogenic climate change and even NASA and the UN are warning of the potential collapse of industrial civilization due to unsustainable resource extraction and the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth and I learned this from 12 year old Ta’Kaiya Blaney.
  34. Because as a NASA funded report claims all societal collapses over the past 5000 years have involved both the exceeding of ecological carting capacities and the economic stratification of society into elites and commoners which factors co-implicate and yes we are collapsing too.
  35. Because it’s said that the 85 wealthiest individuals on the planet have the same assets as the poorest 3.5 billion yes half the earth’s population but who’s counting?
  36. Because in 2013 Kinder Morgan was valued at $110 billion and paid shareholder dividends of over $1.7 billion.
  37. Because Kinder Morgan’s CEO and former Enron executive Richard Kinder received over $60 million in salary in 2012 but including stock options made $1.1 billion or so the internet tells me but really who’s counting?
  38. Therefore we beings being life forms and forces of incredible diversity all equally in possession of every possible right to a full and healthy existence according to our various natures;
  39. Being so often concerned with how we might sustain our various existences and sometimes aware and sometimes unaware of our cohabitation, overlapping, and general spatial and temporal coexistence one with each other;
  40. Being so often shaped, limited, and determined by the fact of this coexistence and in many cases sometimes obviously and directly but oftentimes also curiously indirectly and in almost unnoticeable ways co-dependent and carefully balanced each against and with and upon all the others;
  41. Being multiple and stray and various and differently adapted to our diverse ecological niches and fragile continuities;
  42. And one of us being a species named homo sapiens being capable of directly and indirectly impacting all the other species including itself out of proportion to all the other species though no less co-dependent coexisting and no more or less entitled to a full and healthy existence according to its particular nature;
  43. So that this one species having or having asserted and effected a larger impact on all the other coexisting species thereby takes on a kind of mantle of responsibility due in part to this species capacity for self-awareness and modification of its behaviour which is social;
  44. Thus it is on these grounds that this species most directly responsible for environmental and ecological calamities and crises the world over for instance climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels due to the systematic exploitation of people and resources and the private accumulation of capital stands here today to admit these responsibilities and declare that it will no longer permit itself the capacity to unequally impact destroy or otherwise dispossess other life forms of their ability to continue in their coexistence;
  45. Or at least we aspire to strive for such responsible stewardship which we might learn from First Nations and of which the maintenance of a company to extract distribute or pipe fossil fuels takes no part;
  46. And so we as members of this particular species declare or should declare our unrelenting opposition to the plans operations activities and profit-motived machinations of Kinder Morgan, a corporation like any other made and capable of being unmade enabled and capable of being disabled by human beings much as ourselves;
  47. For Kinder Morgan is a company formed out of the body of another company (Enron) and through the purchase of another company (the publicly owned BC Gas Company) where disaster begets disaster just as profit promotes further profit and inequalities always escalate in this system;
  48. For Kinder Morgan is in the business of transporting and distributing fossil fuel energy products and is ultimately part of an industry that produces excessive profits for an elite few and massive ongoing and often unpredictable global consequences for all coexisting life forms on this planet via global warming and its uneven and unjust consequences which are a direct threat to life on this planet;
  49. And the consequences of climate change and global warming impact poor and struggling populations more directly and immediately than they impact those in wealthy nations which so often cause global warming in the first place through their excessive energy consumption and this is to say nothing of other animals which also do not burn fuel but bear the brunt of ecological crises nonetheless.
  50. We say this knowing that we are consumers in a largely affluent society who work for wages and use these wages to purchase consumer goods and thereby sometimes derive enjoyment and certainly our continued material existence;
  51. Who have for instance purchased automobiles which run on fossil fuels to drive perhaps to the store or perhaps on a vacation over sharp-terrained coastal mountains to peer into pristine lakes or possibly spot a bear upslope and loping away from us into a stand of second growth fir;
  52. Who run errands in those automobiles that are of ambiguous import and usefulness and who bring home large amounts of petroleum based plastic products containing processed foods and amusements we will soon dispose of;
  53. Who wear clothes also fashioned from those petroleum products and who have mobile phones that are very distracting and amusing and which are also made of petroleum based products and also contain rare earth metals extracted in disparate parts of the earth and brought to us so we may play Plants vs Zombies by ships and trucks also powered with fossil fuels;
  54. Who after six months still use only 1% of consumer goods we have purchased the rest being disposed of in landfills and oceans and manufacturing and consumption account for more than half of the carbon dioxide we produce pathologically gulping stuff down;
  55. Who did not necessarily mean to do anything harmful but fell for the sleekness of products and the way marketing campaigns made everything seem so sexy and easy and convenience became a truism almost no one could contradict;
  56. We know this yet still declare our opposition to oil pipelines, the tar sands and the entire fossil fuel industry knowing that we are as much a part of the problem as Kinder Morgan or any other company is;
  57. We acknowledge that to oppose this industry is to admit that we must change our lives and consume less and re-localize our economies and do without some and possible many of the consumer goods we have found so distracting and amusing and really whose to blame well we are;
  58. We acknowledge that there are alternative energy sources which are renewable and which will have decidedly less destructive impacts on local ecosystems and the global climate and that these alternatives are becoming more and more realistic and affordable each day and that many countries though not the country of Canada are making progress in transitioning to renewable energy sources and that some of these sources are solar, wind, and geothermal;
  59. We contend that the argument based on job creation is a red herring to employ an ecological metaphor because jobs have many sources and no one type of job should have precedent over any other and the goal anyway should be jobs that are life-promoting and life-sustaining and not life-destroying and apparently anyway more people are employed producing beer than oil in Canada.
  60. Now wouldn’t a beer pipeline be something hmm?
  61. So we declare ourselves to be for life and not for death and for the future and not for the apocalypse.
  62. We walk with these others look around you look others too saying we will no longer stand for a world of pipelines and tar sands and carbon sinks burning futures.
  63. We will no longer burn our futures for unequal and unjust todays however fascinating and filled with distractions and privileges.
  64. We will no longer stand for a world of waste and petroleum products and no thoughts of future consequences of our acts and we will try not to contribute to the problem by say allowing more pipelines to be built and more oil spilled and burned more suffering delivered to so many left outside of benefit.
  65. We will take what actions are necessary despite government decisions media misrepresentations and corporate swindling we will act because we make up whatever we we can imagine it’s complicated but simple too we are and have the real power we just don’t always exercise or feel we can exercise it we can we will.
  66. And these streams we cross and re-cross daily and the smallest of organisms dwelling in and around them we recognize are as real and valid as anything else even more than a designer home overlooking the ocean or Las Vegas or a container ship filled with rubber ducks and certainly far less destructive.
  67. And we recognize that the temptations are great and people are bought off every day and we are very frail and small and temporary individually but can we also agree that we are many and they are few as has been said many times and in many ways?
  68. Now let’s see what we can do walking together along the path of this pipeline or walking to the place we can gather and blockade the new pipelines coming.
  69. Now come outside in the weather we are blossoming.
  70. Now come outside something’s in the air it could be tomorrow we could be different there together if we start today come outside together.


Written for the “People’s Procession,” read at the conclusion of the march and attached to the gates of Kinder Morgan’s Westridge Marine Terminal, Burnaby BC, April 12 2014