I've known some of the sitters for years. We started off organizing small rallies and protests at the University of North Texas - the usual, a forum here, a documentary screening there. Now some of my best friends are sitting in trees to halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Winnsboro, Texas.
I still remember the look on my friend Cindy Spoon's face as we sat around a fire, contemplating how the Tar Sands Blockade might play out and trying to give each other the mutual strength we would need to move forward in this fight.
"We shouldn't have to be doing this," she said as the embers lit up her face that night.
I don't think I've ever agreed more. My friends shouldn't be up there right now. One should be playing music in a band; another should be backpacking across South America; another should be starting his life in Montana; still another should be making handmade goods for his home business.
They're up there because they believe it's up to us slow the literal tides of climate change, and they're up there to defend homes and families in East Texas.
"There are a lot of things we can do that feel really good, or feel effective because it's what we know, it's what we're comfortable with, and then there's taking a good hard look at the situation that we're really in, and really understanding just how bad things are," one tree-sitter told Truthout before he went up to stay indefinitely. "It's been a really difficult journey."
The Keystone XL pipeline is set to deliver toxic tar sands bitumen from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast through Texas landowner David Daniel's backyard - that is, if these climate justice activists don't shut the pipeline down first with direct action.
Two Texas-born organizers, Shannon Bebe from Lake Dallas and Benjamin Franklin, a small-business owner from Houston, locked down to a backhoe working nearly 300 yards away from the tree village Tuesday to defend their friends in the trees. The blockaders alleged that they were subjected to pain compliance tactics from police under the active encouragement of TransCanada's senior supervisors. They were arrested Tuesday and released early Wednesday morning.
The tree-sit continues for a third day despite an unprecedented escalation in police and industry violence toward peaceful blockaders. Some of the activists say TransCanada supervisors encouraged deputies with the Wood County Sherriff's Department to use pain compliance tactics that included sustained chokeholds, violent arm-twisting, pepper spray, and multiple uses of Tasers, all while blockaders were in handcuffs.
"As someone who has a religious dedication to nonviolence, I have a duty to assist nonviolent tactics," Franklin said before he was pepper sprayed and tased Tuesday.
"This is a path to change that works. I had a childhood spent in the piney woods of Texas, and they contain a beauty that haunts me, still. Driving up here and then walking amongst the trees and their sitters reminded me of the beauty I experienced in childhood. That in and of itself is reason to be here defending it," he said.
A plainclothes police officer was among the most aggressive officers to implement pain compliance, according to blockaders who locked down. He put Franklin in a chokehold, cutting off his breathing, and bent him over backwards in an attempt to make him pass out. Franklin reports difficulty swallowing because of bruises sustained to his esophagus.