Environment  
comments_image Comments

Uprising in Montana: Activists Take a Stand Against Coal Exports

Five days of civil disobedience took place in Montana to protest the coal industry’s latest scheme to save itself from obsolescence.
 
 
Share

Photo Credit: Rae Breaux www.coalexportaction.org

 
 
 
 

 

It wasn’t as big as we’d hoped. These things never are, until, well, they are.

It didn’t really matter though: Hundreds converged from across the country for the Coal Export Action and 23 participated in five days of civil disobedience in protest of the coal industry’s latest scheme to save itself from obsolescence. The message we sent reverberated around the state capitol here in Helena, MT: We will not sit idly by while King Coal attempts to export coal from the Powder River Basin through port towns in Oregon and Washington to Asian energy markets.

Every day, people sat-in in the middle of the Montana statehouse until it closed at 6 pm. At 5:30, the nervous facilities manager, Marv Eicholtz, would awkwardly give the larger group the first dispersal order. At 5:50, he’d issue a second one with Helena policemen standing in the background. At 6 pm, Eicholtz would approach and say, “I’m giving you the third and final dispersal warning. Anyone refusing to leave the building will be turned over to the Helena Police Dept.” Those not risking arrested would circle around those sitting in and ask them why we were going to jail, sing civil rights songs, or chant. They’d then quickly leave and wait outside as the police brought the arrestees out to idling sheriff’s vans and took them to the Lewis and Clark county jail.

Every day for five days this routine happened over and over. By the end of the week, 23 had been arrested. Most of the arrestees were from Montana, Oregon and Washington—all states expected to be impacted by coal exports, coal trains and expanded western coal mining. 

On the fourth day, I joined the sit-in with my friends Griff (an Episcopal minister from Portland), Jasmine and Gloria (who are Rising Tide organizers in Portland and Chicago, respectively), and younger activists Mia and Kai’l (both from Portland). Every day was a theme day, and on our day it was “climate change day.” Quite fitting since everyone arrested that day had worked on climate campaigns from Appalachia to the South Side of Chicago to Oregon port towns at one time or another. All six of us opted not to pay the $340 bond and be bailed out. We spent the night in the Lewis and Clark county lock up in general population, a small sacrifice for making a statement against coal exports.

Montana Rising

The Coal Export Action was initiated and led by grassroots, youth, and student organizers from Montana, Oregon, and Washington, most of them affiliated with the Blue Skies Campaign and the Cascade Climate Network. It was also supported by a number of environmental and climate groups like Rainforest Action Network, 350.org, and Rising Tide North America. It was inspired by the Tar Sands Action called for by writer Bill McKibben at the White House in 2011, which resulted in over 1,200 arrests. Some of the 23 arrested in Helena last week were also participants in the actions at the White House. 

For months, we’d organized, done outreach, and built a buzz calling on people from the coastal and mountain regions of the West to join the Coal Export Action. It was eight days of rolling sit-ins and protests at the Montana statehouse designed to pressure the state’s land board to deny Arch Coal’s permit application to mine Otter Creek and create a new source of greenhouse gas emissions. 

While not the same size as the Tar Sands Action, the Coal Exports Action was not lacking in spirit. Noted Montana environmental writer and poet Rick Bass sat-in and was arrested on the first day with six others. On the second day, three Montana men sat in and were arrested. On the third day, a group of women called “Montana Women For” led a ladies-only occupation of the capitol rotunda. On the fourth day, our climate crew was arrested. On the last day, three men were taken away.

 
See more stories tagged with: