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Just Peace-people power

I submitted this essay to a national newspaper; don't know if they'll accept it. Regardless, I thought it worthwhile to post here because it discusses people power, the power of the masses to wage struggle together and make change happen. I defend this sort of struggle, even if it takes up civil disobedience. In fact, I beleive there are situations where taking up arms against oppressors or occupiers is necessary and defendable.

Today I am only talking of the combined forces that make up the opposition to oil pipeline expansion in my region. Regional mass and ruling party opinion is clearly against the expansion, though the federal government supports it, as well as the government of the source province where the oil is piped from, which just so happens to be of the same political party of the provincially governing party in this province, British Columbia.

As I point out in the essay, this anti-pipeline expansion movement is huge and composed of diverse groups and sectors. A multiplicity of organizations or doing what they deem fitting, from letter-writing and petitioning to street protests and direct action. Here is the piece.

(March 8, 2018)

                The most precious resource of British Columbia is its people. Their magnificent will and strength is proven time and again, and none so more as in response to the threats of humungous and reckless resource extraction projects. No, it has never been Russian rubles that have stopped clear-cut logging, dam or pipeline construction and preserved huge chunks of the land; rather, it is the magnanimous spirit, profound commitment, phenomenal spirit and home-grown ingenuity of British Columbians, and some allies south of the border, that have pulled through despite high odds.

         I have been a witness as an activist over the years. This is the land of the epic battles to save the Clayoquot Sound and Meares Island that broadened the system of land preserves in the province. This is the birthplace of Greenpeace. Its great metropolis is where nuclear power or weapons are banned, the city that saw thousands of peace and anti-nuclear marchers year after year in the 80s, I among them with sweaty brow and sore feet.

        The environmentalists taught us great lessons about the value of nature and the importance of maintaining it so as use and enjoy natural resources in the future. These lessons got absorbed into the regional ethos. We also learned of the perils of dependency on single export materials and the havoc that multinational corporations can wreak, informing the “anti-globalization” movements. Relations with indigenous people and labour were built by focusing on shared concerns. Environmental concerns pushed forward transit expansion, car sharing, bicycling strategizing, energy saving methods and recycling programs into the 90s and on. I, myself, took on the problems around mining by the late 90s.

      The mobilizations against oil pipeline, storage and shipping expansion right at my doorstep in the Westridge district of Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, have got me reflecting. They began with the successful and galvanizing opposition to an expansion atop Burnaby Mountain in 2015. That movement has grown; it is multi-sectoral, multi-faceted and under a rainbow of political ideals with one simple goal of stopping the expansion. It is marvelous how the contributions, from petitions to street protests, from letter-writing to dinner table and classroom discussions, are drawing in the masses of every age and walk of life and building a cooperative force of goodwill and steadfast determination that may become greater and wiser than the old anti-nukes movement.

      As I child, I used to gaze across Burnaby Lake and see the huge and chunky green storage tanks on Burnaby Mountain below the university and conservation area, and the eternal flames soaring from two refineries, one at each end of the small mountain. There are 14 storage tanks on the south side. There are three refineries: two on the inlet on the north and east sides owned by Suncor and one to the west owned by Chevron.  A fourth plant has only functioned as a storage site on Burrard Inlet for about 20 years. Suncor and Kinder Morgan (KM) have terminals. Chevron and KM have partnered to increase the oil tanker berth to three, which will increase inlet marine traffic seven times. They also hope to double the number of storage tanks on the Burnaby shoreline from 13 to 26, a plan that the Burnaby Fire Department staunchly opposes. Do you get our concern yet? Don’t worry, because they are going to paint them a light colour so as to reduce the emissions.

      I trip over the pipe heads that warn of jet fuel along a pipeline in my neighbourhood that broke in 2016 and leaked the stuff into houses and gardens. This 24-inch pipeline comes from Strathcona County, Alberta, via the Transmountain (TM) line. Laid in the 70s, KM, who also ships crude oil into the US, wants to not only upgrade but enlarge the TM line.

        In a packed hall last week, I listened to Amy George of the tiny Tsleil-waultuth nation (North Vancouver), granddaughter of famed Chief Dan George, who is heading the Save the Inlet campaign. Describing the wasteland of the tar sands excavations, she told of the grave health problems she has seen that humans, animals and plants suffer in their vicinity. She spoke of the high cancer rates among people living around US oil fields, too. How much have metro Van residents been harmed already? She urged everyone to unite to stop pipeline expansion for the good of all. Indigenous groups have often lead ceremonies, talks and actions on this subject; I, like 2,000 others, followed First Nations elders gratefully and joyously for 12 klicks through Vancouver to the Westridge Marine Terminal (WMT) in 2017 as part of the glorious Walk for the Salish Sea caravan. Save the Inlet elders will lead a dignified march to the WMT again this Saturday.

        Everyone is digging in her heels and stepping up the fight. While the government goes about an environmental assessment process, those in the grassroots are meeting, walking, sending in more postcards and protesting. The inexperienced have been moved to take action. It is truly awe-inspiring. They give up personal time and funds. They drum up support. They work hard for the common good. I have stood in the rain urging passersby to make a pledge. I have been at the WMT in the darkness before dawn to join others in trying to impede KM by holding up vehicles along adjacent roads.

Such is the magnificent and beautiful essence of BC. This is the greatest energy of the land. This is what is most worth saving.

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