Grace Cagle is a 22 year old, from the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. She tells me she doesn’t consider herself an activist, but “a person aware of the injustices in this society who is willing and privileged enough to be able to resist those creating injustice.” That’s what she did a few weeks ago, when she spent some time as one of the “tree sitters” with the Tar Sands Blockade.
I’m primarily going to let her tell her story, including her reasons for getting involved with the Tar Sands actions. Though there are certainly overlaps, the unique perspectives and experiences of each are one of the best ways to gain understanding about the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline and those who are actively opposing the project. That includes understanding how the project affects us.
From Grace: (emphasis added)
In April of this year a group of my friends who had been doing anti-fracking (hydraulic fracturing) work in our home town learned that there were folks in East Texas ready to resist the Keystone XL pipeline. The idea for doing a tree-sit got all of us hooked. The borderline obsession we had with the project ended up with us building a website for the Tar Sands Blockade. … Local groups that have been working in the area for years BOLD raised awareness about the dangers of the tar sands and created a general dislike for TransCanada, the corporation building the pipe, long before we rolled into town.
That’s the way of activism, or in Grace’s words, of those aware of injustice who resist it — it builds on and works with the efforts of others. It recognizes the long-term process involved.
I asked Grace to talk about the actual tree-sitting experience. She did that, but took it a helpful step further, drawing some comparisons.
Living in a tree is difficult for logistical reasons and can be isolating. I would spend a lot of time thinking about how my actions relate to how others are forced into difficult positions by the fossil fuel industries. We had to haul up our own water, similarly to those who have to import water after their native sources have been contaminated by fracking and mining. As for the technicalities we used standard arborist and tree-sitting procedures passed down from other campaigns. Tarps are our defense against the wind and rain but ‘tarpology’ is difficult to master so persistent rain generally results in getting wet. … The combination of constant surveillance and loud construction wears on one mentally. Early on we had people on the ground to help us if necessary but there hasn’t been anyone below for a while since the tree sits are self-sustaining.
Ethan Nuss, with the Blockade, told me they “maintain a couple of folks in the tree blockade at all times.” Other actions are occurring but the tree-sitting continues as a key component.
Back to Grace:
Being eighty feet in the air when the clearing crews came through was the most terrifying thing I have experienced. The forest was ripped down around me and I felt like I came down a different person. Since then I have been dealing with post traumatic stress and social anxiety, but the bottom line is that I put myself there by choice and had the ability to leave, unlike most people whose homes have been desecrated by these industries.
Speaking directly to the impact of tar sands extraction, and of the Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast pipeline, Grace sums things up:
As a Texan, I’m concerned about the potential of a tar sand leak to damage the aquifers and rivers that are the life blood of this bio-region, especially in the current drought. Furthermore, Keystone XL will open the flood gates to the tar sands mines in Alberta, the largest carbon bomb in North America, potentially exasperating the droughts and extreme weather.
The path of this pipeline is like a map of power and poverty. From the mining pits to the petrochemical complexes in Houston and Port Arthur, those most affected are clearly rural people with little money and people of color. I want to stand with my neighbors to defend what is sacred to us on what little of this planet we have left.
Advocacy requires all kinds of support and actions, and it includes all kinds of people.
I am so inspired by the community of Nacogdoches. They are some of the most accepting people I have met and have been critical to sustaining the blockade. The folks I have met here are very in touch with the gravity of tar sand extraction and have inspired us all by rising up to defend their home here in the piney woods.
See my earlier post, Construction of KXL Section Halted by Judge Over Landowner’s Fraud Claim, to learn about landowner Mike Bishop’s actions.
For those directly involved in the Blockade actions, arrests are common.
Three of my friends were arrested in our last action where the blockaders occupied a tar sand pipe that would pump the caustic concoction through a neighborhood. They are being held in jail on an outrageously high bail of 65,000 dollars each.
For more about that read “Visiting Our Friends in Jail” at Tar Sands Blockade.
Looking ahead, Grace offers this:
The Blockade is planning to continue to stand with land owners in Texas and in solidarity with those fighting extraction around the world. We will continue following the pipeline and doing strategic actions with affected communities. I love working with the blockaders and I am constantly inspired by their energy and creativity.
I’ve been posting regularly about the Tar Sands Blockade, and related actions, and will continue doing so. But to get more information and daily updates, visit Tar Sands .
Thanks to Grace for providing us with a close-up perspective of a “person aware of the injustices in this society who is willing and privileged enough to be able to resist those creating injustice.”
(Grace Cagle photo courtesy of Tar Sands Blockade)