People vs sHell: An account from the blockade


Maintaining the blockade day and night.

It was a beautiful moment to see sHell’s Fennica icebreaker turned back by our human blockade taking its stand at the St. Johns bridge: 13 people suspended from the bridge, a wall of kayaks in the water and all backed up by dedicated support staff on shore. Compared to the size of the ship, they looked like tiny insects, yet for the moment, victory was ours.

It was 28 hours earlier, as the camp in Cathedral Park was just stirring for the planned 4 a.m. kayak blockade, that people started to notice the activists one by one dropping down from the side of the 200 foot tall span. They seemed like little spiders as they slowly lowered down, connecting lines between themselves, creating the web that would block the ship for 40 hours.

sHell No Cathedral-3

Kayak training teaching safety, formations and action strategy

The action started on Tuesday, July 28th at noon in Cathedral Park. Canopy tents were set up, numerous kayaks began to arrive and supplies such as food, night lights, water, etc. were donated. It took some hours for the ‘base camp’ to take shape. A good number of kayaktivists came down from Seattle and their energy and experience were essential in organizing the kayaks, doing trainings for those wanting to go out on the water and creating an effective launching point for the actions to come.

Once the bridge activists had established their aerial blockade, the kayaktivists did not need to keep everyone out on the water in the early am as the Fennica was not moving. The police closed the bridge for a short time, but it was a pointless action that only inconvenienced bridge goers. The activists hanging on the side were not even blocking foot traffic, let alone car traffic.

The police also stopped cars from entering the park for a bit, but it too was pointless. It is a public park and nobody in the park was doing anything illegal. There were also people coming to the park to launch boats or walk their dogs who had nothing to do with the ongoing action.


The streaming banners pointing towards the Fennica. Go Back!

As Wednesday morning moved on into the afternoon, there was no movement from the Fennica though it was hours past its planned departure. It was clear that they did not yet have a plan of how to pass the blockade. All through the day more kayaks and more people who wanted to be in kayaks showed up. By the late afternoon there was a long line of people waiting to check in and become part of the kayak swarm. At one point I counted over 70 kayaks (including a couple canoes).

It was in the afternoon that the bridge activists unfurled their long streaming yellow and red banners. They looked so beautiful stretched out together in the wind. It was such a compelling sight! That along with the great comraderie in the park and on the water, all the people working hard on little sleep, yet still being so good natured and loving, were altogether a balm for the heart. This stuff is serious! Climate change is actual and the fate of human society truly hangs in the balance. Each month we get more ominous news about accelerating ice melt and sea level change, world-wide droughts, heatwaves (and here), unprecedented wildfire outbreaks (here and here), etc.

I believe we do not acknowledge enough to each other how frightening this is. Climate change is not something that is coming. It is here and we are in it and it is completely and utterly real. No amount of marketing, positive messaging, denial or wishful thinking can escape the physics of a warming world that has so far this year passed 1°C. If the second half of 2015 continues like the first, and projections are that due to the current El Niño it will, 2015 with break the record for hottest year by a full 1/10th of a degree.


Kayaks like fireflies on the water

This is the backdrop that gives people a sense of urgency, that has them staying up all night, risking themselves, hanging off of bridges in 103° heat, sitting in a fragile little kayak facing a massive ship and the various police agencies who may arrest them. These are acts of courage and love in the face of a society that has forgotten what is important. No amount of earnings can replace a healthy planet. There is no dollar value to clean air, clean water and a balanced eco-system. We are completely dependent on our enviroment and without it, we ourselves cannot survive.

So when the Fennica turned around and went back to the dry dock on Thursday morning, an incredible cheer rose up from the people… not just in Portland, but around the world. Maybe — just maybe — the folly of drilling in the Arctic can be stopped!


With more people we could have turned that ship around yet again and one could sense that the ship knew it.

But by Thursday afternoon, the plan was in place to corral the kayakers using more than a dozen police boats, while up on the bridge, a police tactical unit rappelled down and cut the lines connecting the activists and forced 3 of them down. This created just enough space for the ship to fit through. One brave activist locked himself down to the railroad bridge, preventing it from being lifted to let the ship through. It did not take long to remove him and now only the kayaks stood in the way of the ship’s departure.

By then, the Fennica was past the railroad bridge and slowly moving towards the St. Johns. Kayaks did their best to avoid the police boats and jet-skis and get in front of the Fennica, and indeed at one point the ship was forced to come to a halt. Bit by bit though, it moved forward and finally passed through the blockade that had held it for more than a day and a half. It was a deeply poignant moment and a couple people nearby were quietly sobbing.

We were the only thing standing between sHell and its objective. This day as the ship inched through the gap opened by the police, the drilling in the Arctic commenced.

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