A group of Missoula activists hopes to put a Montana stamp on next month’s protest rally against a fossil fuel refinery in Anacortes, Washington.
“It’s going to take people in the streets protesting for social change,” said retired University of Montana professor Lee Metzgar, one of about a dozen people at a planning meeting for the May 13 rally. “We need some kind of popular movement on the order of the Civil Rights movement. Otherwise there’s no hope the established political process will solve this in time.”
The members of 350 Missoula, an offshoot of the 350.org international network of global warming activists, intend to send a contingent of both observers and potential civil disobedience objectors to Anacortes. That rally is scheduled to be one of six regional demonstrations in the United States calling for public commitment to the Paris climate accords, which President Barack Obama has signed. The accords ask more than 200 signing nations to keep global temperatures from warming another 1.5 degrees Celsius by restraining growth and use of fossil fuels.
The group plans training sessions on Tuesday and on May 3 for both land-based and water-based protests. They’re doing so in a state with the nation’s largest proven coal reserves and a significant slice of the Bakken Oil Field on its eastern quarter. They met in Missoula’s Union Hall, a building dedicated to the fight for worker’s rights a century ago.
“We’re going to have an attorney at some of the training if folks want to be arrested, so they know how to respond and what their rights are,” said Carol MacIntyre, who is also coordinating the banners and artwork for the Montana contingent. “The other training is for the legal observers, who are there to document how the police treat people but step back and not be a part of the action at all.”
Meeting organizer Jeff Smith said climate activists are trying to affect both local decisions like the expansion of oil refinery and export operations at Anacortes and larger matters like the refocusing of global power usage.
“We’re at a moral junction where any investment in fossil fuel infrastructure takes money away from where we need to go,” Smith said. “It’s a myth that we’re years away from functional renewable energy from solar, wind and water. In this country, we’ve always been the people who choose to do the difficult, if not impossible, things. We can apply that entrepreneurial spirit to this.”
Documentary filmmaker Robbie Liben agreed that the United States has a history of abrupt economic changes for the public good, exemplified by the transformation during World War II necessary to defeat the Nazis.
“Montana is ground zero for everything that’s going on for fossil fuel energy,” Liben said. “If we can move things toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuel here, we can do it anywhere.”