Observations from the Portland sHell No Protest

Thirteen activists were the only thing stopping Royal Dutch Shell’s MSV Fennica icebreaker, in Portland for repairs before sailing back to the Arctic to assist in drilling for oil. Suspended and tethered to one another while hanging from the iconic St. Johns Bridge as part of a Greenpeace aerial blockade of the Willamette River, the Greenpeace activists were accompanied by “kayaktavists,” who started a 24-hour watch in the adjacent Cathedral Park.

Greenpeace-organized activists took the bridge around 3 am, July 29, suspending themselves from the bridge about 100 feet up to stop the Fennica from departing the nearby Vigor Industrial ship repair yard.

Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard says that the “climbers” had enough food and supplies to last them for days; however, the climbers wouldn’t make it more than two days before authorities ended the standoff by slowly herding the kayaktavists, using threats of a mass arrest as well as trying to hook kayaks with gaffs away from beneath the bridge before going to remove the climbers so the ship could pass without killing or maiming anyone.

The kayaktavists and climbers did get a boost from Portland Rising Tide member Jonah Majure, who locked his neck to the nearby Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge with a U-lock — forcing authorities to cut him loose before the bridge could raise and allow the Fennica‘s passage to the St. Johns Bridge.

Majure stands accused of criminal trespass, according to the Oregonian.

A group of protesters, with myself in tow, drove to the railroad bridge to provide assistance but were thwarted by the Portland Police Bureau, who had cut off the bridge’s access points. I decided to go on my own and headed back to the road leading away from the bridge, but a Burlington Northern rail police truck appeared and threatened to arrest myself and 31-year-old Portland Rising Tide and Iraq Veterans Against the War member Ary Lavallee.

Lavallee, who moved to Portland from Boston, had also driven from Cathedral Park to the rail bridge.

Lavallee drove his truck in reverse away from the narrow road leading to the bridge as I ran behind his truck to keep away from the rail police truck as it advanced and gave orders over a loudspeaker. I assumed Lavallee was there for similar reasons, so he offered to get me out of there. I jumped in and we fled the immediate area. Lavallee was on the river at times and was also helping the kayaktavists in a support role.

The authorities, which counted the Coast Guard as well as several different flavors of Portland area law enforcement agencies along with the Oregon State police, were acting “very aggressively” and were “corralling, pushing and threatening people” in their attempts to clear the Willamette, says 49-year-old self-described Earth protector and community-supported organizer Carlo Voli, who came down from Washington to offer his assistance.

A Multnomah County Sheriff’s boat ran over a kayaker, creating quite a stir as the video made rounds through the news and social media.

Portland vs. Shell organizer Antonio Zamora says he was detained twice by the Coast Guard, and the second time he was charged with “a federal misdemeanor.”

“The Coast Guard and Oregon State Police were brutal and broke laws today for the Shell boat Fennica,” writes kayaktavist Gregory Sotir.

A number of people on the Willamette were detained but not arrested or cited. “The Coast Guard came up next to me, requested I move back. I did not. They requested again, and I did not. Then they pulled me up into their boat,” says Chris Kutruff. “They were completely professional, and I wasn’t injured in any way.”

Kutruff was released a short time later. “I couldn’t be more proud of Portland,” says Kutruff, a 27-year-old who grew up in Southern California.

Connor DeVane was in a double kayak with a friend, and they were on the water standing against the Fennica. He says a private security boat escorting the Fennica collided with them. “We took on water and capsized,” DeVane says.

The kayaktavists’ safety boat pulled up alongside and tried to use a bilge pump to get the kayak back into action, but the Coast Guard came and “detained the girl in the safety boat” and a Multnomah County Sheriff boat pulled up “and asked us to climb into the boat. They were extremely friendly,” DeVane says. But DeVane, a 23-year-old from New Orleans, also says that “the fight’s not over.”

“It was beautiful to watch,” Voli says regarding the combined efforts of everyone involved in the protest against the Fennica. “It was just incredibly inspiring to watch so many kayaktavists out on the water really throwing down and not caring about the consequences or legal implications.”

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