TPA’s Texans of the Year are the Tar Sands Blockaders
“As with previous winners (like Fort Worth city council member Joel Burns in 2010, the Harris County Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign in 2008, and Carolyn Boyle of Texas Parent PAC in 2006), the Tar Sands Blockaders represent what progressive Texans strive for: correcting injustices through direct action. Sometime that takes place at the ballot box, sometimes in the courtroom, and once in a while it happens in the streets. In 2012, it happened in a handful of pine trees in East Texas,” said Vince Leibowitz, president of the TPA.
The Tar Sands Blockade began when TransCanada, the pipeline company constructing the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, began seizing property from East Texans via eminent domain to connect the pipeline, which will transport tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur. Despite the fact that the pipeline hasn’t yet been approved by the US Department of State, TransCanada and other operators have been busily cutting down swaths of forest, appropriating the land along the route as necessary, and when challenged by the small group of people protesting, responded with threatening measures and occasionally brute force.
When petitioning, lobbying, and public hearings failed to slow the construction of the pipeline, concerned citizens took to non-violent protests, risking arrest in order to demonstrate the will and demands of Texans concerned about the environment, about the nation’s continuing dependence on dirty fuels, and the collaboration of government officials with the corporate interests. A group of protestors climbed into a stand constructed in a grove of pine trees and halted construction for weeks.
As construction began in August, protestors began putting themselves on the line. Seven protestors were arrested in Livingston, Texas just before the Labor Day holiday. Even as a judge allowed TransCanada to seize a swath of farmland in Paris, Texas, more protestors chained themselves to construction equipment in rural Hopkins County.
Along with the property owner, actress and activist Daryl Hannah was arrested as the two women physically blocked a piece of heavy equipment and its operator from clearing land for the pipeline. Even as the number of arrests climbed past thirty, the protests grew. A few days before the November election, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was arrested at the construction site in Winnsboro. In Cherokee County, sheriff’s deputies pepper-sprayed protesters. All of this occurred while the legal battle went back and forth — in December, a judge granted, then vacated, his temporary restraining order on pipeline construction.
And the efforts to stop the pipeline continue today, even as pipeline construction proceeds apace. On November 29, Bob Lindsey and prominent environmental activist Diane Wilson were arrested by Harris County sheriff’s deputies outside Valero’s refinery in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, where the pipeline will terminate. They chained themselves to tanker trucks outside the gates, were promptly taken into custody, and continue a hunger strike to this day that adds the humiliating and disgusting conditions of Harris County’s jail to the list of outrages.
With training and mobilization of additional protests and protestors scheduled for early January, 2013, there will be more to report on this action.
The Texas Progressive Alliance salutes those who have sacrificed so much of themselves to underscore the seriousness of America’s fossil fuel addiction, and how the system of corporate and political corruption has come to manifest itself in the controversy surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline.
Runners-up for this year’s Texan of the Year included the following…
— The emerging scandal of the Texas cancer research organization, CPRIT;
— The spectacular failure of Governor Rick Perry’s presidential campaign;
— Attorney General Greg Abbott’s woeful losing record in court in his many lawsuits related to the federal government, including redistricting, voter ID, Obamacare, etc.;
— Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who defied conventional wisdom and was re-elected to the Texas Senate despite the best efforts of Republicans to deny her;
— The expansion of the Texas Congressional delegation to 36 as a result of the 2010 census and apportionment of extra seats based on population growth in the Lone Star State. New Texans in Washington DC include former Democratic state representatives Pete Gallego and Marc Veazey, but also — and unfortunately — ultraconservatives Randy Weber and Steve Stockman.