Social Movements

As new pipelines get built, more people are standing in the way

Originally printed on November 27, 2017 on occupy.com

Reprinted on Nation of Change

Energy companies are notorious for their insistence and tenacity in creating new pipeline projects. Just look at TransCanada’s reviled Keystone XL, which took nine years to win approval earlier this month by Nebraska regulators, although the project’s future still hangs in the air.

The fact is, despite the damage they continue to cause to human health and the environment, investment in oil and gas industry infrastructure remains stable. The United States has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world, with more than 2.5 million miles of pipe on or underground. The American Petroleum Institute, one of the most powerful lobbying arms of the fossil fuel industry, estimates that investment in oil and gas will remain more than $80 billion annually until after 2020, at which point it will decrease to $60 billion by 2025.

Readers may find this continued support for fossil fuels surprising, not least given that global oil prices have fallen sharply over the past couple of years. Pipelines remain extremely dangerous and unreliable. Nonetheless, projects are continuing apace, as demonstrated by the industry’s relentless efforts to battle against and wear out protesters from the Keystone XL to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

For example, Enbridge Energy, from Canada, is proposing a replacement of its old Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, which was installed in the 1960s and is now considered too costly to remove. Instead, the company is seeking to build a new $7.5 billion pipeline to replace it. To make matters worse, all of the crude oil that doesn’t leak from Line 3 will be burned, releasing a vast stream of carbon into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Energy Transfer Partners, the Fortune 500 company that is building the Dakota Access Pipeline across the Standing Rock Sioux’s tribal land, is also busy constructing Mariner East 2, a pipeline in the West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania regions to carry crude oil to refineries in Philadelphia. ETP is also behind contentious projects like Bayou Bridge in Louisiana and Trans-Pecos in Texas.

But make no mistake: the implementation of these pipelines isn’t easy. Across the nation, energy companies are increasingly being accused of malicious, often illegal tactics to subdue resistance and keep protestors at bay. The violent events that took place during the DAPL occupation in North Dakota provide enough evidence of this.

RESISTANCE IS RISING

Yet even amid the companies’ growing use of scare tactics and secret maneuvers, citizens are ramping up direct action. People have braved the elements and matched the energy giants with their own brand of force, as residents nationwide turn to a mix of creative and traditional tactics to halt as many projects as they can.

For example, in late September, people participated in a “Hold the Line” rally in the Minnesota State Capitol to protest the Line 3 project. Among them was 70-year-old Minnesotan David Johnson, who said he would stand firm against large energy companies despoiling their state.

“I didn’t want to [be a speaker], but I love this land,” he said. “It’s a pretty isolated part of the county right on the edge of the vast wetlands. There’s lots of wildlife and very few people. I don’t want it threatened by the pipeline and their access roads and the potential leaks.”

Also in September, angry residents in Superior, WI, took more drastic and visible measures through direct action. Unicorn Riot reported that citizens overturned cars to block the way to the pipeline construction site, and chained themselves to the cars.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, four residents filed a federal lawsuit against Energy Transfer Partners claiming that the company had violated their constitutional rights, harassed landowners and caused emotional distress to pipeline protestors.

“Since May of 2015, every day of my life has been affected by the plans to build this pipeline, and the lengths that Energy Transfer Partners will go to in the pursuit of profit,” said plaintiff Elise Gerhart, who lives on property that the pipeline will cross. “We’ve been needlessly harassed by agencies and violently threatened by individuals who’ve been intentionally incited and mobilized.”

Citizens are increasingly challenging the process by which energy companies seize private property for the use of pipelines, known as eminent domain, generating more controversy over the issue. And people-powered organizations like 350.org are leading campaigns to remove the source of funding for these projects by getting big banks to divest from fossil fuels.

In some cases, environmental agencies are also doing their part to block unsafe aspects of these pipeline projects, like in North Carolina, where the Department of Environment Quality rejected the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s erosion control plan.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that pipelines remain unreliable, prone to damage, disrepair and devastating leaks, energy companies continue to treat their bottom line as the only factor when making decisions. As a result, more and more citizens are stepping up to hold companies accountable for their actions, and for their lies, using all the legislative, judicial, financial, political, physical and other creative tactics at their disposal.

From Italy to Iceland: The Promise of Digital, Direct Democracy

Originally printed on www.occupy.com on May 8, 2013

Reprinted on Truthout

Reprinted on Mint Press News

The use of the Internet as a means of spreading political ideas and organizing social movements has sent shock waves throughout the political establishment over the last few years. And as political and economic elites scramble to seize total control over what is currently a free, transparent and equal online environment, citizen activists and other individuals are paving the way for a new type of political mobilization never yet seen. Their tactics include direct democracy and a complete disregard for current political parties. The movement that has perhaps best embodied this trend is “Il movimento cinque stelle,” or the Five Star Movement in Italy.

Beppe Grillo, the leader and main spokesman of M5S, has built the movement’s status and influence chiefly through one medium: the Internet. What began as a blog for his political ranting evolved into a formidable political movement. In the middle of 2005, Grillo launched a “Meetup” station on his blog. He encouraged those who were intrigued by his ideas to begin to meet up in person and to begin to organize face-to-face.

Around 2009, the movement began to take root. Grillo, with the help of his friend and “digital guru” Robert Casaleggio, toured 73 locations around Italy, building an online presence and galvanizing a young, distraught and indignant Italian population whose youth are stuck with a 35 percent unemployment rate.

The five stars, representing the core principles of Grillo’s movement – public water, sustainable transport, development, connectivity, and environmentalism, not to mention a staunch anti-corruption and anti-austerity stance – resonated with the aggravated Italian population; the party secured 25.5% of the vote in Italy’s general election held in February, which equated to 163 of the Italian Parliament’s 630 total seats, denying the frontrunner Pier Luigi Bersani the clear majority he needed to form a working government.

On top of that, the Five Star Movement used perhaps the most important tactic yet: it will not, Grillo vowed, form a coalition government with either of Italy’s two major political parties, which Grillo has deemed are corrupt beyond repair. In an early move to show the movement’s commitment to transparency, public transport, the environment and access to water, one of the M5S’s delegates posted his lunch bill on the Internet, while others took public transport to Parliament — only to be dismayed that the water in Parliament must be drunk with a plastic cup.

On another important front, the Pirate Party — devoted to reforming copyright and patent law, protecting civil liberties and promoting direct democracy and transparency in government — has stormed into parliament in several different countries in Europe in recent years.

The party was officially founded in Sweden on January 1, 2006, with the launch of a website by Rick Falkvinge, the Pirate Party’s founder. In the Swedish elections that took place nine months later, the party garnered .63% of the vote. The Swedish Pirate Party (Piratpartiet) received about .7 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections in 2010, making it the largest Swedish political party outside of Parliament (it did not win any seats). Most importantly, in 2009, the Pirate Party got 7% of the Swedish votes for the 2009 European Parliament elections, which earned the party two seats in the European Parliament after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

In Germany, the Pirate Party (Piratenpartei) captured 8.9 percent of the vote in Berlin in 2011, winning 15 out of 141 seats in the city parliament. Last year, the Pirates received 7.4% of the vote to win four seats in Saarland; 8.2%, or six seats, in Schleswig-Holstein, and 7.8%, or 20 seats, in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Further north, on April 27 of this year, the Pirate Party took three of 63 seats in the Icelandic Parliament, winning 5.1% of the vote. Parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, who has worked with Wikileaks and who rose to prominence after Iceland kicked out its government, is one of the three Pirate members in the Parliament and calls the party the “political arm of the information revolution,” one dedicated to freedom of expression and political transparency.

Iceland is becoming a beacon of how to implement and experiment with digital, direct democracy. The country is attempting to draft the first crowdsourced national constitution, a process by which Icelanders submit ideas and contribute through social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter directly to an elected committee drafting the document.

Political parties in Iceland are coordinating with a non-profit organization known as the Citizens Foundation that offers an online platform on which users can debate and suggest policies. Participants can “like” policy ideas, from micro-issues to major budget decisions which affect their community. Those policies that are “liked” enough times move their way up the priority list, spurring faster action.

For these reasons, our political leaders and the corporate entities that control them are scrambling so diligently to stifle and control the Internet. Whether it is SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, CISPA, the ITU, the secret chapters on intellectual property rights in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the legislation that aims to fine technology companies for failing to comply with wiretap orders: those in power are attempting to shut down and monitor any opportunity for citizens to express political opinions in the digital world and to mobilize around those opinions – using outdated copyright law as a justification.

“No longer bound by conventional political rules of engagement,” writes Gerald Celente in the Spring 2013 issue of The Trends Journal, “freed from the necessity to raise mega-millions to wage campaigns and no longer solely reliant on media approval for coverage, the Internet candidate will be a new-millennium voice speaking a new-millennium language that appeals to the politically disenchanted and disgusted.”