Non-violent protest isn’t always greeted with a non-violent response. From Kent State to Tiananman Square, political activists always know that when they’re fighting the power, the power might fight back.
That lesson was learned on Tuesday by two member of the Tar Sands Blockade, a group of activists from throughout Texas who are fighting to stop the building of the Keystone Pipeline. Near Winnsboro, in East Texas, south of Sulphur Springs, two protesters who had locked their arms around a piece of pipeline construction machinery were placed in chokeholds by police and tasered multiple times. The protests held up work on a section of the pipeline for most of the day. The protesters, Shannon Bebe of Lake Dallas and Benjamin Franklin of Houston, both in their late 20s, were arrested for resisting arrest and trespassing and are currently out on bail while awaiting a court date. Both were bruised but neither needed immediate medical attention.
TransCanada, the pipeline builder, called in the Wood County Sheriff’s Department for help. According to Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson Ron Seifert, the sheriff’s officers arrived along with members of the Winnsboro Police Department. In the release, Seifert wrote that senior supervisors with TransCandada huddled with law enforcement on their arrival. Shortly after that, “law enforcement handcuffed the protesters’ free hands to the heavy machinery in stress positions and proceeded to use sustained chokeholds, violent arm-twisting, pepper spray, and repeated tasering to coerce the two to abandon their protest”. Five hours later, they did.
The Tar Sands Blockade is a loosely-knit group of non-violent protestors who came together in the aftermath of a county judge’s ruling that TransCanada had the right to take land in Texas for the Keystone pipeline via eminent domain despite the fact that the pipeline does not meet the legal criteria for such takings. The group has held several protests in the Winnsboro area—a staging area for the Keystone pipeline. Blockaders have locked themselves to the undercarriage of pipeline-carrying trucks, and set up tree houses in which several protesters are living to prevent the cutting of a swath of forest in the Winnsboro area. Tuesday’s action was meant to stave off the cutting of forest near the tree-sitters.
As of this morning, Seifert said, the tree cutting was in full swing, with machinery now within about 300 yards of the occupied trees.
Additional protests against the pipeline construction are underway in Oklahoma, where sacred Native American sovereign land of the Sac and Fox Nation might come under assault from TransCanada.
In a Sept. 18 story in the Washington Post, it was reported that Lou Thompson, a spokesman for TransCanada and the company’s liaison with Native Americans, said that the pipeline would not pass through tribal lands. But tribal leaders are concerned that unmarked burial grounds and archaeological sites might well be disturbed on private lands. Thompson said that because TransCanada is not planning to cross known tribal lands that “there is no legal obligation to work with the tribes”.