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Demonstrators disband after latest protest of Shell oil rig in Seattle

  • Author: Hal Bernton
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published May 18, 2015

SEATTLE — The Terminal 5 protest against Shell's massive Polar Pioneer oil rig ended peacefully Monday afternoon as protesters vacated gates they had sought to block.

"We're going to end today together and united as we have been through this whole process," said Ahmed Gaya, one of the organizers, to several hundred protesters.

By the time the protesters left, police officers had secured control of a main gate, using their bikes to form a line across the roadway.

The decision to end the protest came out of meetings among protest organizers. There was concern that if they stayed longer, their numbers might dwindle. They determined to leave as a group.

There were no arrests, police officials said. The protest had been organized as a day of mass action to shut the port down, and some participants had vowed to conduct peaceful civil disobedience. However, police allowed them to occupy an area in front of the gate for speeches, dancing and eventually free pizza, purchased with money raised from social-media supporters.

Police remained on the sidelines throughout several hours of protest.

"Apparently we're not going to do anything, because the Port has not asked us to," said Seattle Police Capt. Paul McDonagh. He said demonstrators were exercising their right to free speech.

It was unclear the extent to which the protest, which began before 8 a.m., prevented workers from getting to their jobs.

"There are people working at the terminal right now, but it's minimal activity," Port spokesman Peter McGraw said.

"The activities of the day were anticipated, and we continue to accomplish meaningful work in preparation for exploration offshore in Alaska this summer," said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith.

Demonstrators acknowledged the terminal wasn't entirely sealed off. Organizer Emily Johnston said, "It is possible that some folks could be getting in. This is about slowing work down as much as we can. There's no way to lock T-5 down entirely, mostly because of the water access.

"But I think they get the idea now," she said.

Protestors included Army veteran Graham Clumpner, who served in Afghanistan and is now getting a master's degree in environmental studies at The Evergreen State College. "We"re now pushing past the point of extreme crazy fossil fuel extraction."

Clumpner sat in a circle on the pavement with several friends in front of one gate to the terminal. He said he sees Monday's event as the start of a broader protest movement. "We'll learn. We'll get better. There will be more of us."

In front of Terminal 5 gates, demonstrators raised banners that said, "You Shell not pass" and "Gates Foundation divest from fossil fuels."

Speakers included Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who said political leaders had failed in dealing with climate change and called for "an escalating series of mass nonviolent civil disobedience until this madness is stopped."

Demonstrators included Allison Warden, an Inupiat Eskimo activist from the North Slope village of Kaktovik.

On the North Slope, offshore drilling has spurred intense debate with some Inupiat, including some key political leaders supporting Shell's exploration for the economic benefits, but others are wary of the disruption or risks to whales and other marine life that provide traditional foods.

"We are standing in support of you," Warden said at the head of the march. "I thank all of you for being here and protecting our way of life."

Organizers had said the event could include "the largest act of environmental civil disobedience Seattle has seen in recent years." But not all on hand said they were prepared to face arrest.

"I'm not planning to get arrested. It would be very inconvenient to get arrested in Washington state. We're from Portland," Jennifer Jones said.

A man who identified himself only as Kyle from Seattle, said, "I'm willing to (face arrest) but not planning on it. It's more important to me that this be a successful action." He carried a yellow "Shell no" sign.

The group included more than a half-dozen members of the National Lawyers Guild, wearing green hats, present to act as legal observers. Also present, in green jackets, were members of "Washington Peace Team," a group aiming to keep the confrontation peaceful.

Police flanked the group of marchers as it cross the low-level Spokane Street Bridge to approach the terminal.

"Different groups have different plans," said Gaya, one of the organizers, adding that the demonstrators were in various "affinity groups." Members of those groups, he said, have pledged to abide by a code of conduct, which includes being nonviolent, not destroying property and not carrying weapons.

At times, the growing group of demonstrators blocked a bicycle path that passes the scene, but Gaya suggested to the group that to support alternative forms of transportation, "Let's keep the bike path clear."