Jessica Wilson: We’re in the same boat now

This movement isn’t just about polar bears and the planet—it’s about fighting for the people we love

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      By the time you read this, Shell’s famously defective oil spill containment dome, the Arctic Challenger, will have sailed through B.C.'s Inside Passage en route to Alaska, where the company plans to drill as early as July 1.

      Despite this news, I’m feeling optimistic, coming fresh off the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on the heels of its first-ever all-indigenous delegation (a tour that took us up the Inside Passage to Haida Gwaii, connecting coastal communities and First Nations opposing increased tanker traffic with the global movement fighting Shell’s Arctic drilling plans). In fact, I’m in downright awe of the recent outpouring of protest against Shell.

      The kayak was renewed as a symbol of resistance last month, when “kayaktivists” organized a flotilla blockade of Shell’s fleet in Elliot Bay, Seattle. Shortly thereafter, two activists courageously chained themselves to the anchor of the Arctic Challenger.

      North of the 49th parallel, we’re also gearing up. Just days ago, residents of Haida Gwaii (who met with Greenpeace delegates last month) organized a beautiful protest on the water. Together, they underlined the importance of working with their neighbours along the coast.

      The Haidas’ protest came just three days after the Sunshine Coast’s Shíshálh Nation launched their own kayaktivist protest (which they pulled together in just two hours after we noticed the Arctic Challenger was taking the Inside Passage) complete with homemade “Save the Salish Sea” banners. Their chief, Calvin Craigan, quickly issued a video statement naming and shaming Shell.

      Ordinary people have been helping us track and protest Shell’s fleet and sharing the evidence in a wave of support we never anticipated.

      These are the new waves of Arctic and coastal defenders: authentic and grown from the grassroots. Greenpeace started its campaign against Shell because it’s one of the most irresponsible oil companies in the world with a terrible environmental and human rights track record. Now, like the winds at sea, people are taking the essence of this campaign in their own direction. We don’t lead, but we ride along with them.

      So, on June 13, we’re giving people another chance to get involved with a public save the coast event right here in Vancouver, at Jericho Beach, called Toast the Coast. Famed First Nations artist Roy Henry Vickers designed a beautiful salmon for the event, and right now, Uproot is busy turning the design into a nine-foot-long lantern, made from waste diverted from landfills—100 percent reclaimed materials. At sundown on June 13, we'll launch this lantern from Jericho Beach and send a message to Harper that beaches are for people—not oil.

      As our stories of hope and resistance come together and ripple out around the world, it’s becoming clear that this isn’t only a David vs. Goliath tale writ local. It’s a global saga of survival. With people confronting Shell to protect their families and diasporas from climate disaster, this movement isn’t just about polar bears and the planet—it’s about fighting for the people we love.

      Sadly, Shell doesn’t seem to care. The corporation is cavalier (at best) and callous (at worst) about safety. The Arctic Challenger, for instance, plans to deal with oil spills by flaring off (burning) hydrocarbons—a containment method unproven to work in Alaskan waters.

      Yet, Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith says the go-ahead it received from government “signals the confidence regulators have in our plan.” Other proponents argue that it’s better for Arctic drilling to take place in the U.S. under sound regulation, and that with the stakes so high, Shell is incentivized to “get it right.”

      Well, from where we’re paddling, these kinds of arguments for “ethical” or “environmental” oil are non-starters—the worst kind of cognitive dissonance or downright double-speak. The $6 billion in investment—and a contractor's eight felonies—behind Shell for its previous Arctic disasters prove that the company has every incentive to do it even if they get it wrong.

      In fact, we discovered that Shell selected and paid its own auditor to approve its drilling proposal. When Americans rallied around Obama for “hope” in 2008, and again in 2012, they thought they would get a government by the people for the people—not bought and paid for by Shell.

      In spite of these setbacks, the grassroots movements that continue to blossom bring to mind the powerful emotions expressed by Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter: "I found myself out at the bow, crying as I had not cried for years, with joy.…We all felt the kind of awe and love that mass movements inspire in those who take part in them, a feeling of unaloneness."

      Greenpeace, First Nations, and Seattleites are connected by hundreds of paddles, co-creating a movement together in one broad stroke. One protest lends spirit and strength to another. What happens to the Arctic happens to us all.

      Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize exactly 50 years ago. As this father of peaceful protest has said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”