Fracking Sands Shipment Blocked from Leaving Port of Olympia
12 Arrested in Police Raid of the Train Track Encampment
By Chloe Marina Manchester
On November 11, a group of anti-fracking protesters, collectively dubbed Olympia Stand, blocked a train coming from the Port of Olympia carrying frackings sands, or proppants. The train was successfully blocked on that first day, then protesters erected a blockade where they camped on the tracks for a week. The blockade lasted just a week before the police, in full riot gear, dismantled the camp in the early hours of Friday Nov. 18, ending in the arrests of twelve protesters.
The Port of Olympia handles the proppants for a company called Rainbow Ceramic Sands of China and Houston. During the initial hours of the protest, when protesters were blocking the tracks at State and Jefferson, the train carrying proppants advanced toward them and then, when it became clear they would not move, reversed back into the Port. After the first night of protests, the camp moved down the the railroad tracks located at Seventh and Jefferson, where they erected a barricade and remained for the rest of the week.
Protesters declined to have pictures taken, citing worries that they could be used against them in court, and declined to speak to press individually.
The camp, which seemed to grow and change everyday for the duration of the blockade, consisted of both barricades on the train tracks and impromptu living spaces with couches, warm food, and tents where some people slept. There were, on average, more than twenty people occupying the camp during the night and many more coming and going during the day.
On the morning of the raid, close to 100 police came at 3:30 in the morning to clear the camp and begin dismantling the blockade.“There were times when we were definitely outnumbered two-to-one,” said an unnamed protester to It’s Going Down, an anarchist news site. After the protesters and the blockade were cleared from the tracks, the train passed through Olympia, guarded by police, before dawn. Officers from the Olympia Police Department (OPD), Washington State Patrol, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, and Union Pacific Railroad Police were all at the scene, participation in clearing the camp and guarding the train.
Of the twelve people arrested during the raid eight were sent to Olympia City Jail and four to Thurston County Jail depending on the charges they could face. Those taken to Olympia City Jail were originally charged with a misdemeanor for “obstructing a law enforcement officer,” but those charges are still subject to change.
On November 16, the Port of Olympia released a statement regarding the blockade, saying that they were monitoring the situation “on private rail lines outside of Port facilities, where protestors [sic] have essentially halted interstate commerce for Port and other local business customers.” The release also stated that The Olympian reported that the protests were instigated by the fracking sands being shipped for the port, about which the Port stated that according to the Shipping Act of 1984 they are required “to move all cargos deemed safe and legal.”
According to police, after camp was raided some protesters began moving things such as dumpsters on to the street to prevent the train from being able to pass and allegedly “dumping trashing and blocking roads.” During the raid those at the blockade chanted “Water is Life,” a slogan coined by indigenous people protesting the DAPL, referencing the high possibility of pipelines leaking oil and obliterating sources of clean drinking water for those in the areas affected.
Protesters and participants in the blockade also yelled at the police to let the people who they were arresting go, and briefly attempted to block the police wagon carrying arrestees from leaving. Even when everyone from the encampment on the tracks was arrested or forced to leave, a small group continued trying to block the train tracks.
“It was four hours from when the police first came to camp to when the train went through downtown of constant demolition, and like battle,” said an anonymous participant in the blockade, when speaking on a podcast by It’s Going Down.
After the camp was cleared, police tried to disperse the remaining protesters by shooting protesters with pepper-balls and using flashbang grenades. Police say that no one was injured and though there was “objectionable language” used towards police, there was no physical aggression on the part of the protesters.
Participants in the blockade allege that police were roughly dragging protesters when arresting them and jabbing people with batons. An eyewitness who wishes to remain anonymous says that they saw police throw a wooden pallet on a protester before arresting her and many participants in the blockade have bruises and other minor injuries from being shot at close range with pepper pellets.
Some anonymous participants in the blockade characterized these early morning events in a report back submitted to It’s Going Down where they write, “The crowd hurled insults at the police while a new impromptu barricade was built across the tracks in the middle of Jefferson Street. Police then fired several flash-bang grenades and advanced forward. A standoff ensued. Soon, the cops advanced again as fires were lit and more debris was thrown onto the train tracks. Another line of riot police stood guard on the tracks ahead. The eerie, heartbreaking sound of the train’s horn could be heard in the distance, moving closer. Eventually it rolled into view through the early morning mist, flanked on either side by a line of riot police.”
The camp was started to block the shipment of ceramic proppants used in fracking to North Dakota, where masses of people at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation are currently working to prevent construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and facing militarized police using force against them.
However there are many reasons for the blockade protest at this time including the election of Donald Trump, who made statements supporting increased fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure, which may have added energy to the ongoing activism and organizing around the port. Earlier on Nov. 11, there were three other protests happening in Olympia, including a protest against trump, a pro-choice rally, and a march in solidarity with Standing Rock, which contributed energy and people to the camp.
There had been demonstrations against the shipments of proppants from the Olympia port in the couple weeks before the blockade began, but this was the first recent action to create a sustained camp, and successfully delay the train.
There is also a history of protest against the militarization and weapons shipments out of the Port of Olympia going back to 2006, as well as years long resistance to the Port’s cooperation in fossil fuel extraction.
Some involved with Olympia Port Militarization Resistance (OlyPMR), which is no longer active, participated in Olympia Stand. OlyPMR was established in 2006 when Olympia activists attempted to block outgoing Strykers and other military equipment, with the goal to “end our community’s participation in the illegal occupation of Iraq by stopping the US military’s use of the Port of Olympia,” said the group according to an article by David Solnit in 2007.
Thirty seven people were arrested during the Stryker blockade in 2006, which lasted for ten days, for civil disobedience. There were blockades and tent cities set up during those protests. Similar protests occurred in 2007 at the Port of Olympia, lasting for two weeks.
This history does not seem forgotten by those involved in this most recent port blockade, and many have made statements indicating they do not believe actions of this nature will come to an end. One communique from an anonymous “protector” takes on Olympia officials and police with the words, “As long as you serve to profit from the destruction of Earth, as long as you serve those who do, you grow weak as we remain strong. We do not acknowledge any imagined position you hold for yourself as authority or ally. No more compromises until our demands are met whole. You will see us again.” Another participant summed it up saying, “I mean, I’m fucking tired, but I want to do it again”
The Cooper Point Journal will continue to follow this story and what will happen with the arrested protesters in court.