Shortly after midnight, on March 13, 2014, 70 people rallied in a cold parking lot off Missoula’s South Reserve Street and waited for a “megaload” sized piece of equipment which was slated to pass through town.
The equipment onboard was tar sands processing machinery and was heading for Alberta, Canada, but they had to get through Missoula first. Protesters held signs that read “Tar Sands Destroy Life” and “Idle No More,” as the group of Native and non-Native activists awaited the massive load, which is so disruptive to other traffic that it is only allowed to travel at night. When the megaload arrived, many protesters were prepared to literally stand in the way of it passing through Missoula.
This was the fourth time since the beginning of 2014 that a tar sands megaload was met with community opposition in Missoula. In January, three other loads (all traveling after midnight) were greeted by a loose coalition of groups led by Indian People’s Action. On two of those occasions, Indian People’s Action members led protesters in a traditional round dance in the middle of Reserve Street, temporarily halting the loads in their tracks. The dance not only held up the loads, but also drew attention to how tar sands development hurts indigenous peoples. On each night that the round dance was performed, a subset of activists chose to risk arrest by refusing to leave the street, further delaying the loads.
Blue Skies Campaign, a Missoula based grassroots organization that opposes fossil fuel extraction, worked to support the indigenous-led protests in January by helping to turn out Missoulians who would take to the street. By the time the fourth load of 2014 arrived in mid March, the list of groups involved in the protests had grown to include Northern Rockies Rising Tide and 350-Missoula (although Indian People’s Action continued to play the lead organizing role). A group ranging from elders to teenagers and all ages in between walked on to Reserve Street to participate in another round dance, which drew the largest turnout of any of the protests so far.
As protesters filed into the street, the vehicle carrying the massive piece of tar sands processing equipment slowed to a crawl, and then stopped. Lights from the convoy of escort vehicles played on handmade protest signs, as the round dance began to the rhythmic beat of a drum. Indian People’s Action members sang the words to a traditional song, as the megaload sat unmoving By the time police cleared the street, allowing the load to resume its journey, the protesters had stopped the Alberta-bound equipment for some twenty minutes. The action also placed a spotlight on the negative impacts of fossil fuel development and communities who are fighting extraction. Next time a massive piece of fossil fuel equipment tries to pass through the streets of Missoula, we will certainly be back.
Grantee Blue Skies Campaign is a grassroots, volunteer-run organization based in Missoula, Montana that organizes to stop destructive fossil fuel projects. Blue Skies worked with grantee Indian People’s Action to support action against the tar sands megaloads in early 2014.