That is what 500 people chanted as we stood outside the Hilton Hotel in Burlington, VT where the New England Governor’s and Eastern Premier’s Conference was taking place. One thing was missing from their agenda: tar sands. There was no plan to talk about Trailbreaker, the massive proposal to pump tar sands oil from Montreal through VT, NH, ME, and down to Casco Bay in South Portland.
As the Maine Sierra Club intern, I helped organized a bus of 50 Mainers to drive from Portland to Burlington early Sunday morning, a 4.5 hour trip. We were Sierra Club members, 350 Maine organizers, concerned citizens, reporters, students, and activists. Everyone was committed and enthusiastic; we all were ready to make our voices heard.
When we arrived in Burlington, we met up with other groups at City Hall Park. There were people from 350 VT, Sierra Club VT, people opposing Hydro-Quebec, First Nation representatives, Hands Across NH (opposing Northern Pass), student groups, feminist groups, workers’ rights groups, Occupy organizers, and more. We all came together to tell our elected officials that we are paying attention, and we want them to listen to us too.
At noon, we heard opening speakers as they set the stage for the day. Then we marched a mile through the streets of Burlington to the Hilton where the governors and premiers were meeting.
I was uncomfortable about what we were chanting, though. There were many different interests represented in our march. Sometimes we chanted “Keep the oil in the soil” or “Hey hey, ho ho, dirty oil has got to go.” But other times, chants arose that went along the lines of “This shit’s fucked up, this shit’s fucked up and bullshit.” Other chants decried capitalism. There were signs that said “Anarchy forever” too. While these messages have their time and place, I feel like politicians will be most responsive if we are talking about tar sands, asking them to pay attention to what is going on with Trailbreaker. If even a few people are talking about anarchy, politicians will be more defensive. We are fighting for justice and transparency, not a new form of government.
Despite my hesitations, I full-heartedly joined the tar sands chants. As we arrived at the Hilton, people filled up the streets and said “Hey governors! Come on out. We’ve got something to talk about.” Music was playing. People were dancing. The police came out in front of the hotel, but we respectfully stayed in the road. Here is a video that I took:
I felt such a strong sense of connection. I was inspired. I felt it in my body. This was the first time that I had been to a rally and was willing to chant, wave my sign, and do whatever it takes to stop Trailbreaker. I was deeply touched by all of the committed individuals. I will never forget that feeling, and it will fuel me for many weeks to come.
After we stood outside the Hilton, we moved up to Battery Park for a quick break and to listen to speakers. There were three speakers: Bill McKibben, a First Nation representative, and me. I spoke right after Bill McKibben, and it was a true honor. See pictures below!
Next came the largest human oil spill ever in New England. All of us, dressed in black, laid on the ground in front of the Hilton, and we ended with a a peaceful and moving rendition of “This Land Is Your Land.”
After the human oil spill, the Maine contingent headed back home. It had been a long hot day, but I felt invigorated and proud. A diverse group of people came together to march for environmental, social, and political justice. This was the highlight of my summer so far.
Bob Klotz, head of 350 Maine, took some fantastic videos at the rally. Check them out here.
Here are more pictures as well:
I am going to write a longer article soon about my experiences in Burlington and reflections. Until then!