Repost from Seattle PI.com
[Editor: This is a challenging think-piece for opponents of crude by rail. Personally, I believe that sit-ins, songs and resolutions have a place in a multi-faceted approach to organizing against big oil and rail. But Connelly has a point – we need to think hard and long on serious strategies for success. – RS]
Publicity-stunt sit-ins, council resolutions won’t stop oil trainsPosted on August 1, 2014 | By Joel Connelly
In watching the Seattle City Council’s ritual of passing whereas-heavy, symbolic resolutions over the years, an observer can come way believing the council’s prime purpose in life is to send demonstrators home happy.
The response to oil trains, arriving in every greater numbers, is the latest example of Seattle’s insular, echo chamber politics. Its product is meaningless symbolism.
Councilman Mike O’Brien gins up an oil train resolution, much as he did on Occupy Seattle. Council member Kshama Sawant shows up at the BNSF tracks for her demonstration of the day. A Sawant mini-me running for the Legislature gets arrested. The news is telephoned to a Stranger reporter who is supporting the candidate.
Will any of this impact the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad? Will it influence the business of giant refiners like BP and Tesoro, increasingly dependent on rail shipments of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota?
Of course not. The carbon economy has the Interstate Commerce Act on its side. The U.S. Department of Transportation seems intent on accommodating shippers in its rule-making. Refineries support 2,000-plus jobs in northern Puget Sound.
For instance, the USDOT’s proposed safety rules tout a “two year” required phase out of old, explosion-prone tanker cars. When you read the fine print, phase out period begins in September 2015.
Here is how critics can effectively put the heat on, and deal their way into the safety debate. The recent and ongoing coal port/coal train battle is a model for dealing with obtuse agencies and potentially more lethal cargoes:
– Mass support, not just driblets: Somewhere in Seattle, somebody (usually Kshama Sawant) is demonstrating every day. Protests pant after a moment on the evening TV news. Often, they leave as much impression as footprints in the snow.
By contrast, a well-planned event can signal (to politicians) that a movement has staying power. It registered when 395 people packed a Bellingham City Club meeting for a debate on the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. Sponsors had appears to have it greased. A bigger impression was made 2,500 people who showed up for a federal-state “scoping” hearing in Seattle.
– An agenda, not 1960′s slogans: Coalport/coal train port critics asked for an independent, comprehensive look at impacts trains will have across Washington. They wanted environmental studies to look at climate consequences of providing economical fuel to keep aging Chinese power plants in operation.
It is absurd, for instance, for the Army Corps of Engineers to limit “transportation” to the seven-mile spur line from Custer to Cherry Point in Whatcom County. Big coal, railroads and construction unions were flummoxed by a reasonable demand.
– A real coalition, not just a paper list: Seattle “coalitions” are populated by the usual suspects. A real movement gets a cross-section of recruits. Montana ranchers are not keen to see their land torn up. Firefighters worry that long trains will block waterfront access, and (with oil) that they’ll be left holding the bag when a 1960′s-vintage tanker car blows up.
The proposed Pebble Mine, near Alaska’s Bristol Bay, shows REAL reach-out. Opposition began with greens, quickly embraced Alaska’s commercial and sport fisheries, gained backing from the powerful Bristol Bay Native Corp., expanded to Washington fishermen, and found roles for restaurant chefs and major jewelry companies.
– Political work horses, not show horses: Behind all the posturing on coal ports, state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, put together letters to the feds and state laying out — precisely — potential impacts that must be known. The letters helped shape the charge given by Gov. Jay Inslee to the Department of Ecology.
With oil trains, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., recently cornered — and treed — USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx at a recent hearing. She delivered a message that MUST be driven home. Faux safety measures won’t cut it. Cantwell and Carlyle don’t go for whereas clauses.
– Fact and evidence, not just hyperbole: Exaggeration is a basic activist weapon, broadly deployed. It gets people riled, but has limited staying power. What’s needed are activist-experts who learn the stuff, and steep themselves in places to be impacted.
A lighter touch should be put on heavy handed manipulation of the media. Certain web sites and outlets can be counted on to spout the party line. Others aren’t content to simply be fed.
The carbon economy is coming our way — big time — with proposed coal export terminals, a big terminal to receive oil trains (in Vancouver, Wash.), coal and oil trains taking over the rails, plus pipeline terminals and oil export ports in British Columbia.
It’s not going to be turned back by sit-ins or Council resolutions in a city with less than 10 percent of Washington’s population.
Seattle politics is sandlot. What we’re facing, and trying to influence, is a big-league challenge.