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Who chose the tiny room for the community consultation?! Seriously, the Kinder Morgan open house, on Traditional Lekwungen Territories, was confined into a room too small for comfort. In what was being advertised as an information session, concerned community members found themselves overwhelmed and outnumbered by the paid green-shirted minions of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The walls were invisible behind a wall of pro-pipeline propaganda, and Kinder's shirts were dominating the conversations with their only audible response to voiced concerns, "we've got an excellent emergency spill response team." The power dynamics in the room certainly spoke to industry arrogance and their warped conception of consultation.
These info sessions have been criticized for being nothing more than free focus groups for Kinder Morgan, and this resonates with what I saw as I walked in. The green shirts did't have answers to our hard questions, but listened calculatingly to concerns. The analysis of this tactic is that Kinder is using these consultations as intelligence gathering opportunities, so they will be able to find manipulative ways to respond in their 2013 project proposal release. Fuck that. This is not about a polite conversation with the green shirts. I see this protocol of community engagement as actually harmful and doomed to serve Kinder's corporate interests.
A loud voice broke up the room's hum, unexpectedly announcing the arrival of August Thomas and the Esquimalt Dancers who had arrived to acknowledge their Territory. A circle was made around the room. A green shirt was displeased when she was told her continued dialogue was inappropriate, and to please show some respect, but the support from a community member quickly hushed them. As the electric dance captivated the energy of the room and beautifully disrupted Kinder's information session, I acknowledged again that I was standing here in recognition of First Nations sovereignty and in solidarity with communities protecting their territories from ongoing colonialism and industry exploitation. I became aware of the sign in my hand, looked at the signs held in the hands of my friends and allies - this is why we're here; because No means No.
A callout by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation for solidarity and opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker projects had motivated me to attend The Tsleil-Waututh themselves had chosen not to attend as this info session did not constitute as an international consultation.. As a settler, I consider it my responsibility to respond to these callouts in a way that interrupts the system respectfully and creatively reimagines process. I look at the sign in my hand again. The dancer's have welcomed us and acknowledged the land. It's time to disrupt.
In a few short moments, over twenty people in the crowd begun taking down Kinder's propaganda and to put up our handmade information signs. We sat on the signs that have taken down to prevent them from being put up again. All the signs are down, and the green-shirts are losing control of the space. The power dynamic has turned, and it becomes clear that the community has taken back their consultation. Unlike the Texas-based oil company, we were a group of autonomous community activists, organizing with little resources and no salary. Without a marketing budget that could pay my rent forever, we used the most powerful tool we have - our community.
It was beautiful and empowering, a serious action by a community willing to disrupt a violent industry process. And the green-shirts missed it all! When it became clear to them that they no longer held the space, they fled and hid in the room next door. This renders visible to me the lie of these info sessions, and the blatant inability of Kinder Morgan to take serious concerns seriously. Their pipeline expansion project could impact thousands of lives in unimaginably different ways with only a small malfunction, but instead of speaking to activists about why they were acting, they left their own info session hours ahead of schedule.
Before long a microphone and amplifier were brought in, and soon a passionate town hall process began, where folks shared their worries and appreciated the act of disobedience. What struck me most was the number of women and youth who stood up and spoke. These voices are still speaking to me, "consent means the ability to say no,”, “protect the coast”, “Kinder Morgan's plans are shit!" The strength and courage is inspiring; I humbly thank my community.
Some critics of the actions spoke to their disappointment in not being able to speak with the green-shirts, but I challenge that Kinder Morgan owns that failure. When the Kinder minions made the call to leave, it was because they did not control the room and chose not to meet a community where it was at. They own their cowardice, and should answer to angered community members about their decision to leave the room.
Ultimately, tonight's action sent a loud message to oil giant Kinder Morgan that their process is inappropriate and will be disrupted. Until next time, green shirts.