It was a familiar scene on Saturday — scores of activists and community members gathering on the rocky shores near Gold Beach, toting bullhorns, placards, drums, banners and babies.
But this time, the crowd of about 250 hadn’t assembled to protest another setback in their long-running battle against Glacier Northwest but to rejoice in the news that an 11th-hour federal court ruling had put the brakes on the mining company’s efforts to expand its operations on Maury Island.
The judge’s opinion, issued late Thursday, made headlines throughout the region. Even so, as Islanders gathered on the beach and kayakers took to the waters, some still seemed stunned by the news on Saturday.
“I know I’m not alone, spending time in the past couple of days, trying to figure out if this is a dream,” King County Councilmember Dow Constantine, who arrived in a small boat to the celebration, told the crowd. “This is a sweet victory in the midst of a long struggle.”
The community event was organized by the Backbone Campaign to coincide with the date Glacier had planned to resume work building a 305-foot pier; it was also meant to trigger a new round of civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action in an effort to forestall or even block work on the controversial facility.
But with the news that U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez had overturned a crucial permit issued last December by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the protest turned into celebration — one that included leaders in the decade-long crusade against Glacier, Islanders from all walks of life and a phalanx of elected leaders.
Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-Spokane) traveled across the state to attend the event, and former state Sen. Erik Poulsen came out of retirement to celebrate the event and recount his storied legislative skirmishes in the battle against Glacier. Sen. Joe McDermott was in attendance, as well as Constantine, a candidate for King County executive, days before the Aug. 18 primary election. Rep. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island), an Islander who founded Preserve Our Islands more than a decade ago, was not able to attend the event because of a family matter, but the crowd cheered and banged on drums when her name was mentioned.
For many on the beach, Saturday’s rally was a joyful return to a site they had visited many times in their efforts to stop Glacier’s expansion.
Father Tryphon, the abbot of Vashon’s All-Merciful Savior Orthodox Monastery, recounted a protest that took place more than a decade ago, when he sprinkled holy water in four directions on Glacier’s site and asked God to protect the land, the orcas and the salmon.
“I think from my heart we have won,” he told the cheering crowd.
The throng also erupted when Amy Carey, the president of Preserve Our Islands, took the bullhorn and described the telephone call from the group’s lawyer letting her know the news.
She couldn’t understand what he was saying, she said, so she interrupted him, demanding simply to know if the news was good or bad.
At that point, she said, the lawyer yelled, “We won! We won! We won!”
Carey added jubilantly, “Glacier has been put in the coffin. The lid has been closed. And we have the hammers and the nails.”
As at other anti-Glacier protests, the gathering included considerable political theater.
The victory party began with a photo opportunity, as a large cluster of people, holding black umbrellas and clad in black clothes, massed tightly together and formed themselves into the shape of a giant orca whale.
The huddled group included Islanders young and old, and was augmented by more than a few black labs and rottweilers chasing each other playfully around the periphery.
Standing prominently in front of the group was Father Tryphon, who hadn’t needed to change his usual black robe or tall, brimless hat for the occasion.
As Backbone Executive Director Bill Moyer shouted into a bullhorn, telling the group to move this way or that, a small plane suddenly made several circling passes overhead, carrying photographer Ray Pfortner, who captured the aerial shot.
The Backbone Campaign also unfurled a huge new floating banner, held aloft by helium ballooons, containing a message for Taiheiyo Cement, the Japanese parent corporation of Glacier Northwest.
Written in both English and Japanese Kanji script, the sign read, “With a heart that loves nature, let us respect and cherish our waters.”
The celebration extended out into the Sound, as a flotilla of kayaks, sailboats and other small crafts were piloted by activists who had spent the summer training to be part of a “mosquito fleet” formed to disrupt Glacier’s pier building and barge loading operations, had Glacier resumed its operations as scheduled.
The crowd also included several young activists who had taken part in a human blockade of a road leading to the Glacier site in January.
One of them, Mica Gaxiola-Flynn, 18, carried two small cardboard signs she had made for her first Glacier protest rally — an event she attended with her mother, Kathy Flynn, when she was just 7 years old.
The sight of the now-grown Gaxiola-Flynn holding the signs, which were full of childish misspellings and colorful drawings of sea life and trees, provoked an emotional response from her mother, Kathy Flynn.
Asked to describe that long-ago day when she took her young daughter with her to protest Glacier’s presence on Maury Island, Flynn recalled how Gaxiola-Flynn’s father had cut a stalk of bamboo to fix to the back of the signs, and then her eyes suddenly filled with tears.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said.