When it comes to making change, politicians matter, lawyers matter, but more than anything else you matter. What you do, what you say, the sacrifices and risks you take all make a difference. Cynicism is our enemy, and action is our ally. Here’s some proof.
Last winter, when it became public that Doug Sutherland, the outgoing head of the state Department of Natural Resources, had approved the lease of state aquatic lands in our Maury Island Aquatic Reserve to Glacier Northwest, most Islanders, politicians and environmentalists thought the battle was over. Thanks to a few principled and courageous people, they were proven wrong.
On Dec. 5, I called the governor’s office to try to speak with someone about the lease. I tried again a few days later and filled out a Web form requesting a meeting. Every attempt was ignored, until this community mobilized.
It began slowly, as we had no preparation and no warning that we’d need to fight the mine expansion on the street and beaches. The holiday season made it especially challenging. But, thanks to people and organizations like Charles Reed, Nick and Evan Simmons, Preserve Our Islands (POI), Backbone and others, it began nonetheless.
On Dec. 7, a small group of folks gathered to make signs and giant beach letters in hope that the traffic helicopters would fly over our early morning rally the next day. On Dec. 8, 50 people gathered on foot and in kayaks next to the Glacier mine. We called the TV stations, and finally one said they’d send over their copter. It flew by. Evan realized that our beach sign was unreadable so he quickly rowed to shore and fixed it, just in time for the helicopter’s second and final pass.
But that was enough. We made it onto KIRO TV. And thanks to a Post-Intelligencer photographer who lives on Vashon, we got into the daily paper. The message was clear. We were mad as hell about being sold out and the fight for our Island and the aquatic reserve was not over.
Shortly after that, a group of inspired young Islanders worked with Backbone and Island resident John Sellers (founder of the Ruckus Society) to have a nonviolent direct action training. Despite the beginning of a snowstorm that would last for a week, the training happened. The participants and many others began to meet to organize blockades of the roads leading to the mine’s gate.
At 5 a.m. on Jan. 2, under occasional snow showers, nine people locked themselves together and anchored their bodies to the road with 55-gallon drums filled with concrete. They were supported by another 40 Islanders singing songs, holding signs and greeting confused and disgruntled workers with coffee, doughnuts and an explanation of our purpose.
The Seattle Times and King 5 TV showed up, and once again we sent a message that Islanders are willing to make personal sacrifices and risk arrest in order to stop this ecological atrocity from occurring. Two days later, 500 Islanders showed up to express their solidarity with the blockaders and their commitment to responsibly steward our Island, its aquifer, the health of the aquatic reserve and Puget Sound.
When I called the governor’s office the following Monday, a meeting was immediately granted with her adviser Keith Phillips. In February, a contingent of six Islanders met with Phillips to request the governor’s leadership on this issue.
We asked her to rescind the lease granted by Sutherland, to tour the impacted area and meet with the community and to agree to a follow-up meeting.
Though she has not refused our requests, neither has she taken action to honor them. She has, however, deferred to the leadership of newly elected Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, whose opposition to Sutherland’s handling of the Glacier mine expansion was a theme of his campaign.
It was not merely the governor’s office that heard this community’s voice. Immediately following the blockade and rally, 14 state legislators led by Rep. Sharon Nelson were inspired to ask the governor to employ a never-before-used statute to rescind the lease to Glacier.
After hearing that Backbone Campaign and other activists won a meeting with the governor’s office, a collection of environmental leaders asked for and was granted a meeting with the governor, Phillips and Goldmark.
Our community mobilization this past winter made a difference. Now, it is once again time to mobilize and solidify the gains from past actions. The future of Maury Island and the aquatic reserve may be decided this summer.
Peter Goldmark will soon have to make a decision about whether to rescind Glacier’s lease. It will not be easy for him either way. As it stands, over-water work to construct the barge-loading pier is allowed to resume on Aug. 15. Because this summer is so critical, the Backbone Campaign is focusing all our energy on creating a grassroots strategy to complement POI’s great legal work. This strategy has three components.
Our first step is to circulate a petition to Gov. Gregoire and Commissioner Goldmark expressing our community’s steadfast resolve to stop the mine expansion; to offer them our collaboration in making the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve a model of community stewardship and public-private collaboration; and finally to ask them to use the full scope of their authority to rescind the lease of state aquatic lands in this protected area. We need your help gathering signatures.
The second component is to address the concerns of Islanders who consider this a jobs issue. We are launching a “Green Jobs Not Gravel” Community Stewardship Campaign. Our community and the Puget Sound ecosystem deserve green jobs that increase our social and ecological well-being. Last week we identified a King County program that gives grants up to $75,000. We alerted Island agencies that could apply for the funding and are helping to identify projects that will have a positive impact on the reserve. We are very excited to get Islanders involved in this.
Finally, Backbone Campaign is working with our progressive movement allies the Ruckus Society, Rainforest Action Network and others to produce the Localize This! Creative Tactics for Land & Sea Action Camp (see LocalizeThis.org) to train and mobilize members of our community and region to stop any further dock construction.
It will be held on July 13 to 18 on Vashon. Nonviolent direct action and arts for social change specialists from around the country are planning to be there.
Claiming the authorship of our own future makes us happier people and a better community. If we all do what we can, we will win this fight, because what we do together really does make a big difference.
— Bill Moyer is the executive director of the Backbone Campaign.
A dinner, auction and concert to benefit Backbone will be held May 30. See A15 for a complete story.