At around 9:30 this morning, one hundred strong gathered in Helena, Montana for the first day of the Coal Export Action.
Today’s rally spread across the steps of the capitol building, kicking off a week of action against coal exports organized by the Blue Skies Campaign, a Montana-based, volunteer grassroots organization. Lowell Chandler, who is the campaign’s representative, delivered a speech, followed by Nick Engelfried, also of the Blue Skies Campaign. The featured speaker was Rick Bass, a Montana author and poet who spoke about the importance of environmental sustainability to the crowd.
The turnout was comprised of groups and individuals hailing from a variety of locations. People traveled from Oregon, Washington, California, Wyoming, Montana, Texas, Colorado, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts, Utah, Idaho, and Louisiana. It was clear to those traveling such great distances that the future of coal in Montana will carry effects that encompass environmental issues around the country and beyond.
The assembly then moved inside to occupy the capitol rotunda with banners, signs, and much enthusiasm. Once inside, chants and cheers filled the corridors from one end of the building to the other as the group of organizers prepared to deliver two letters to Governor Brian Schweitzer and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. The letters demand that the Land Board consider the voices of concerned citizens and abide by the Constitution. In particular, the letters called to attention Montana’s history of political procedure resulting in socioeconomic and environmental injustices. Although there was some concern as to how well the peaceful protestors would be received, the capitol building personnel were more than hospitable and actually helped hang a couple of banners from the second level in the rotunda dome.
For seven hours a steady group of demonstrators occupied the rotunda while bonding with one another as they participated in various group activities and workshops. Some of the activities included discussions regarding exports’ impact on rail systems, climate change, and a global finance workshop led by our very own Scott and Amanda.
As the clock drew near to closing time, the capitol services division informed all of the demonstrators that at 6:00PM those who had not left voluntarily would be forcefully removed from the area in police custody. While the majority of peaceful demonstrators walked out after the first or second warning, seven people stayed inside and were eventually arrested. As those in police custody emerged from the doors of the building, all the fellow activists and demonstrators joined together singing and cheering in support of those who gave up their freedom to protect the diverse wildlife and picturesque landscape of the Big Sky Country.