People for Mother Earth is a recently-formed citizens’ organization which is opposed to the presence of Tar Sands pipelines in Québec and, more broadly, the use of carbon fuels as the engine of the modern economy. From May 10th until June 14th, the group engaged in its first large-scale action: a 700 kilometer walk across the province which followed the route of two pipelines which are currently being proposed. These pipelines -- TransCanada’s Energy East and Enbridge’s Line 9 -- would, if all goes according to the companies’ plans, transport well over one million barrels of chemically diluted Tar Sands fuel to export stations in Québec and New Brunswick. This would allow for a rapid and massive expansion of the Alberta Tar Sands -- the largest industrial project on earth which former NASA climatologist James Hansen describes as “game over” for the planet.
Organizing an action which lasts over a month is no easy task. The organizers decided that it would be both more effective and symbolically important to establish direct democracy for all decision-making. This allowed for all of the 300-odd people who showed up to walk (for a period of time of their choosing) to have their say in decisions, and for the creativity of each individual to flourish when problems presented themselves. It also allowed for the march to symbolically create an alternative social structure in miniature; one where important decisions are no longer made by unaccountable individuals arbitrarily placed atop a social hierarchy. Not only were all decisions made collectively, but all tasks -- such as security, door-to-door petition signing/mobilization, food preparation, and others -- were performed by interested volunteers; meaning that no one was forced to work “jobs” which they did not enjoy.
Multiple tactics were employed within the larger strategy of the march. These included a face-to-face confrontation with prominent pipeline supporter and elected representative of the Conservative Party Steven Blaney, who attempted, in a feat of verbal contortionism, to constantly steer the conversation away from the subject of pipelines and towards his democratic legitimacy (despite his ignoring of constituents who demonstrated opposition to the pipelines). Other tactics included street demonstrations in Québec City, Trois-Rivieres, Montreal and Terrebonne; each of which saw relatively large turnouts of protesters opposed to the pipelines. And throughout the entire duration of the march, signatures were collected for a petition called the Declaration for the Protection of our Territory, of which signatories numbered in the thousands.
One of the main, stated goals of the march was to unite the disparate groups which, while all opposed to the pipelines, may not necessarily collaborate with each other. In this regard, the march may be viewed as a success. The march actively worked with local groups such as STOP Oleoducand the Coule Pas Chez Nous campaign. Another group which was formed in the successful 2011 struggle against shale gas in Québec, during the march’s duration, expanded its mandate to include opposition to all new carbon-fuel projects in the province. Five towns along the route of the pipelines -- St Andre de Kamouraska, L’Islet, Saint Augustin de Desmaures, Lanoraie and Saint Sulpice -- have, since the march’s passing, announced municipal resolutions which reject the pipeline in advance. The groundwork has been laid for large-scale resistance as these pipelines make their way through the federal “approval” (i.e. rubber-stamping) process. The Peoples for Mother Earth are currently planning future actions in order to keep the struggle going and continue to sensitize the population of Québec to the dangers of carbon-fuel projects. This fight is far from over, but the march has created a base of opposition which its members hope to grow in the times to come.
Jon Milton is a journalist and 'People for Mother Earth' marcher