Meet a #ShellNo Activist: Kristina
On July 29, 2015, Greenpeace climbers suspended themselves from Portland’s St. Johns Bridge to block a Shell Oil vessel as it attempted to leave for Arctic waters. One of the 13 anchor supports on top of the bridge, Kristina Flores was there. This is their story.
When I got the call to participate in the Portland bridge action, I was thrilled to stand up to Shell. I wasn’t given much information about what I’d be doing but I felt like I had won the lottery. So I packed my bag and headed west to help block the Fennica, a Shell-leased icebreaker carrying a critical piece of drilling equipment.
This wasn’t my first time standing in Shell’s path. I’d helped with the kayaktivist flotilla to block the Polar Pioneer drilling rig as it left Seattle on June. I was in a boat for that action and I was thinking that I would be in a boat again. I was wrong.
I wasn’t going to be on the water for this one. I wasn’t even going to be on the ground. Myself and 12 others and were going to be 200 feet off the ground next to a highway supporting 13 suspended climbers for an unknown duration of time to prevent the Fennica from passing under the St. Johns Bridge—Portland’s tallest bridge.
My mind was blown.
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Twenty-six rag-tag activists with varied skills, experience, and perspectives pulled off one of the boldest things some people had ever seen. A few folks I knew from the flotilla, most I’d never even met. This was the case with my climber, Daniel Luke Strandquist (Luke), who I would be supporting for the next 40 hours. I didn’t even know he went by his middle name until after we got off the bridge.
But that didn’t matter; the seriousness of our endeavor and our conviction to defend the Arctic quickly bonded each of us.
All of the training time went by so fast. Before we knew it, we blinked our eyes and we were on a bridge executing the scenario we had just discussed. I don’t think any amount of skills and safety prep would have prepared me for the emotional and physical challenge of being on that bridge for 40 hours.
We deployed a couple of hours before dawn and all I remember was getting out of the van, reminding myself to breath and executing my support tasks. All my other thoughts disappeared as the bridge lit up with the bright blue and red lights of police vehicles. It was tense, but Luke and I completed all safety checks and kept eye contact until he and his gear where over safely. All that mattered was “help get your climber over safely.”
After that? Well, there wasn’t much of a plan after that. We were all willing to stay as long as necessary, but we were convinced we would be arrested or detained immediately. To our pleasant surprise, we weren’t removed.
An Outpouring of Support
A couple of hours into our blockade news reports started rolling out and the world began to respond. As I sit here, I am still allowing the magnitude of what we accomplished to sink in. I wasn’t imagining news outlets like the New York Times or Guardian would be picking up our story.
For 40 hours, we stood up to one of the largest corporate powers on the planet and it was the world—particularly Portland locals—that gave us the authority to do it. The millions around the globe that oppose Arctic oil exploration bought us precious hours to push back against a global superpower.
Not only did we push back, we turned the ship around.
As our story was shared, I was feeling the might of a collective voice cheering us on. Even as we approached the last hours of our blockade, the world continued to rally with us. That’s when I began to grasp the power of being a part of such a relentless movement. I am honored that I had the privilege to hold space for the outcry to protect the Arctic.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I am so proud to have been standing above and next to a group of activists that understood the gravity of what we were doing and who held the responsibility of that privilege with me. More than that, I was proud to be standing united with so many others around the world.
The Portland blockade inspired many to take action in the ways that they could. So far, an astounding 163,000 people have taken action by signing the petition calling on President Obama to defend Arctic!
I think a lot of people believe it takes a unique brand of crazy bad-ass to stand up to a company like Shell. But really, I was never imagining that I would have the opportunity to be involved in a direct action like this one. Everyone that was on that bridge, they’re just ordinary folks with conviction to take action. And it’s with ordinary folks like you and me that true power resides.
My journey to that bridge began about four years ago in my hometown of Sacramento, California, where I organized on my college campus. I knew that I needed to fight and I joined others who wanted to fight too. I think some us believe that our power is limited or insignificant. But it is not. When we come together in small, organized groups we can exercise unimaginable amounts of power.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
It was announced this week that Shell’s final drilling permits have been approved for this season. But this fight doesn’t begin and end with Shell’s Arctic drilling window this year. There is so much more work to be done.
This is where I call on you—ordinary person with the capacity to accomplish extraordinary things! It is time for you to take action your way. Engage in your community on the issues that matter to you. Show up to a rally, host a community event, donate to your favorite organization, become that outspoken friend on Facebook. Whatever you can do, do it. No matter how small you think the act is, it counts because you count!
Kristina Flores is a researcher and activist with Greenpeace USA.