Mountain West Rising: Two Days of Protest in Colorado Show the Courage of a Growing Movement

The people of the West are sick and tired of our public lands being sold out to the oil and gas industry. Last week, folks from my home state of Colorado were joined not once but twice by people from across the region to deliver a clear message to lawmakers: keep our fossil fuels in the ground.

Last week, I was part of something incredible.

Twice, I stood with hundreds of fellow Coloradans to demand our lawmakers stop giving away our communities and public lands to the oil and gas industry. Joined by folks from across the West and beyond, we raised our voices and walked side by side.

And when the time came to put our bodies on the line, we did.

On May 12, I joined 300 protesters at a Holiday Inn in Lakewood, Colorado. There, inside a generic conference room, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was set to lease thousands of acres of Colorado’s gorgeous public lands for fracking.

Sales like this have been going on for years across the West, but in the last six months something has changed: communities like mine are saying “enough is enough.” Folks from Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and more are using non-violent direct action to disrupt fossil fuel auctions and keep oil and gas in the ground.

That day felt like the next step in this escalation. We marched to the hotel and occupied the front lobby, faced down by the police. As the crowd surged, the police pushed us back and threatened us with arrest. But we kept coming — singing, chanting, and supporting each other until finally the police and the crowd reached a kind of equilibrium.

As the crowd provided cover, a group managed to slip behind the barricade. They made their way to one of the conference room doors and peacefully blocked it. Another team of blockaders almost got to the second door of the auction room, but were stopped by the police.

After more than an hour of holding the crowd back, officials from the BLM sneaked auctioneers through a back door. The auction was conducted in less than 30 minutes behind closed doors, with only industry insiders and some press as witnesses. The public was excluded from this public auction.

This auction, like many before it, makes one thing very clear: the federal leasing program is broken. We will continue to demand it comes to an end once and for all. We will not stand by and watch as more and more of our public lands get sold to the highest bidder.

Two days after the blockade, on Saturday May 14, I found myself lying in a field of flowers early in the morning. Staring past my own feet in the grass, I gazed at the small community of Thornton, Colorado. It was hard to believe that in a couple of months, this exact spot would become one of the largest fracking sites in the country.

For months, the community of Thornton has been pleading with city leadership not to sell out the health and safety of the community for fracking. But already, a test well and squat tank have been set up, a sign of the hundreds more to come. And so the people of Thornton turned to civil disobedience — and we joined them.

As in Lakewood two days before, we numbered in the hundreds. Activists from all over the country came to show solidarity; Bill McKibben and other national climate leaders were there side by side with the moms, neighbors, and other community leaders from Thornton.

It was amazing to see the range of people risking arrest that day, many for the first time. A 13-year-old was cheered on by her eight-year-old sister as she and her dad crossed onto the frack site — they are from Firestone in Weld County, the town with the highest concentration of frack sites anywhere in the country. I saw older folks risking arrest for the first time since the anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s.

Thornton and those auctioned parcels of public land might be in Colorado, but I felt like the whole West was with us last week. And while we took action, so did thousands around the world. Climate change is happening everywhere, and when one community suffers the effects of extraction, it’s an injury to us all.

The solution isn’t as simple as solar panels and wind turbines — it’s going to take our action. This is a mass movement made of solidarity, courage, and a belief that we will win. I am committed to building this movement, and I want you with me. Are you ready to take action in your community, or to show solidarity with a community near yours? Are you ready to do something brave?

Something incredible happens when people rise up in courage to protect their communities and their neighbors. Together, we become bigger than we ever imagined.

I’ve seen it in the Gulf South and I’ve seen it in Alaska, and I am so proud to see it happening in my home state. Because we are united, it is only a matter of time until we break free from fossil fuels. It’s only a matter of time until we win.

Diana Best is a Senior Climate Campaigner with Greenpeace USA. She works to end federal leasing and support community resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the West.

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