Putting It All on the Line to Say #ShellNo

On July 29, 2015, Greenpeace climbers suspended themselves from St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon to block a Shell Oil vessel headed to supported the company's Arctic drilling plans. Harmony Lambert was one of the 13 climbers suspended from the bridge. This is her story.

Harmony Versus Shell

Harmony Lambert hangs under the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon to block Shell's icebreaker, the MSV Fennica.

Tim Aubry/Greenpeace

It was the morning of July 30, and we had been on rope for about 30 hours. The Fennica had just retreated in shame after confronting climbers, kayakers, and onshore supporters. It was a moment of exhilaration that I will never forget in my entire life. Shell, one of the world’s largest companies and biggest polluters—the entire reason I became an environmental activist—had stood down to the people. Everyone was buzzing with excitement, happiness, and strength.

Hanging from the rope, I started thinking about the long haul. If we had made it this far, there was a chance now that we’d be here for much longer. And as much as I love lying on my back and staring up at the underside of a massive bridge, I was going to need a bit more entertainment to sustain me.

Us activists are a talkative bunch, and radio chatter had already been flagged as a problem. The climbers were talking so much that we were wearing down our radios’ batteries too quickly, and dispatch was constantly telling us to talk less on them. I sat there for 30 minutes debating whether or not to make the call. In my mind, it seemed silly and unnecessary, a blatant misuse of my radio. But I couldn’t sit there for another 24 hours with nothing to look at but my hands. So finally I made the call.

“Dispatch, Dispatch, Dispatch, this is Climber 9, Climber 9. I wanted to put in a book request for our next resupply. Over.”

“Climber 9, this is Dispatch. We can make that happen. What book do you want? Over.”

“Dispatch, 9, I was hoping for The Fellowship of the Ring. Over.”

“9, Dispatch, of course you would. Will work on it. Clear.”

All my friends know that I am a total Tolkien nerd, and I’m sure hearing me request it over the radio while hanging from a bridge on a portaledge was a completely hilarious event to experience. But the support and love that surrounded our current action was massive. I knew that, if we got another resupply, a copy of that masterpiece of literature would be in my bag.

Unfortunately, Shell had other plans. Not content with letting me hang off the St. Johns Bridge and get my fix of Middle Earth in for the summer, about ten hours later the Fennica made a reappearance that would prove to be the end of the action. Police and Coast Guard saturated the river below, pushing off kayakers to one side, while three of my fellow climbers were lowered off their climbing gear into boats to create a gap for the Fennica.

Although the Fennica eventually got through climbers, kayakers, and “boos” from the shore, what I witnessed hanging from rope on that bridge brought me to tears. Never in my entire life had I seen people come together—without any hesitation—to stop that ship.

Once my fellow climbers and I were no longer blocking the ship, the kayakers, canoers, and other people on small boats realized their power. Outnumbering police and Coast Guard boats by a long shot, they rushed to the middle of the channel. Unable to stop such a large number of people, the authorities were overwhelmed and the Fennica once again came to a halt. People in kayaks who were getting citations and hauled to shore were then sprinting across the park to jump into another kayak and get out on the water again.

The dedication, sacrifice and commitment all people showed that day completely blew me away. It gave me hope that we actually matter in this fight, and that we can actually make a difference. The love and solidarity that was present under the St. Johns Bridge told the most important story of that day: we are a people who will not stand down in the face of exploitation, and we now know our own power.

Solidarity and Direct Action

Civil disobedience and direct action are tactics that have been used since time immemorial. As long as there has been injustice in the world, there have been people standing up to that injustice and fighting for what is right.

Indigenous communities in the Arctic have been fighting Shell and Arctic drilling for decades. The swell of support and solidarity for this fight that has happened this year is truly incredible, and the action at the St. Johns Bridge is just one moment in a long struggle against the exploitation and plunder of our planet and its most sensitive cultures and ecosystems.  

Now, as we join in this long battle, it is important to keep in mind that no single one of us is important, because no single one of us can make a difference alone. Had we been just one climber or kayaker in front of the Fennica, we would not have stopped it for 40 hours. But because we all came together as hundreds of people that day—and millions supporting from afar—we were able to stall Arctic drilling for two more days.

Together, we are a force to be reckoned with. Together, we can take direct action and change the course of history by stopping Shell’s continued disregard for our communities and the earth.

This movement has room enough for everyone. As kayaktivists, climbers, barges and others have joined in solidarity with indigenous communities, you can join in too. We are nowhere near the end of this struggle, and need all the support we can get. From the blue-collared worker all the way to President Obama, we need your voice to protect our planet from oil extraction companies like Shell. We shouldn’t have to dangle ourselves from bridges to ensure a future for our planet. We must all step up and demand that our oceans and children’s futures are protected, and the government must listen.

This is President Obama’s last chance to be the climate leader he promised us, but has yet to fulfill.

Harmony Lambert is an activist with Greenpeace USA. 

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