Several hundred demonstrators gathered for what one group called “the largest act of environmental civil disobedience Seattle has seen in recent years.”
Hundreds of people on Monday danced, sang, held protest banners and listened to speeches at a Monday protest billed as a “mass direct action” in front of the gates to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5.
Some participants were willing to engage in peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience. But there were no confrontations with police, no arrests and also no certainty about what disruptions were achieved by the time the protest finished in the early afternoon.
“We’re going to end today together and unified as we have been throughout this whole process,” said activist Ahmed Gaya as the protest ended before 2 p.m. and demonstrators vacated the pavement in front of Terminal 5 gates.
Monday’s action was the culmination of three days of high-profile protests against Shell’s use of the terminal to prepare for summer exploration in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s North Slope
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The symbol of that protest has been a massive oil rig — the Polar Pioneer — that last week was towed to the terminal and, after several weeks of preparation, is expected to head back out to sea in early June for a long, slow journey north.
The city of Seattle has said servicing the Polar Pioneer at the terminal violates a permit, and on Monday the Department of Planning and Development issued a notice of violation to the Port and Foss Maritime, which holds the terminal lease.
The city says that the Polar Pioneer and another vessel must me moved from the terminal by June 4 or it might levy fines of up to $500 per day.
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For Shell, a timely departure from Seattle is critical to making the most of the short summer drilling season, and activists hoped that their action blocking the entry gates would cause problems for Shell and its contractors.
But not all the entrances to the Terminal were blocked, and the site also can be accessed by water. It’s unclear whether any scheduled work was delayed by the protest.
“The activities of the day were anticipated, and we continue to accomplish meaningful work in preparation for exploration offshore … this summer,” said Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell.
Emily Johnston, an organizer of the action, said it was possible that some workers could have gotten in, but she still thought the protest sent a message to Shell.
“This is about slowing work down as much as we can,” Johnson said. “There’s no way to lock down T-5, mostly because of the water access. But I think they get the idea now.”
Seattle police showed up in force for the event.
Bike-riding police officers flanked the protesters on either side as they marched to the terminal shortly after 7 a.m. Monday.
During the morning, a police official said no request was received from the Port to remove the protesters.
By early afternoon, police had full control of a major entrance to the terminal that officers lined with bicycles. They appeared to be happy with the way the protest unfolded, praising the protesters for their conduct.
“I think this is First Amendment expression at its finest,” said Sean Whitcomb, a Seattle police spokesman.
For a period in the early afternoon, there was uncertainty about how the protest might play out.
Activists were concerned about whether police would move in to clear out the area about 3 p.m., when there was expected to be a shift change, and they held a series of meetings to discuss how they should proceed.
Some wanted to stay and hold their ground.
“My initial thought when I came out here was that this would be for a full day shift, so I would be here until the end,” said Mary Clare Kersten, of Bainbridge Island.
But others, who thought the demonstration should end, held sway in the meetings.
So about 1:40 p.m., all of the activists left the site.
Protesters carried numerous signs and banners with messages such as “Shut the Gates of Shell” and “Gates Foundation Divest from Fossil Fuels.”
They munched on pizza financed by donations raised from social-media supporters in different parts of the country.
Speakers included Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who said political leaders had failed in dealing with climate change and called for “an escalating series of mass nonviolent civil disobedience until this madness is stopped.”
Allison Warden, an Alaska Native activist from the North Slope, led the march to the terminal.
She grew up in the region where offshore drilling has spurred intense debate, with some supporting exploration for the economic benefits, but others concerned about the risks to whales and other marine life that provide traditional foods.
“We are standing in support of you,” Warden said to the protesters. ”I thank all of you for being here and protecting our way of life.”
Some veterans also participated, including Graham Clumpner, who served in the Army in Afghanistan and is now getting a master’s degree in environmental studies at The Evergreen State College.
Clumpner sat in a circle on the pavement with several friends in front of one gate to the terminal. He said the demonstration Monday was part of a broader protest movement.
“We’ll learn. We’ll get better. There will be more of us.”