Police arrested 11 people Monday, apparently ending a protest by the group Extinction Rebellion Portland, which built a small garden that blocked Zenith Energy’s Portland railroad terminal.
The activists had been protesting the expansion of the oil terminal at a time when they say we should be dismantling fossil fuel infrastructure, not creating more.
Despite warnings from the company and Portland police, protesters from the group Extinction Rebellion Portland planted a small garden during the weekend between the road and the railroad tracks near 5501 NW Front Avenue. A few small mounds of soil extend onto the rail line – not much, but apparently enough to make it unusable. Activists also sat on the tracks.
Ken Ward was one of six protesters seen being arrested on a 12 minute long video posted to the Extinction Rebellion Portland Facebook page. In an interview prior to his arrest, Ward said that the terminals expansion is the single most important energy-use issue in Portland. “It’s really the poster child for the dysfunction that we see between the geophysical reality of what needs to happen on climate change, and the political realities.”
In a news release, the Portland Police Bureau said the 11 arrested people had refused to leave after being given three warnings to do so. All of them were charged with criminal trespass.
Earlier this year, OPB was the first to report that Zenith Energy had been quietly expanding its facility, preparing to more than double the number of oil trains moving into Portland. Portland’s City Council voted in 2016 to oppose any new fossil fuel infrastructure, but because Zenith is expanding existing infrastructure, city officials have few options.
Extinction Rebellion says the city could stop the expansion by rezoning the area as open space.
“Because we can’t wait, we decided to act on our own to both shut down Zenith and also begin to turn this land into open space, and in this case, a garden,” says Ward.
The group brought in a truckload of topsoil Sunday morning. Supporters have since continued to bring vegetables, flowers, and trees to the site. About 200 protesters showed up on Sunday, playing music and drawing on the sidewalk. Some stayed the night tents, and in a tiny house they’d built next to the garden, keeping watch in case Zenith or the police decided to clear the rail line.
Margaret Butler came at 6 a.m. on Sunday to spread the dirt and build the garden. She spent Sunday night in her tent.
“The night was full of light and full of noise. The generators kept the light running, and the trucks kept coming back and forth along the road.”
They awoke Monday to the Portland police at their front door, and Zenith employees with shovels. They were warned that if they stayed, they would face arrest.
“We’re defending our garden. This is our vision of the future. We have to change and have a vision of where we’re going, and that means green space, from Forest Park to the river,” said Butler.
On Monday, another truckload of dirt arrived, carrying landscaping logs and more trees, and more supporters brought food and drinks. And for most of the day, it seemed that their biggest concern was whether or not the dry weather would wilt their lettuce.
But as much as they would have liked to build a permanent garden, the protestors knew that arrest was the most likely outcome. They had lawyers’ phone numbers written in permanent ink on their arms.
The police arrest appeared to bring the protest to an end.
The Extinction Rebellion Facebook video of the arrests concluded with a woman’s voice saying: “We’re cleaning up now. Bye, bye, everybody.”