Megaloads, Protests are Expected Tonight in Moscow

An Imperial Oil megaload passes under the highway sign at the split between U.S. Highway 95 and U.S. Highway 12 (The Lewiston Tribune/Kyle Mills photo).

Spokeswoman for Wild Idaho Rising Tide and Moscow police chief have different views on the demonstrations

MOSCOW – More megaloads are scheduled to pass through here tonight and more protests are expected.

Meanwhile, the genesis, status, and future of demonstrations appears to be more a product of spontaneity than planning.

Helen Yost, spokeswoman for Wild Idaho Rising Tide, likened her group’s organizing efforts to “throwing a party.” Those attending protests, she said, are people with deep concerns and the right to express themselves according to individual conscience.

Police Chief David Duke on Wednesday described the continuing demonstrations as an unpredictable challenge for police.

“We have a mixed group of supporters, protesters, and then those who are curious,” Duke said. “As these loads continue, protesters who come out mostly stay on the sidewalk and are civil. But there are individuals within these groups that we are concerned with and we’ll have to address if they do take action.”

The oversized shipments of Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil are infrastructure components destined for Canadian oil fields in Alberta.

Initial protests were geared to traffic and safety issues but have expanded to include a much wider environmental debate about oil extraction methods and climate change.

Global and local aspects of the controversy have attracted researchers at Washington State University.

They said the demonstrations, while relatively small, could have a major effect by attracting media attention and fueling public discourse about fossil fuel use and climate change.

“The megaload protesters in Moscow are currently a small group, but they represent thousands who will be impacted by the tar sands development,” said T.V. Reed, a WSU professor of American studies and author of “The Art of Protest.”

“The protests raise the large issue of environmental justice, the ways in which harm to the environment falls unequally on the poor and less powerful,” Reed said.

Noel Sturgeon, a professor of women’s studies at WSU who’s currently in New York City studying the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations, said she’s also observing the megaload protests with a similar academic perspective.

“Forty to 50 people willing to go out and protest in a town the size of Moscow is actually a lot,” Sturgeon said. “It speaks to the importance of the issue for residents. Two hundred people is very impressive.” At least one demonstration attracted that many protesters.

Six people were arrested during a demonstration in August when police said they tried to stop the loads by occupying the streets. Four pleaded guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges and misdemeanor cases against two others are pending.

“The last two loads, we’ve removed (three) people from the street,” Duke said. “But after removing them they’ve complied, so no arrests were done.”

Yost said Wild Idaho Rising Tide is a direct action group that will make its point by maintaining a nonviolent physical presence when the loads come through town. So far, the vast majority of people, demonstrating both for and against the loads, have remained on sidewalks when police close Washington Street intersections as the shipments move through town.

“But if people feel so moved to take stronger action, then we certainly encourage that,” Yost said, “but we don’t necessarily plan it in advance. Let’s put it that way.”

Civil disobedience, such as attempting to occupy streets against police orders, Sturgeon said, is a traditional protest strategy. “In direct action movements, that is, using strategies of protests and civil disobedience, those willing to put themselves out there are usually the tip of an iceberg of support,” Sturgeon said.

Yost also said police have cooperated and been professional during the demonstrations, even though she and other demonstrators don’t agree with closing the streets as the megaloads pass through.

“We don’t see walking out into the crosswalks to temporarily stop these loads as being anything but nonviolent,” she said.

Authorities have said the closure of crosswalks is to help ensure against people being hurt.

Yost said the continued demonstrations and potential disruptions must be kept in perspective. “Certainly, we see this entire venture (tar sands development) as being violent,” she said, “in terms of the oil companies and the effect they’re going to have on climate change and what effect that’s going to have on the entire globe.”

Duke said he has requested all oversized loads come through town at a specified time and day so demonstrations can be more easily monitored and contained if necessary.

(By David Johnson, The Lewiston Tribune)

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