Megaload Protesters Get in Their Final Shots

Helen Yost, of Wild Idaho Rising Tide, holds her sign protesting the megaloads’ use of U.S. Highway 95 through Moscow (The Lewiston Tribune/David Johnson photo).

Last of the big rigs moves through the mean streets of Moscow

MOSCOW – Helen Yost, the fiery spokeswoman for the activist group Wild Idaho Rising Tide, said she absolutely had to have the last word.

So, as the last Imperial Oil megaload exited this Latah County town late Tuesday night en route to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, Yost broke ranks from about 45 demonstrators standing on the sidewalk and dashed into the street.

“I was swarmed by cops, but they didn’t touch me,” Yost said, recalling how she threw a protest sign and struck the back end of the final behemoth load. “I quickly retreated back, but I had made my statement. I hit the megaload.”

Earlier in the night, as police escorted the megaloads through town and traffic lights were switched to a blinking yellow mode to allow passage, Yost whipped demonstrators into a shouting mood.

“Tell me what democracy looks like,” she chanted.

“This is what democracy looks like,” the demonstrators chanted back.

Drummers drummed, a few people yelled profanities and the chant eventually changed to “Whose street? Our streets,” as the loads passed.

One man feigned a sprint into the street, but was blocked by police. Two nights earlier, two men were arrested when they attempted to block loads.

“Nobody got arrested tonight,” Yost said. “People were thinking about it, but it didn’t happen.”

After she’d hit her target and the megaloads traveled north out of town, Yost joined other demonstrators in a nearby bar, opened her billfold, extracted a credit card, bought a round of drinks and waxed philisophical.

“In some ways, we did indeed lose, in that all the loads made it through,” Yost conceded. “But there’s a lot of successes here. We brought the tar sands issue more to national attention.”

What’s more, Yost said, the months of megaload demonstrations in this University of Idaho town have helped underscore a growing corruption throughout the country.

“We’re in an interesting place in our history right now, in that a lot of people understand how corrupt our political system is,” Yost said. “The majority of people who don’t vote, just believe that there’s no real way they can make a difference, both through the political system as well as out here on the street.”

But the Moscow protests, coupled with similar efforts along U.S. Highway 12, have essentially rid Idaho of megaloads, Yost said, at least for the time being.

“They are over here,” she said of the need for demonstrations, “but we have been working to mobilize folks in Spokane. There are people there who are into this issue.”

Just 33 of more than 200 anticipated megaloads made it to Lewiston to be moved through Idaho into Montana and eventually Canada. Other processing plant components, after Idaho transport difficulties arose, have gone through Vancouver, Washington, and the Port of Pasco.

“We are going to continue this campaign as long as there are megaloads in this region,” Yost said. “We fought so hard already, we can’t let these things happen.”

Yost said government, on almost every level, has been corrupted by corporations, especially “dirty energy corporations” that have a stranglehold on the economy. She likened the Moscow protests to initial slingshots launched in a David versus Goliath battle.

“I think our greatest success is to let other people realize that, even when they’re small minority groups, you really can stand up physically and make some kind of a dent in this whole thing,” Yost said. “And in doing that, you empower other people.”

(By David Johnson, The Lewiston Tribune)

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