Back in June, hundreds of activists gathered in kayaks in Seattle to draw attention to the Arctic Ocean and to protest Shell’s Arctic drilling program and the use Seattle ports as a base for its Arctic drilling fleet. Since then, “kayaktivism” has been embraced by citizens across the country and has become a unique and powerful way to rally against Shell and for our climate future.
Kayaks, after all, originated in the Arctic – they were first developed by the Inuit, Yup’ik and Aleut people along the coasts of Alaska and were utilized for hunting, as well as transporting people and goods. By bringing kayaktivism to the national stage, we wanted to give people across the country the chance to get out and float for the Arctic’s future, to say “Shell No” to Arctic oil development, and to show President Obama that the Arctic affects everyone. In Washington, D.C., we didn’t actually float but we did proudly wave our inflatable kayaks in the rain right in the president’s backyard.
On Saturday, July 18, we and our friends at 350.org, Center for Biological Diversity, EarthJustice, Energy Action Coalition, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, NRDC, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Oil Change International and Sierra Club organized more than 20 events across 15 states to protest Arctic drilling. Three of these events were held in Alaska, where people in Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage rallied together and made signs saying “Alaskans Protecting Alaska.”
Here in D.C., the League helped organize an event in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House to protest Shell invading our Arctic Ocean. Tourists and their families looked on in amusement as we inflated kayaks and waved paddles in a park with no lake, and as we tried to keep our Polar Bear and Walrus friends dry when it started to rain. Though the rain meant wet (and stinky) mascots, we all decided that the universe was just sending us a little water to go along with our kayaks and life jackets. A passing family reunion got really jazzed and joined in the chanting before we even realized what had happened, and a vacationing Arctic scientist happened to see a polar bear right in D.C. and decided to check out what was happening. Kids were stomping in the rain, and our brave leaders MacGyvered a GoPro to an oar in order to take a White House selfie. We think many a tourist captured our antics for their scrapbooks back home, and we had a blast “rowing” through the park. (Check out photos from the events here.)
Seven hundred miles to the west, kayakers assembled in Chicago. While they were paddling around, one of our youngest activists – 11-year-old Bella – gave an amazing speech about why she thinks we shouldn’t drill in the Arctic. It was amazing to see someone so young being so passionate.
Even further west, about 2,600 miles from DC, activists gathered in Portland, Oregon. In early July we learned that one of Shell’s icebreakers, the Fennica, had taken an ill-fated shortcut that resulted in a three-foot hole in its hull. In order to fix it, it would have to travel to Portland. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who had introduced the Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2015 just two days prior, joined our Portland kayaktivists. Rallygoers in Portland were completely energized that our cause has such a committed champion in Congress.
When he released the bill, Sen. Merkley said: “A spill in the Arctic would be an environmental catastrophe of extraordinary proportions – and such a spill is inevitable if drilling proceeds,” said Merkley. “The ecosystem in the Arctic is too fragile and the ability to respond to a spill in this region is nonexistent. Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is the height of irresponsibility. We need to put it off limits, permanently.”
All told, successful events were held from San Francisco to Boston, and from Alaska to Florida. People across the country have made themselves clear: we do not want drilling in the Arctic, and we need the President to say Shell No!