The Westborough 8 vs. TransCanada: Anatomy of a peaceful protest

Running with the chain gang
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  January 25, 2013

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THE BREACH MONDAY, JANUARY 7, 2013 — 1:55 PM

Nobody notices the three young women sitting in the idling green Explorer. The packed parking lot off Route 9 in Westborough is blanketed by blinding sunlight, which bounces off whatever snow remains from the last sprinkling. Even if they are spotted, it's unlikely that any office-park folk will blink twice at the co-eds emerging from the old-model SUV. Dressed in sensible heels and just the right amount of lipstick for a job interview, the activists look no different from the cubicle monkeys who work in the building they're about to infiltrate.

The next group of eight is a bit more conspicuous, strolling through the front door in pairs. They stride past two suited National Lawyers Guild attorneys, who are sitting on a couch in the lobby like they belong there, and bang up the back stairwell. On the third floor, the lead man knocks on the ladies' room, where the first group is waiting, then together they all barge into the Massachusetts office of TransCanada, a multinational behemoth that operates gas and oil pipelines up, down, and across North America. TransCanada is also building a new pipeline, the Keystone XL, to transport oil mined from tar sands — an ecologically disastrous practice that poisons water systems and accelerates climate change.

Eight of the students peel their jackets off to reveal thick chains with bike locks slung around their necks. A ninth conspirator enters, unrolls a sign on the carpet, and announces: "THIS IS A PEACEFUL PROTEST." A 10th associate shoots video; an 11th snaps pictures.

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Shea Riester talks strategy.

THE POWWOW SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2012 — 4:00 PM

Three weeks before the big action, the gang is still green. Eight of them managed to make it to the secret Cambridge meeting spot as planned, but they have no collective name, and only a bare outline of how to accomplish their goal. They think lawyers will be there, but don't know which ones. They'll need jail support and bail money, but they're unsure of how much. The idea is that sympathetic forces — namely, the climate-justice groups 350.org and Students for a Just and Stable Future (SJSF) — will provide backup, but even that's unclear. It won't be enough for them to merely gain entry: they want their sit-in to last for several hours so they'll make the nightly news. They know they'll be arrested; their fear is that they'll be removed before the media shows up, and so they brainstorm how they can stay longer. Shea Riester, a Brandeis grad who records tough anti-corporate raps about environmental justice, suggests they glue themselves to one another.

Acting as the default crew commander, the 22-year-old Riester describes the target: a vulnerable suburban location without much security. Last week, he cased the TransCanada office in Westborough. It will take nearly a dozen more meetings to hammer out logistics, prep the gear, and gain the confidence they'll need to execute. They know they're not alone, though; all afternoon, the group buzzes about a flurry of expected actions that will erupt nationwide early in the new year.

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