How the Paddle in Seattle plans to beat Shell — a conversation with kayak-tivist John Sellers
24 May 2015
By Kate Aronoff
This week, I spoke with Puget Sound resident John Sellers, a global justice movement veteran and father of two, who has been active in the Shell No coalition, leading up to the water-born protests in Seattle’s Elliott Bay. Sellers, a former Greenpeace activist, is a co-founder, long-time executive director and now board president of the Ruckus Society. He currently serves as director of the Other 98 Percent.
How did the Shell No coalition form? What is it doing?
The Shell No Coalition formed a couple of months ago in response to the fact that different political solutions, legal solutions, weren’t happening. It didn’t look like the [Seattle] Port Commission was going to capitulate and stop Shell from coming in. Seattle, in general, has had a strong climate movement, especially around climate action and direct action; 350 Seattle and Rising Tide have been very strong in creating powerful actions to stop coal trains, oil trains and tar sands oil from coming into the refineries around here. So, thankfully, we started out with a really well-developed climate justice movement. Then, it was really helpful to have an NGO like Greenpeace that gets action and gets climate justice at a DNA level be here and be willing to work. They’re working in coalition with the other big NGOs on the legal side of it, but they’ve also been willing to throw down with the direct action movement.
What is the People’s Platform?
It’s a 40-by-100 foot maritime construction barge that we have outfitted with three 9,000-watt solar rays. It’s called the People’s Platform, but it is also known as the Solar Pioneer. We took a barge, a 4,000 square foot industrial barge that you would see around a lot of harbors, and we have been transforming it. It’s quite literally a platform for the people, to elevate the voice of the people in this debate. We know that there are millions of people who are concerned with both the health and well-being of the Arctic Ocean, as one of the last, truly untouched places on Earth. There are also people equally as concerned, or even more concerned, with the state of our climate, and the climate catastrophe that is unfolding right now. So, we wanted to create a vehicle to elevate those voices — to give those voices a mechanism to be heard. The People’s Platform has a really nice stage with a super booming PA system, so that political speakers can speak and experts can tell us about Shell’s irresponsible operations all over the world. We’ve had poets, we’ve had singers, we’ve had bands and artists performing, and we’re going to be hosting all kinds of cultural and political events from there.
At night, we use our solar power to unleash a really awesome light show. We have a great big movie screen — a 700 square foot movie screen — that we’ve rigged on the People’s Platform, and a 12,000 lumen digital projector. Last night we showed the documentary “Sweet Crude,” about Shell’s operations in Nigeria in the Niger River Delta. On May 19, we’re going to be showing “This is What Democracy Looks Like,” the documentary about the WTO uprising here in 1999. I think we’re going to be showing “Gasland” and probably have a live conversation with Josh Fox over Skype. We’ve got a really great program. We’ve got selfies that folks all over the Earth have taken with personal messages to Shell. We’ll probably try to do a Twitter storm one night to get people all over the world interacting with our screen, and generally giving Shell hell here at night, right where they live.
I’ve heard this called the “Paddle in Seattle.” I’m wondering, too, what you see as the connection between Shell No and the alter-globalization movement in Seattle in 1999.
In 1999 we were following the leadership of the Zapatistas. The alter-globalization movement really started in Chiapas, and I was pretty involved with the WTO protests. I was doing it as honoring the leadership of Subcomandante Marcos and the amazing stand that the Zapatistas had taken against globalization. As far as the “Paddle in Seattle” goes, it’s a fun name! It’s an iconic moment in time out here. It’s a celebrated moment in time. People have a lot of pride about standing up to multinational corporate globalization, and shutting down one of the most powerful business meetings of all time. We wanted to honor that, and also use it as a way to make people laugh and get people excited about something new, something interesting, something original happening on the water.
Read Kate Aronoff’s full article @ Waging Nonviolence