Draw the Line

Paddlers organize coal-export protest on the Columbia River


Photo: Adam Elliott


On Saturday, July 27, river enthusiasts from across the Northwest gathered on the Columbia River near Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore., to transform their tiny paddle-powered crafts into powerful tools for protest. The Portland chapter of Rising Tide, a grassroots international network that works toward real climate change solutions through organized community efforts, hosted over 800 people for a non-violent direct action on the Columbia River called Summer Heat. The message was simple: End fossil fuel exports from the Columbia River Gorge.

To literally draw a line in the river, over 150 protesters took to the water in kayaks, rafts, SUPs, IKs and sailboats and other small craft to draw a symbolic blockade. For one day, paddlers used their boats for more than just recreation; the boats amplified a message in ways that single voices could never have done. Getting to that point, however, took weeks of preparation, countless partners, and a lot of support from the local paddling community.

First, the event needed boats. While the majority of participants brought their own boats, Rising Tide also worked with local paddling schools Alder Creek and eNRG Kayaking to arrange demo kayaks on site. The schools loaded up their massive trailers and arrived ready to get people out on the water.

Next, paddlers joined one of multiple safety briefings. Here, organizers painted a picture of the day’s action as well as reviewed basic safety information. Simultaneous educational presentations and workshops filled all of Vancouver Landing. The Raging Grannies, an activist choral group of senior citizens, sang about energy and the environment as others waved colorfully painted banners. Energy levels climbed as paddlers descended upon the dock to launch.

The calm water alongside the dock slowly filled with boats. Safety team leaders corralled the group into pods and released them one by one onto the Columbia. While the Columbia River below the I-5 bridge might appear flat, the current still charges downstream. In order to stage the perfect photo of both the paddlers and the hundreds of bridge protesters, boaters needed to maintain constant upstream motion. Yet, as the bridge and river filled, energy levels only increased. Once bridge protesters raised their banners, the paddlers flooded the center of the river, filling the Columbia’s immense girth with hundreds of colorful boats. Paddle blades raised into the air and chants echoed off bridge pillars.


Photo: Adam Elliott

And just when it seemed that everyone had made it known that they opposed the potential of fossil fuel exports, three unknown protesters rappelled off the Interstate bridge, dropping a massive banner that read “Coal Oil Gas/None Shall Pass.” Cheers escalated as local law enforcement watercraft hovered closer to the bridge, though no on-site arrests were made.

The organized opposition to energy export terminals along the Columbia River is nothing new. (Check out the clip below from last fall’s paddling effort to protest Ambre Energy’s Morrow Pacific coal export proposal on the Columbia.) Direct-action groups like Rising Tide are beginning to recognize the powerful connection that paddlers have to clean water and clean air, and how organized efforts can broadcast a clear message to the general public. Don’t be surprised to see groups continue to harness this connection as environmental threats escalate, especially on the Oregon side of the Columbia as pressure builds toward fall decisions from the governor’s office regarding the coal export terminals.

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Add a Comment

  • Thomas Lorimor

    hope none of those protesters use electricity. That would make them hypocrites.

  • jim

    What a joke..but it’s Portland. So they protest shipping coal to other countries while we use coal to power 42% of our countries electricity?? Rumor has it that Al Gore was there..but he was in a big yacht with twin 500hp diesels and then left in his Lear jet.

    • Hart Noecker

      Oregon has only one coal fired power plant, and it is scheduled to permanently go off line by the end of the decade. The climate justice activists across the PacNW have lobbied for this plant to close even sooner.

  • Jasmine

    Thanks for sharing this awesome event! It isn’t everyday that so many folks come together for a cause. The more people get outside, the more reasons they have to protect the planet.

  • Sarah McCarthy

    Awesome! I love to see stories like this!

  • Michael

    Great article! I cannot express enough thanks and respect to the safety teams, without whom this wouldn’t have been possible. Look out, big fossil fuel corporations, we’ll be there by land OR sea!

  • Trip Jennings

    Yup, haters gonna hate but when it comes down to it exporting fossil fuels is a bad plan even for Jim (below). See how he likes it when his energy bill goes up cause they build export terminals and sell our publicly owned fossil fuels for a higher rate abroad. Decrease the supply here by shipping it elsewhere and increase prices.

    Let’s keep the oil, gas and coal here in the US, transition to cleaner fuels and less consumption and keep fossil fuels in the ground where they belong. Anywhoo, great to see folks who love rivers taking a stand to keep them clean and fossil fuel free! Great article Susan! Let’s see more creative use of boats for good causes.

  • Yoko

    There are so many better options other than fossil fuels! I am so grateful that there are people in the world that will come together to fight for a world that is more just and livable! thank you for sharing!

  • jim

    @yoko: so what other options today? Wind? Killing millions of birds and costing more to produce than the energy it makes?? Nuke? YES. But nuke energy became unpopular because of a movie and well, it has a the bad name of nuclear..ugg, we are our own worst enemy. Oil? Yes. Hydro? The left extremists go crazy when there is a dam proposed. You see all of these energy sources have some residue. Coal? So is your fight here about the dust or not wanting other countries to use clean coal technologies to help them succeed? Coal produces the majority of our energy..it’s relatively inexpensive, can be used with little residue, and we have many decades of supply. So you protest the use..but offer NO SOLUTIONS.

    • Sarah

      We protest having our little part of the world poluted and put at risk for an ecological disaster. Thus far, these coal an oil companies have proven themselves to be lazy. Look at their history of negligence. How come there is not yet a viable clean up plan? Look at the disasters these companies are causing. There are only four corners of the plan. When I is so poluted it cannot sustain life, then what?

  • Carol

    Wonderful, informative article! Much better coverage than that provided by the mainstream media.

  • http://www.canoeinnovations.com.au/ Canoe Innovation

    Great Post… I loved going through it.

  • http://www.canoeinnovations.com.au/ Canoe Innovation

    great, I like your post so much . Its upto the mark according to the topic.

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