CHEYENNE— It started as street theater in Cheyenne on Thursday, but by the end of summer, the group organizing the event said it will likely lead to confronting mine operators and law enforcement in Campbell County.
Anti-global warming activists from Wyoming and around the region say they’re planning a number of confrontational civil disobedience protests this summer against coal mines in the Powder River Basin.
The goal, said a High Country Rising Tide leader, is to interrupt business at the mines with “arrestable” activities designed to win publicity for its cause and cut into coal companies’ bottom lines.
High Country Rising Tide is the Wyoming chapter of the national group Rising Tide, which co-organized a rally and a series of protests last month in Washington, D.C., that resulted in dozens of arrests.
On Thursday morning, about 10 activists from the group protested outside the Bureau of Land Management’s Cheyenne office while the agency auctioned off a 243-acre coal-rich land tract in the Thunder Basin National Grassland. As people filed in for the auction, the sign-wielding protesters staged a street theater performance starring “King Coal.”
But the group soon plans do to more than performance art to advance its cause, said High County Rising Tide co-founder Kristen Owenreay, a University of Wyoming graduate student.
Organizers are currently planning a demonstration at a Powder River Basin coal mine sometime in July, Owenreay said. While they haven’t yet exactly decided what they’ll be doing, she said, they plan on doing activities designed to spark a police reaction and interrupt work at the mine.
In August, the group is planning a larger event — a week-long “radical change camp” in Campbell County that Owenreay said will attract environmental activists from around Wyoming and neighboring states.
During the “West by Northwest” camp from Aug. 2-10, attendees will be trained in civil disobedience, hold protests at area coal mines, and pitch in with community service projects, she said.
In particular, Owenreay said the group is targeting proposals to build several deep-water ports in the Pacific Northwest that would allow Powder River Basin coal to be shipped to energy-hungry Asian markets.
The goal, Owenreay said, is to eventually bring to a halt any usage of coal, one of the world’s primary sources of carbon dioxide emissions.
Such an objective is a tough sell in Wyoming, the top coal-producing state in the nation. But Owenreay said her group hopes to show coal companies, investors, and other associated industries that coal isn’t worth it economically.
“Everything that we do is aimed at either mobilizing public support or directly affecting their bottom line in a way that communicates that this is a poor investment,” she said. “This [BLM protest] is the first tiny piece in what’s going to be a big summer for us.”
Wyoming Mining Association Assistant Director Travis Deti said that while activists have a right to do what they want, it’s “disappointing” that they are trying to destroy an industry so vital to Wyoming.
“It’s important to our state, it’s important to our economy, it provides jobs in our state, and they’re just trying to shut us down,” he said.