Activists rally in Burlington to draw attention to tar sands oil as notables arrive for conference

Protesters converge on the Hilton Hotel in Burlington. Photo by Greg Guma
Protesters converge on the Hilton Hotel in Burlington. Photo by Greg Guma

UPDATE: Protesters attempted to block conferee buses on Sunday evening and after a confrontation escalated with a crowd control team wearing plastic shields, Burlington police fired pepper spray into the group of protesters. Read the story.

Two days of protest activity in Burlington, coinciding with an international conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, began at noon on Sunday with a rally at City Hall Park, a march through downtown streets, a symbolic “human oil spill’ at Battery Park, and mass chanting outside the Hilton hotel, site of the event scheduled for Monday.

About 500 people took part in the first activities of what has been described by organizers in the United States and Canada as a major mobilization against tar sands oil shipments and other regional development projects.

During brief remarks outside City Hall and later in Battery Park, representatives from a Canadian student group, the Vermont Workers Center, the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance,, the Sierra Club, and organizations from Maine and other states expressed solidarity with organizers of the movement to stop development and shipment of tar sands oil.

Energy companies want to convert an existing pipeline to ship the heavy, corrosive fuel from Canada to East Coast markets. Activists hope to stop it.

“Leaders are not talking about it yet,” said a speaker who urged participants to “put it on the agenda in a way they can’t forget.” At several points in the rally, phrases like “put people and the planet first” turned into spontaneous chants.

Several hundred people then marched through downtown Burlington with a small brass band, eventually reaching the conference site on lower Battery Street. The visible police presence was minimal, although police cars created a blockade that cut off traffic while the protesters occupied the street. Just inside the Hilton’s revolving doors, however, a small police contingent in riot gear stood at attention, ready to act if activists attempted to enter.

The rally moved up to Battery Park overlooking the Burlington waterfront. After several more presentations, hundreds of people wearing black joined in a huge chain representing oil, circling closer and closer as they chanted and created what they dubbed a “human oil spill.”

The activists returned to the Hilton for a second time and attempted to get the attention of conference participants who had arrived.

The conference agenda for July 30 kicks off at 9 a.m. with a welcome by co-chairs Gov. Peter Shumlin and Premier Jean Charest, followed by a discussion of “a clean and cost effective energy future for the Northeast.” The rest of the morning will be devoted to presentations about the commercialization of electric vehicles.

The speakers include Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association; Watson R. Collins III, manager of business development for Northeast Utilities; Pierre-Luc Desgagne, director of strategic planning and government affairs at Hydro-Quebec; Alain Daneu, director of transportation with Quebec’s natural resources ministry; and Daniel Esty, Connecticut commissioner of the Energy and Environmental Protection Department.

Innu activists will hold a 9:30 a.m. press conference outside the hotel, followed by a Bread & Puppet performance at 11:30 a.m. and a noon Burlington Occupy General Assembly in Battery Park.

For the governors, premiers and ambassadors the afternoon focus will be “keeping transportation flowing across a secure border.” Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Brian Searles will be joined by Tom Ruth, CEO of Halifax International Airport Authority; Paul Bingham, CDM Smith leader of economic practice; and David Moloney, senior adviser to the Privy Council Office for Beyond the Border Action Plan Implementation Group.

The conference will end at 4 p.m. with closing remarks by Shumlin and Charest, followed by a press conference. At the same hour, activists will regroup for a protest outside the Citizens Bank on College Street.

If you read us, please support us.

Comment Policy requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer.

We moderate every comment. Please go to our FAQ for the full policy.

Greg Guma

Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Activists rally in Burlington to draw attention to tar sands oil as n..."
  • Madeleine Winfield

    I would like to add as a witness to the human oil spill demonstration. The demonstrators were met by the police in riot gear, which included pepper spray, guns with rubber bullets, and dogs. They tried to speak with people in the bus, standing in front of the bus. It was leaving to take dignitaries to Shelburn Farms for dinner. The guns, dogs and pepper spray were used on demonstrators. Several were hit and hurt by the dogs and spray and rubber bullets.

  • Ron Pulcer

    Meanwhile … yesterday (7/29/2012), I heard an NPR radio report that an Enbridge oil pipeline spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil in Wisconsin (apparently happened on Friday 7/27)

    I first heard this on VPR / NPR yesterday at around 6PM Sunday. The announcer mentioned the “same Canadian company”, that spilled oil in Michigan two years ago. But they never mentioned the name “Enbridge”. I’m surprised that NPR left out that important detail. Two years ago, an Enbridge pipeline spilled 20,000 barrels into the Kalamazoo River, in my homestate of Michigan. The people of Marshall, Michigan and Northern Edmonton, have one thing in common, oil pollution of their water sources.

    Meanwhile, … yesterday, a group of us folks from a handful of churches in Rutland gathered to see the documentary, “TIPPING POINT: The Age of the Oil Sands”, which was hosted by Vermont Interfaith Power & Light. Here is a link to the CBC documentary about the Tar Sands mining in Northern Edmonton, and the higher than average impacts of cancer deaths amongst First Nations people downstream from the Tar Sands mining.

    If you follow the chain of corporate ownership, Enbridge is one of the parent companies to Gaz Metro + GMP + CVPS:

    Gaz Metro, owner of Green Mountain Power, part of large international energy conglomerates

  • the people of Vermont have the right to be heard without having the police always coming at them in riot gear with pepper spray tasers and stun guns

  • Rick Battistoni

    If you try to stop a bus by standing in front of it, you should apreciate the fact that you live in the United States where (vs other countries) you just get run over.

    Vermont liberals/progressives/democrats (LPD) (all the same) don’t have a clue as to how out of touch with reality this state is.

    VT needs to address the extreme, idealist view that wind/solar power will save the world. The technology does not work w/o massive subsidies. B4 all the LPD’s attack, I don’t support any other subsidies (my dollars thru taxes).

    • John Greenberg

      I assume you don’t use ANY energy then. It’s ALL subsidized, most if not all of it, far more than wind and solar.

  • Alex Barnham

    If you stop the consumption of oil, you eliminate the need for refining tar sands. It’s as simple as that. Yell and scream at the manufacturers and keep on buying their products.

  • Larry Hamilton

    Getting off the oil ad gas feeding tube is one answer but opposing tar sand and fracking development and transport are needed as political action. This was a good action. But we do not need exaggerated reportage of protest events. Police in Burlington did not use rubber bullets nor tasers nor stun guns as stated above.For once, the main media (Burlington “Free” Press) got it right, but as always the violence part overwhelmed all the finer details such as McKibben’s talk, appeal of the Native Americans and the showpiece of the black oil spill itself.

  • William Boardman

    This is part of the tease that goes with the hom page link to the story — and it is SO wrong: “A group of 40 protesters formed a chain in front of a bus carrying dignitaries to a dinner in Shelburne. When they refused to move, Burlington Police Department tried to move them with plastic shields.”

    * the group blocking the driveway was about 25
    * “a chain” is hyperbolic, irresponsible writing — they were standing there and at least one police officer was bantering with them
    * the police didn’t “try to move them” which suggests serious resistance or even failure — the police EASILY moved the protestors once the police decided to do so — it took about 30 seconds to clear a lane and get the busses under way

    All this is easily verified by looking at the available video.


    My very point is that exaggerations and lies are discrediting the foolish idea that occupying is necessary. Occupying is a military idea pushed by an ideology that needs to end. War is not the answer nor is violence. Knowledge is far more important. When will they ever learn?