HOUSTON: Greenpeace Activists Stage Protest to Shut Down Ship Channel

Photo: Greenpeace activists suspended from Fred Hartman Bridge on the morning of the September 12 Democratic Debate.

By Jennifer Kelly

On the morning of the Democratic debate last week in Houston, a group of protesters with Greenpeace USA, an affiliate of the international environmental nonprofit, attempted to shut down the Houston Ship Channel for 24 hours. Several activists suspended themselves from the Fred Hartman Bridge, forcing a section of the ship channel to shut down. All protesters were arrested within 18 hours.

Greenpeace’s stated goal was to “confront Trump and the oil industry” by shutting down one of the busiest ship channels in the world and the largest petrochemical complex in the country. They also wanted to “challenge every candidate on stage tonight [at the Democratic debate in Houston] to promise to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable if they become president,” and championed the so-called “Green New Deal.”

The Democratic candidates at the debate for their part made no comment on the action, and it is unclear whether any were aware of it. The Green New Deal itself is a bourgeois scam, a reformist proposal that will do nothing to end US imperialism, which is principally responsible for the plunder and pollution of the Earth.

Various reports from bourgeois officials have stated that the shutdown caused no appreciable economic impact, that the facilities keep supplies on hand to last for several days and the shipping schedules allow for delays of days or even weeks. According to the president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau trade organization, any shutdown of the ship channel for a short period “is not going to put us in any position that we can’t recover quickly from.” Some contest that claim, however, as one Harris County prosecutor said, “this action cost our community many, many millions of dollars in lost commerce.”

The activists face felony charges stemming from a Texas law that came into effect September 1. This new law, one of many such laws being introduced by states around the country, makes it a felony to trespass on pipelines and other “critical infrastructure” and disrupting their operation. Some will also face charges for allegedly causing a car wreck by parking their van on the bridge. It was this accident which initially alerted the police to the activists.

While in custody, some activists faced “racist and transphobic abuse” at the hands of Harris County detention officers. One activist named Cole told Incendiary that, after some difficulty, the activists managed to get the Harris County Jail to comply with its own policy regarding transgender inmates and put several transgender activists in a cell together, separate from either the male or female cells.

At another point in their detention, one activist was separated from the rest of the group. When they refused to move on without her, the police singled out one black activist, pulled him from the group, and held a taser to his face threatening him with violence. Afterwards he was sent to a separate solitary confinement, which the detention officers called “the shit hole.”

Regardless of any progressive intentions, this action was by all accounts a failure. Dangling from the bridge, these activists succeeded in separating themselves from the ground and more importantly from the masses. Tens of thousands of people work in the Houston Ship Channel and its surrounding petrochemical facilities. Instead of conducting the patient work necessary to educate and mobilize these workers, Greenpeace took the shortcut of performing a stunt, the outcome of which carries serious consequences and little benefit. Only the organized masses, with their initiative and creativity unleashed by the leadership of the proletariat, are capable of mitigating climate change and putting an end to US imperialism.