Pika and Lauren (Photo: Tar Sands Blockade)

(update below)

Two young women from New England who attempted to start a second tree blockade to stop TransCanada’s construction of the Keystone XL pipeline have been charged with felonies. They were arrested in the last twenty-four hours.

As this blog reported yesterday, in Sacul, Texas, Pika of Vermont and Lauren of New Hampshire climbed up onto platforms in trees to halt construction near a highway crossing. Tar Sands Blockade media spokesperson Ron Seifert told Firedoglake heavy machinery was in the area to the destroy the forest and cut a path for the pipeline. The Blockade tied ropes to the heavy machinery. The ropes went up into the trees and over big tree branches. Hanging from the ropes were platforms for Pika and Lauren. That was how they would disrupt construction.

Six sheriffs immediately showed up to the newly launched tree blockade. The Tar Sands Blockade reported they were there “inspecting” the  ”rigging of tree sits, taking pictures, and making phone calls.” Then, the situation calmed in the afternoon, as police and all but one worker left only to return in the evening with cherry pickers to cut Pika and Lauren down from the trees.

Lauren was removed about an hour later. She was booked and charged with “Fourth Degree (State) Felony Criminal Mischief, Class A Misdemeanor Resisting Arrest, and Class B Misdemeanor Criminal Trespass.” Pika, however, escaped the cherry pickers for the moment by climbing higher in the tree.

Police responded by cutting her platform and climb line. She was left alone with a rope on a limb seventy feet in the air and her experience as a climber.

Law enforcement did not leave. They turned on “noisy generator-powered flood lights” that the Blockade said were for “sleep deprivation. While this happened, a few supporters of Pika stood by.

Pika amazingly climbed up in her tree higher than the cherry picker could reach. In response, police cut her platform and climb line from her tree and retreated the cherry picker, leaving her in the tree with just the rope she has on her person and her resourcefulness. She’s currently on a limb about 70 feet in the air, chillin.

Law enforcement hasn’t left the scene, and they are there with noisy, generator-powered flood lights to induce sleep deprivation. Pika’s supporters haven’t left the scene entirely, either. Four Tar Sands Blockade supporters will be holding vigil for her through the night.

From her perch at 10:30 pm, she sent this message, which the Blockade posted:

I’m sitting in this pine tree under flood lights and the watchful eyes of cops, just thinking about all the implications of this pipeline and that the destruction I see 70 feet below me is just one tiny part. I feel grief, but I also feel strong!

I don’t have any food or water. I couldn’t get it high enough quickly enough, so the cops cut it down.

It’s starting to get a little chilly.

Thanks so much for all the amazing support!!

A couple hours later, she came down because she had no food, water or warm clothing. She was arrested immediately and charged with “Fourth Degree (State) Felony Criminal Mischief and Class B Misdemeanor Criminal Trespass minus the Class A Misdemeanor Resisting Arrest charge.”

The both appeared in court today. Pika’s bail was set at $11,500 while Lauren’s was set at $14,000. (The Blockade has put up a page to collect donations for their bail.)

TransCanada has abused eminent domain to coerce and intimidate land owners into signing contracts to hand over their property for this pipeline. Some property owners were told if they did not sign and take some money for their property TransCanada would still take their property and they would simply get zero dollars for their property.

One land owner, Susan Scott, described on “Democracy Now!” how she was threatened with an eminent domain lawsuit and forced into signing away property to TransCanada:

…I didn’t want my pristine forest messed up, screwed up, whatever you want to call it. Didn’t want it—didn’t want it touched. And so, I held them off for two years. And then he told me that they had eminent domain. And now, then, it’s become an unselfish thing, when I really found out what they was fixing to put through there. It’s going to ruin our water system. It’s going to take away everything that we’ve worked for. And from the very beginning, they never told me the truth. And I just watched a thing on TV about Geraldo at Large the other night, and he was talking about it, and it was pretty bad.

And I feel like that our constitutional rights have been just wiped completely away, that we don’t have any more. I feel like that the government has bailed on us, and I told that openly. And I wrote the president and all the commissioners and whoever else, and their response was to pass the buck to somebody else. And I don’t know what else I can say other than that. I’ve always said I didn’t want them. And, yes, I did take the money, because they said they were taking my land anyway…

This excellent post by a former tree sitter on the police TransCanada are paying to protect their project from activists shows they are there to arbitrarily enforce the law in ways intended to suppress assembly and speech:

As a telling example, when I was immediately handcuffed after descending from my tree last week, the arresting officer was unable to tell me what I was being arrested for because apparently he had “not been told yet.” Why then, you may ask, was I arrested by default? If an actual crime had been committed perhaps it would not be necessary to wait for an order to manufacture one.  I spent the next 20 minutes listening to armed, camo-clad officers attempting to contact TC higher-ups and ask for further orders. At first my handcuffs were removed and I was told by the county sheriff that I would be able to leave the site without arrest if I promised not to return, but this changed quickly after phone contact with TransCanada was made. They insisted that the police re-arrest and charge me for “criminal trespassing” and they obliged without hesitation.

After I criticized their cozy relationship with the Canadian corporation destroying their own community, they responded by saying that they could just as easily give me a felony “Possession of a Criminal Instrument” charge (for “possessing” a tree sit apparently) and that I should feel lucky and keep my mouth shut. The subjective and arbitrary application of the law that was tailored to fit the interests of this industry sickened me. The arresting officer then forced me to give my full name and address to him which was then written on a business card and handed to two men in TC helmets who had been collecting names and video and of us for the ongoing SLAPP lawsuit; my private information was collected on their behalf by armed officers so that this corporation could sue me for protecting land they wish to destroy. [emphasis added]

As young men and women continue to boldly confront TransCanada, the reality is there is no accountability for punishment for the multinational corporation that is trampling over the rights of citizens and improperly seizing up property for their toxic oil pipeline project. On the other hand, those climb into trees are risking the possibility of being charged felonies, something intended to have a chilling effect on those who would consider challenging TransCanada.

UPDATE – 6:22 PM EST Lauren released. Waiting on Pika to be released.

UPDATE 2 – 6:50 PM EST KXL Blockade Twitter account now reporting “Pika just walked barefoot out of jail! The police kept her shoes (& the rest of her and Lauren’s stuff).”