I still remember the official launch of the No Tankers campaign like it was yesterday. It was my first day on the job and Dogwood staff and supporters had gathered on the steps of the B.C. legislature.
Dogwood staffer Charles Campbell was messing around with the P.A. system. Bill Gannon and Rod Marining – both veterans of the oil supertanker battles from the ’70s – had arrived and were mingling at the front. Bill had his ukulele and copies of his song “BC Waters,” which the Gettin’ Higher Choir was going to help us sing to kick things off.
Full disclosure: I don’t sing so I made sure to hang at the back.
The most powerful moment of that sunny afternoon, for me, was when former Shell Oil advisor Anita Burke took to the microphone. She told us of the moment when her and a small crew of first-responders stepped off a helicopter on a beach oiled by the Exxon Valdez spill.
Immediately, she said, they had to run into the forest and bend over sick because of the smell. “I didn’t know how to fix it,” she said. “I had all the technology in the world, Exxon was going to give us a billion dollars, and we didn’t know how to fix it.”
That’s when it really hit home for me what we were up against. At the end of the day an accident could happen, like they sometimes do and the veil of corporate promises would lift to reveal the reality of oil spills: shovels, buckets and people getting sick.
I think most British Columbians understand rightly, in their gut, the folly of allowing crude oil tankers on our coast.
They understood it back in the ’70s and they understand it now. B.C.’s coast, its magic and its bounty has imprinted itself onto our collective provincial and national identity.
That deep-seated, gut instinct to protect our coastal waters is one of the reasons the No Tankers petition has grown from that sunny launch on the legislature steps through two main iterations to include over 100,000 signatories nation-wide.
The No Tankers petition is not some stale stack of paper. Yes, we do submit them (thanks to MPs Denise Savoie and Joyce Murray for presenting our first petition to the House of Commons!), however the power of the petition does not lie in it’s official submission. Signing it is a springboard.
It’s a petition’s ability to create an active and engaged network that’s truly powerful. In Dogwood Initiative’s case, those who sign the No Tankers petition are given the opportunity to participate in or organize their own local actions. These additional actions then combine to produce an overall impact that far exceeds that one initial signature.
For example, the weight of so many connected and coordinated people helped convince the federal NDP, Liberals and Bloc Quebecois to work together one exciting December morning to pass a motion seeking to block oil tankers off our north coast.
And as this sentence is being written, thousands of petition signatories in B.C. are contacting their own local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) to push for the B.C. government to flex some muscle over oil tanker plans for our coast.
A lot has happened since I stood on those legislature steps and pretended to sing along. We’ve had successes and failures, moments of joy and moments of dread, but overall I can tell you that this big, diverse, collective network of people is slowly becoming unstoppable.
Victory is creeping up on us. You can help it find us that much quicker by sharing the petition with everyone you know.