Approximately 100 protesters, including many Unitarian Universalists, blocked the road to a liquefied natural gas facility under construction near the Port of Tacoma in Washington for several hours on Monday, December 18. Some protesters chained themselves together to form a human blockade, and others sat or stood in the road.
The protest was part of an ongoing campaign by the Puyallup Tribe to stop the construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant near its land.
Activists arrived before 6 a.m. Monday and linked themselves together across the road, effectively blocking gates into the Puget Sound Energy construction site. Carlo Voli, a UU activist and co-organizer of the action, said it capped eight days of protest. Voli and another man were arrested after locking themselves to a large construction crane tower. Voli and Steve Way had kayaked up to the fenced-off construction site through fog and scaled the crane together.
Organizers wrote on Facebook that the gas facility is being built against the wishes of the Puyallup Tribe, as well as in violation of the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, which established fishing rights for the Puyallup and several other tribes in the area.
Voli, a member of Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Congregation, fifty miles north of Tacoma, said he felt “a very strong inner calling to come down” back in June to show support for the Puyallup community, and he has cultivated a relationship with the tribe ever since. “There was no other avenue than to take matters into our own hands and start a wave of civil disobedience,” Voli said.
Tahoma Unitarian Universalist Congregation, in Tacoma, hosted and housed activists in its building the night before the action, Voli said. UUs in the area have played a sizable role in climate justice work in the area, he added. “It makes me very proud to be Unitarian to see individual UUs who are involved and have been involved for a long time be at an action like this.”
Saltwater UU Church in Des Moines, Washington, also hosted activists the night before the protest.
The Rev. Tandi Rogers, a member of the UUA’s Pacific Western Region staff, helped block the road. “I was there because the Puyallup Tribe asked for people to show up,” Rogers said. “All this work we’re doing to dismantle white supremacy within ourselves and our denomination—this is dismantling white supremacy in the community I live in.”
In an email to UU World, Rogers said she was the only identifiable clergy member present. “I look in the eyes of the workers trying to quietly get past, into the eye of the security, into the eyes of policy—my collar reminds them that Creator is watching. And my collar blesses the water protectors,” Rogers wrote.
Voli, who is ethnically Hispanic and racially white, told UU World that he usually does not speak with media outlets but wanted to inspire Unitarian Universalists “to greater action and participation” in climate justice efforts. “The times we’re in, we have to show up, and we have to be uncomfortable. The reason to do these actions is to inspire other Unitarian Universalists to do the same.”
An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the Tahoma UU Congregation.