On Saturday, May 16, hundreds of kayakers gathered under overcast skies to protest a 319-foot-tall Arctic drilling platform called the Polar Pioneer, which had arrived in Elliott Bay earlier that week. The Coast Guard had established a 100-yard safety zone around the giant rig, which belongs to Transocean but is now leased to Shell Oil for Arctic drilling purposes. Should the worst occur, kayaktivists knew they would have about 10 minutes in the numbing waters of Puget Sound before hypothermia set in.
Coast Salish canoes led kayaktivists right up to the towering rig squatting in the Port of Seattle's Terminal 5. The Duwamish, who hosted more than 50 intertribal canoe pullers and Native leaders for breakfast earlier that morning, are the descendants of Chief Seattle, the city's namesake. They also fished the waters of Terminal 5 and the Duwamish Waterway for thousands of years before it became too industrially polluted for Duwamish kids to touch.
At the base of the drilling platform, Alaska Natives, Duwamish tribal members, and socialist city council member Kshama Sawant gave speeches from the canoes about Shell and environmental destruction. It was a powerful moment of validation for the canoe pullers. "They've been out on the waters for years and years, and going to canoe journeys, and they've had thousands of protocols," said Marles Black Bird, a Lakota woman who had traveled from Olympia to be at the protest. "But to be involved in something like this, I don't think they've ever really had this happen before."
Greenpeace estimated that 500 people showed up on the water and more than a thousand protested on land. The day's action and/or the run-up to it were covered by NPR, the Guardian, the New York Times, Slate, the UK's Independent newspaper, Agence France-Presse, Mother Jones, MSNBC, Reuters, and more. At several points, kayaks and canoes floated as one, crammed side by side into the terminal, with hundreds of people beating paddles against their vessels and chanting, "Shell no!"
A little more than 24 hours later, hundreds of people assembled on Harbor Island in an attempt to "shut down Shell." They marched across a truck flyover to blockade the workers' entrance at Terminal 5.
A small group of activists tried to deploy technical blockades early Monday morning, but a heavy police presence at the terminal prevented them from doing so. Nevertheless, the bigger crowd stayed there for seven hours, threw a block-party blockade with DJs and free food, and promised that they'd be back.