By the afternoon of Friday, May 22, Chiara D'Angelo's friends knew she was planning something.
The 20-year-old Western Washington University student had split off from some of the activists organizing for an anti-Arctic-drilling march earlier in the day. She didn't tell them where she was going, but not long after, they figured it out. D'Angelo had clambered up an anchor chain belonging to the Arctic Challenger, a ship now moored in Bellingham Bay and soon expected to be used as a support vessel for Shell Oil's controversial Arctic drilling explorations this summer. D'Angelo had heard that the barge planned on moving soon. The initial goal was to stay strapped to it for several hours.
This wasn't D'Angelo's first protest. In 2014, she camped out on a platform high up in a Douglas fir for more than 40 hours to block the destruction of those trees on Bainbridge Island. But this time, the stakes were more global. D'Angelo told a support boat to communicate that she'd climbed up on the ship's anchor to prevent the fossil-fuel industry from destroying subsistence cultures on the North Slope of Alaska, as well as to prevent the industry from careening global temperatures into an irreversible climate-change scenario (as a recent scientific paper in Nature says will happen if Arctic oil reserves are tapped and burned rather than left in the ground).
D'Angelo wasn't alone. A dozen people, mostly Western Washington University students like her, gathered on a nearby beach to think of ways to get D'Angelo supplies while avoiding the US Coast Guard. By 11 p.m., roughly five hours after she had gone up, the group had assembled a sailboat, a dinghy, a kayak, bags of hot food and snacks, and a mobile bike unit serving hot black tea by the water. They'd heard D'Angelo's plan was to hang on until 4 a.m.
Webbing and carabiners attached to a rock-climbing harness would keep D'Angelo from falling into the water below, but she didn't bring much else. She also had no way of communicating with her friends on shore other than shouting. After 1 a.m., the wind picked up over the water. The Coast Guard escorted two of D'Angelo's support boats away from the chain, and some of the happy adrenaline from earlier in the day seemed to evaporate.
The group on the beach was nervous. Debra D'Angelo, Chiara's mother, had driven up from Bainbridge Island in a borrowed car as soon as she found out about her daughter. The first clue: a Facebook post about an activist who had attached herself to an Arctic drilling support vessel. She knew: "It's Chiara. Shit."
Her other kid was in Olympia at a Black Lives Matter protest. Now Chiara was attached to a boat, hovering above the frigid and indifferent water. She supported her daughter's cause. It was also terrifying.
"When you have children saying what's happening is not okay, as a parent you can't stay in denial because it's their place, and their future," Debra D'Angelo said. "She's really intelligent and bright and informed, and informed me, and therefore, what can I do?"
Activists on the beach huddled in blankets and sleeping bags, going over the risks of getting a two-way radio to Chiara D'Angelo. They had the kayak, but the waters were rough. The cost of flipping could be hypothermia, death. A dinghy might be more stable, but also more obvious. If they messed that up, they'd potentially face a citation or arrest. And arrest would mean losing a critical part of the small team.
Around 3 a.m., a dinghy slipped beneath the pier and successfully passed off the radio to D'Angelo. After nine hours, her voice crackled through: "That makes my night so good!"
Two more activists joined D'Angelo on the chain later that night and in the early hours of the next morning. But in the hours after receiving the walkie-talkie, the same harness D'Angelo had brought up became responsible for intense pain. The straps cutting into D'Angelo's skin kept constant pressure on the bruises blooming beneath them.
On the morning of Saturday, May 23, supporters discovered a fix: a hammock so D'Angelo could rest. After that, she decided to stay another night.
On Sunday, May 24, a flotilla of kayaks—similar to the one that surrounded Shell's Arctic drilling platform, the Polar Pioneer, in Seattle on May 16—swarmed the bay around the Arctic Challenger. The walkie-talkie delivered to Chiara had stopped working, but Debra D'Angelo, Chiara's mother, had spoken to her daughter by bullhorn that morning. Chiara had been terrified that the barge was going to move with her body still lashed to the anchor chain, but her mother assured her it wouldn't. That evening, activists asked Chiara D'Angelo if she wanted to stay another night. Kick your feet if you want to stay.
D'Angelo kicked her feet.
On Monday, May 25, 63 hours after D'Angelo went up the chain, she decided to come down. She couldn't feel pain anymore, she said, but heard the Arctic Challenger wouldn't be moving for at least another two days and wanted to plan ahead. She had just received a trespass warning from the Bellingham police, but she sounded bright and chipper over the phone.
"I want [people] to take away that we are the people we've been waiting for," she said. "It sounds corny, but it's true. There are these spaces—sometimes really uncomfortable spaces—and it's really important that people who understand the issues of climate change step up and step into those spaces, and say enough is enough."