A Look At Resistance to Interstate 69 (Past, Present, and Future)

by Roadblock Earth First!
(get the PDF)

How I-69 and The Lives of Indiana Eco-anarchists Became Intertwined

In the early 2000s, one of the main anarchist projects in Indiana—outside of maintaining infoshops and developing local “anarchist” infrastructure— was summit hopping. We traveled all over the country simply to attend a weekend long mass mobilization against ‘x’ or ‘y’ arm of capital. Attempting to seriously intervene in the decision making process of the free trade agreements, we took the demonstrations and our involvement in them seriously — planning “effective” strategies, attending all the necessary planning meetings, and all the rest. After a few years of these mass mobilizations constituting the majority of our action, it became apparent that we were not in fact intervening, but rather we were only pawns in the spectacle created by the state. Reading the press after the summits was one of the things that tipped us off to this. We realized that no matter how large our movement was, how effective our strategies, or how many meetings we attended, the agenda of exploitation and destruction would be carried out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and free trade agreements — regardless of the demonstrations. Our involvement in them largely served to perpetuate divisions of class and the farces of democracy and liberal ideology.

The summits had less and less to do with the experiences of our daily lives and our longing for worlds worth living in. Accordingly, we decided it was time to look elsewhere for meaningful resistance and intervention since we were unable to find our desires reflected in the mass mobilizations.

At the time, a good portion of our crew had come out of environmental circles and still had many connections and ties to those communities. Through this, word was passed along that there was a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) superhighway planned to go through Indiana, our state of residence. The highway is called Interstate 69 (I-69). Finding out that this road would rip through our homes and destroy a good portion of our state, we decided to look deeper into this road-building project.

I-69 is directly linked to many infrastructure projects that span from Nova Scotia to Argentina; all of these projects are necessary to seriously implement the free trade agreements that are subjects of protest. It is these projects— these dams, roads, deep-water ports, dry canals, and security agreements— that are physical manifestations of the war being waged by free trade against us, and against humanity. In order for our resistance and opposition to free trade to be effective, we had to fight against the economic and environmental devastation these free trade agreements were causing in our own communities—our intervention had to be fighting to stop I-69.

A Brief Description of the Havoc Interstate 69 Might Inflict

In Indiana, planners for I-69 have explicitly stated that the road will uproot nearly 500 families, 1500 acres of forests, 400 acres of wetlands, many more communities, as well as wilderness[1]. With over 94% of the population of Indiana opposed to this road building project, it is ludicrous that the state feels like resistance will be low enough to go through with their plans.

These statistics are only the beginning for I-69. After the road is built, the state intends to implement projects to open up the entire area of southwestern Indiana—which the Environmental Protection Authority designated a ‘non-attainment area’ due to extremely high levels of pollution— to corporations that will further the demolition of our bioregion. There are plans for many biomass incineration ethanol plants, low-employment factories, and coal-fired power plants. The way that the road is laid out also opens up huge sections of farmland to corporations like Monsanto to come and buy up the leftover acreage, and combine into huge agri-business monocrop fields and genetic engineering testing ground. Black Beauty coal, a Peabody subsidiary, is also involved in insidious attempts to buy mining rights from landowners that are facing eviction. Indeed, the whole gamuts of “bad corporations” are trying to make a grab for a piece of the I-69 pie.

Unfortunately, the exploitation and development plans that are being proposed for southwestern Indiana are the norm in the furthering of the plans of capital. The arms of development and corporations far reaching: to the north there are plans for Atlantica and the Security and Prosperity Partnership; to the west there are plans for Pacifica; across the states there are projects like the Corridors of the Future, the expanding of Interstate 5, dam projects, natural gas pipelines and many others; and to the south, I-69 directly links up to the remains of Plan Puebla Panama (PPP)[2].

In South America an almost identical project is being proposed: The Regional Integration Initiative of South America (IIRSA). IIRSA and PPP have been fought fiercely over the years, and as a result they have been forced to diminish in scope. In order for us to survive or have anything left once we get around to taking this shit down, it is not just I-69 that has to be stopped, but all of the infrastructure projects. It is only then that we can start undoing the already existing concrete and industrialized fortresses and realize our possibilities.

History of Resistance to Interstate 69

When we became involved in organizing again I-69, we inherited a long legacy of resistance. Resistance runs deep in southern Indiana; for those people that haven’t been co-opted by liberal environmentalism and confined to the cages of wage, it runs in their veins. For nearly twenty-years landowners and those directly affected by the road have engaged in road blockages with tractors, harassment of surveyors and planners, shouting down local politicians, and taking over meetings.

Some of the more exciting and inspiring known actions have occurred over the past five years. In Bloomington, Indiana, 2002 was a particularly full year full of resistance, during which some very important actions took place. For example, when the planners of the highway hosted a required “public” meeting, the room where it was hosted was stuffed full of folks speaking in opposition to the highway. The meeting eventually erupted into a mini-riot, resulting in Indiana State Police escorting out two proponents of the highway, “for reasons of safety.” Later that year, an event happened that highlighted the breadth of the resistance: farmers along the proposed route harvested food, which they shared at a Thanksgiving dinner in Indianapolis with opponents of I-69. The dinner was a place for folks to meet and strategize. From the dinner, a group made up of the majority of the people present staged a march to the governor’s mansion. Upon arriving at the governor’s mansion, it became obvious that people had already started construction of I-69, but not along the proposed route — rather, this construction began in the governor’s lawn. There have been many other actions and events that have served to motivate and encourage resistance.

Our point of entry was admittedly late in the game. From this point, though, we have attempted to create frameworks that honestly express our intentions and motivations. We have tried to recognize our limitations, both socially and politically, and are trying to work within them.

What Inspires and Informs Our Resistance

Other struggles have informed our resistance, here we provide a few salient examples:
Anti-nuclear Struggle in Comiso, Italy: The anti-nuclear struggle in Comiso, Italy provides a point of reference for us. In Comiso opponents of a power plant went door to door, and more-or-less explicitly stated that they were insurrectionary anarchists who wanted to connect on commonalities.

U.K. Anti-Roads Movement: Another point of reference for us has been the anti-roads movement in the UK that raged throughout the ‘90s. In this struggle—which eventually grew to include much larger critiques of institutions and programs such as car culture, ports, the criminal justice bill, and mining—people from varying subcultures and backgrounds came together to destroy 400 out of the 500 proposed roads projects. Their resistance included defense of wild and urban areas, the merging of party and protest, and intensely beautiful blockades.

Obviously the above examples are just two of many points of reference. To briefly name a few other inspirational resistance projects that continue to give us a broader view: the Treno Alto Velocita (TAL) struggle in Italy; the San Salvador Atenco airport stoppage and the resistance to the La Parota dam, both in Mexico; and the Minnehaha Free State in in the U.S. We could name many others.

The resistance we hear of on our travels, and those we read about, continue to build and sustain our struggle. When we continue to share these stories and weave together a collective historical context, we start to see how endless the possibilities are.

The Activity of Roadblock Earth First!

As stated earlier, when we became involved in resistance to I-69 a number of our crew came out of ecological groups, which played a major role in our decision to identify with Earth First! (EF!). On another level, it is obvious that EF! is now at a point that is more or less anarchist-dominated and insurrectionary in direction. Our identification with EF! became cemented as a result of our desire to expand theoretical perspectives, learn skills, and find affinity and friends. EF! has grown to include a much wider perspective than that of an exclusively ecological ideology. These shifts have allowed us to plug into EF! at a great juncture.

Coming out of these points of reference, one of our primary intentions is to connect in an open way with landowners — to connect in ways that validate and encourage their forms of struggle. These relations have been tenuous at times and prove themselves difficult to form and maintain. However, these relationships are one of the concrete ways that we have been able to broaden our vantage point and figure out how to move forward. The landowners have continually shared the experiences of contesting the road with us, and they have helped us to ground ourselves in areas along the proposed route that we are less familiar with.

Another of our intentions is to clearly show the links between I-69 and the larger infrastructure networks that are trying to be built. This is largely based on our efforts to orient I-69 as a solidarity project with people resisting—and defeating—infrastructure projects in Mexico, Central America, and South America. As Root Force has repeatedly and more eloquently stated, we also view infrastructure as a solid point of attack[3]. In the U.S. there is a major focus on plans like Corridors for the Future, and it is clear that such projects are necessary for the completion of the capitalist free trade projects.

Since I-69 has been proposed for around twenty years, resistance has fluctuated frequently in relation to what the state is doing. For this reason, a large part of our focus has been on creating networks, and forming affinity with folks from all over Indiana and from multiple groups and subcultures. Some common activities in this regard have been potlucks, public assemblies, meetings, benefit shows, and tabling at the Farmers’ Market. This has proved extremely helpful in decentralizing specific tasks, as well as broadening and incorporating more voices into the resistance. However, this method and framework pushes us further and further into an inescapably activist framework, and compromises have been made in order to ‘grow numbers’ and become ‘more relevant.’

We have also focused a good deal of energy into getting to know intimately the land that we’re defending. Some of the activities that have allowed (or attempted to allow for this), include bike tours, walking tours, plotting out maps, studying GIS systems, having research parties, and spending time at people’s houses along the route. While we have become much more knowledgeable about the land—and in many cases, an intense connection is felt with the land that is proposed for clearing—we have not been able to spend as much time on the route as would be beneficial. Although there is little to remedy this at such a late point, attempts are being made and each day folks are becoming more comfortable with the land. Bike tours have proven to be one of the best ways for folks to get acquainted with the route — they have allowed activists to spend time with people on the route, and have given activists the opportunity to learn from them about their homes and land.

As is to be expected, another focal point has been action. Early on, a lot of energy was placed on home and office demos against those responsible for implementing and planning the road. There were waves of these throughout the summer of 2005 and continuing on into 2007. The demos had some successes, but mainly just lead to increased security at the most targeted offices. The increased security, repression, and lack of any substantial successes resulting from these demos made continuing them an ineffectual effort. Another reason for the shift away from office and home demos was the inability to focus in on one particular area, and the feeling of the need to target everyone equally. Although office demos still happen, they are no longer a main activity.

Public meetings hosted by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) have been a significant source of energy and resistance, with a lot of effort going into them on both our side and the enemy’s side. These meetings brought out people from along the route who are directly affected by the road, as well as a huge amount of general opposition. Nearly all of these meetings wound up with INDOT having to scramble around, trying to regain control of the meetings, which they were rarely able to accomplish.

Where Resistance is Currently

In early March, companies that are contracted out by INDOT began to clear the path for I-69 in the first 2 miles of the southernmost section on the route: trees where the endangered Indiana Bat nests were ripped up out of the ground, houses were demolished, and heavy machinery came up to the doorsteps of remaining homes. There is continual preparation work for construction — which will likely begin in the coming weeks. INDOT’s early start in clearing has left us in a precarious situation, but spirits are up and resistance is continuing on our terms.

Recently, a huge surge in energy has led to many exciting events and projects getting underway. Crews have formed to bottom line logistical needs such as medic, legal, housing, transportation, and so on. These crews have been hard at work trying to lay the necessary foundations for supporting the large-scale action that everyone is looking forward to. In addition to this, there are nature walks happening on land on the route. These walks will function to familiarize people with the land and put faces on the theoretical destruction of Indiana. A ‘listening project’ that records interviews with folks who are along the route and disseminates the information, is currently underway. There are public assemblies that serve as a type of spokes council and facilitate discussions within Bloomington. A newsletter is published on a bi-weekly basis that gives updates on both resistance to the road and the current doings of INDOT. Over the past two years, people have been handing out Pledge Cards, which people sign saying they’ll be there when the bulldozers arrive to begin construction on I-69. Currently there are hundreds of pledge cards, and as a result of this, action camps are happening. There’s a wide range of other projects happening as well, including ecological surveying, a long walk, bike tour, and much more.

Next Steps

To continue fighting this highway—and ideally set in place a victory to inspire resistance to other infrastructure projects—we have put out a call to encourage folks to travel to southern Indiana to aid in the fight. To this effect, basic logistical needs (housing, food, legal, and so on) have been set in place in key areas. We are encouraging folks to bring something to the table and come with affinity groups. It is not our place to dictate actions for others, so we are asking that people make a serious effort to define their own actions and their own interventions. People will be supported in their actions and are encouraged to use the existing frameworks for logistical needs. However, it is helpful to realize that resistance to I-69 is not a weeklong summit protest; it will likely continue for years to come. We need long-termers. While folks can be helpful if they come for a weekend or a year, it is helpful if they are prepared to be self-directed and able to define their engagement. Being prepared to be self-directed and self-defined in engagement will allow folks to have the most meaningful experience and be helpful to resistance.

Once construction begins, there is a (not so) secret plan being enacted called x69. Basically, the idea for this is that construction will be shut down for thirty days, beginning with ‘day x.’(Day x is being used as the term for the unknown day when construction will begin, since we don’t have a specific or exact date). Affinity groups sign up to take on a certain amount of time until all the days are full. Along with this, the Pledge Cards will bring hundreds of people to the construction site on ‘day x.’ These two plans—along with continual resistance and communication—are being enacted to stop the road.

There are many other ways for folks to be part of stopping I-69. There is a list on the website of companies involved in building I-69[4]. A bike ride of the route in Indiana is taking place in September. July 28th is a day of action against I-69, so folks can start planning for that now. There is a Pledge Camp and Music Festival from June 6-8. Additionally, on the website there is a wishlist of supplies that we need. Folks can also go on speaking tours about the highway and infrastructure. We can send you supplies to help you out. The website contains tons of literature and posters for download and distribution. Most importantly, though, folks can fight infrastructure projects wherever they are!

_______________________________________________________________________

1 A good portion of these are family farms that are barely hanging on, and they are constantly under the threat of buyout by Black Beauty Coal, Natural Gas Pipelines, loggers, ethanol plants, and agri-businesses.

2 PPP is an infrastructure project that was proposed to create hierarchies of maquiladoras, biological corridors to strip the rainforests of their remaining life and patent it, road projects, dry canals, hundreds (if not thousands) of dams, deep water ports, and airports, just to name a few.

3 For more information on Root Force visit their website at: http://www.rootforce.org/

4 Roadblock Earth First!’s website can be found at: http://stopi69.wordpress.com/

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