Living in a war zone: the emotional toll of the front lines of Fairy Creek blockade

 

“How as humanity have we gotten to this point where we’re fighting like this when we should just be working together to protect these resources?”


For thirteen months protestors have occupied the front lines of Fairy Creek watershed in an attempt to thwart the logging industry from chopping down the last 3% of old growth forest in British Columbia.

 

In mid-May logging company Teal-Jones Group was awarded an injunction which allowed the RCMP to begin removing protestors. To date, over one thousand people have been arrested.

 

Despite the arrests and the injunction, the camp remains. The tensions on the site have led to weeks of violent confrontations between police and peaceful protesters.

 

“There’s a side of it that’s exhilarating. Healing in a way, being able to act in the face of such a daunting, collective future” says activist and musician Luke Wallace.

 

According to protestors, RCMP have raided camps in the middle of the night, slashed tents, trained floodlights on campers to prevent them from sleeping, prevented food and other essentials from reaching protestors, and used tear gas and pepper spray. In a video taken during an arrest where protestors arms are linked together you can hear an officer telling another to “twist their fingers.”

 

When asked about interactions between protestors and RCMP, Division Media Relations Officer

Sgt. Chris Manseau said, “Essentially, the actions of the protesters dictate the actions of the police.”

 

Manseau went on to say “protesters are placing themselves in more dangerous locking devices and deep trenches, leading our officers to use different techniques in order to remove people as slowly and safely as possible”.

 

It is hard to imagine the tenacity it would require to remain on the frontlines under these circumstances. Still, the violence has taken a toll, and turnover is high. While there are those who have been there for hundreds of days, many come only for a few. Even a short visit takes an emotional toll. Wallace spent 40 days at the Fairy Creek camp.

 

“I can say definitively that I was actively experiencing PTSD while I was out there and continue to experience that now. That impact on the adrenal system and cortisol and stress hormones and adrenaline… I have spikes at one in the morning that I wake up in a state of fight or flight because of the, you know, the constant 24-hour threat of violent police raids.” says Wallace.

 

 

When couple Wes Alcock and Larissa Lukac saw the escalating violence on social media, they decided to head to the front lines to see if there was any way they could help out.

 

Even before they arrived, the couple was exposed to the aftermath of the police response as fellow protestors coached them to wear googles and a bandana covering their ears, mouth and nose in case they got pepper sprayed by police, as that had happened only days before.

 

“I was like wow, this is something I never thought that I would experience. Trying to protect myself from the police for peacefully protesting” said Lukac.

 

A common theme for protestors was how absurd the situation felt.

 

Lukac described tearing up as she contemplated this question. “There’s this surrealness to it, This desperation. Like, why are we here? How as humanity have we gotten to this point where we’re fighting like this when we should just be working together to protect these resources?”

 

In a time when the climate crisis is so obvious and so imminent, and the number of old growth forests so few, it’s hard to confront the reality that this is even an argument that we as a society need to have.

 

Still, the blockade remains. The sense of collective purpose is unshakeable.

 

“It’s pretty safe to assume that everyone’s out there to throw down and protect the forest. So, you can start from such a rich place” says Wallace.

 

Protestors are often awake nearly 24 hours a day as they go back and forth between the front lines and spending the nights building what are known as “hard blocks” to obstruct RCMP.

 

Yet Alcock describes protestors energy for their cause as unwavering. “You’re in the middle of the night digging these trenches. And these people are getting amped on, like, how they can build the thing in this new creative way to delay the police from doing the extraction for just a little longer.”

 

Teal Jones Groups injunction expires Sept 26. Although the chances are slim, protestors are hopeful the judge will not award the extension the company has applied for. If denied, it could give protestors some much needed respite from the chaos.