Q&A with student protester harnessed to Shell vessel for 63 hours
To protest Shell Oil Company’s planned drilling in the Arctic, Western student Chiara D’Angelo chained herself to a Shell-owned oil vessel, the Arctic Challenger, from May 22-25 over Memorial Day weekend. The Western Front followed up with D’Angelo to get her take on her experience.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I grew up on the Kitsap peninsula in a town called Kingston. I spent a lot of time in Indianola and eventually moved Bainbridge Island. I think that’s where my inspiration comes from really, this desire to protect sacred water.
Q: How long have you been, or considered yourself to be, an activist?
A: Since I was 16. That’s when I started to voice my opinion and saw that it was actually effective. I started off working to ban plastic bags in my hometown and then kind of took it from there and haven’t stopped really since.
Q: How involved have your parents been in your activism?
A: My mom was actually on Facebook on Friday night. She sees “Young woman chains herself to the Arctic Challenger,” and my mom goes, “That’s my daughter.” She didn’t know who it was but she automatically knew it was me. So she packed her bags and headed out.
Q: We spoke at the impromptu kayak rally Thursday night. Was this plan in the works at that point?
A: Well, we came home that night and we were just like, ‘Was that enough?’ We sat in some kayaks. Was Shell even blinking an eye? Probably not. We were like, ‘Why don’t we go sit out on the beach with candles and do a vigil.’ At least then we can see the ship leave, and be there for that and not avoid it.
The whole time we were planning we were like, “Well, if we find somebody to do it, we could do this…” And then at the end of the day I was like, “Well we can’t not do it now”.
Q: What was it like once you got up there?
A: So I get up there and I’ve got no stuff, and I’m like, “Four hours, I can do four hours.” I’ve got a water bottle; I’m good to go. And then four hours went by and another friend joined me and I was like, “Oh, we could do 12 hours.”
It was the most excruciating 12 hours of my life. At about half an hour into this whole thing, I was like, “There is no way.” My legs were swollen already and my body was feeling it. Like, deep suffering, right? I felt like my lower half became a sacrifice zone, where I just had to numb it out and just decided not feel.
And then at twelve hours I was like, “Well, I’m not going to come down. It feels the same as it did at half an hour. It’s not going to get any worse than this. I might as well stick it out.”
Q: So, you got the 2-by-4 and you got the hammock. At what point did you get the hammock?
A: I got the hammock at the same time as the 2-by-4, but I saved it. I used the 2-by-4 for as long as possible because I was like, “Eventually this 2-by-4 is not going to be comfortable. Let’s just use it until it’s not comfortable anymore.” And it was about hour 12 that I got both of those. And then hour 16 to hour 63 was hammock time. Not hammer time, but hammock time. (Laughs)
Q: What did you think about and do to keep yourself entertained up there?
A: So, I’m looking on the horizon and seeing this beautiful, almost constantly icy blue landscape at night that would get this really magical glow about it and I’d be able to imagine the Arctic. Though I can’t know what it’s like up there, I can picture it, and feel it and daydream about it.
At one point I found this pipe in the hull of the boat and I could talk into and it would echo back. So I could just talk into it and it would be this megaphone to the entire ship. I could hear people banging on things in there so I knew that they could hear me. So I used it as an opportunity to speak and sing to them and have so much fun.
Q: Did you sleep at all up there?
A: I had eight hours of sleep for two whole days beforehand. And then I got up there and I didn’t sleep that whole night. So I had eight hours of sleep for three whole days. The amount of sleep exhaustion I had so much that I could barely function.
I slept in the hammock bag. So I was just crunched up on my hip and I woke up with the sorest hip. So, yes I slept. But did I sleep well? Did I get rest? Did I feel like I slept enough? Hell no. But neither did any of my crew. We all didn’t sleep. We all sacrificed, and that’s part of the game.
Q: What are you plans for the future?
A: There’s this thing called the proclamation to save the Salish Sea. It’s main goal is to bring all fish and sea mammal populations up to 50 percent of historic levels. And that is what I’m passionate about. That is what I’m dedicating my life to- Salish Sea activism.
Q: What advice would you give young activists?
A: You can’t advocate for everything, but you can support everyone who’s advocating for something.