Unmoving protesters, armed with chants and signs, blocked the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 today for over an hour.
The protest was organized by the #NoDAPL Coalition, a Bellingham organization in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline and more recently, President Donald Trump’s position on the project despite pushback from the Sioux Tribe.
The DAPL is a controversial proposed pipeline that would run through Sioux tribal land.
The freeway blocking involved numerous people, including coalition members, Western students and community members.
Some were linked together with each other by pieces of pipe, surrounded by peacekeepers, those wearing yellow and green vests around the protest group and others as the protest grew within the hour.
There was a heavy police presence, but no hostilities were exchanged between the protesters and law enforcement.
Senior Michaela Vendiola, an American cultural studies major, saw the presence of white allies as a major reason for the peaceful police interactions with the protestors.
“I was at the anti-Trump protest when they blocked Meridian out toward Lynden and the cops then were a lot more aggressive,” Vendiola said. “It’s interesting to see the difference when its majority people of color, versus how we have a lot of elderly white folks here today. That makes a big difference in the way that the police force handles the crowd.”
Michaela Vendiola attended with her mother Michelle, an organizer in the #NoDAPL Coalition.
Vendiola said the protest was in response to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s call for increased action against the Dakota Access Pipeline Wednesday, Feb. 8.
“I’m glad so many people from Bellingham and Western came out today,” Vendiola said.
While the coalition spearheaded the protest, members of the Socialist Alternative, Western’s club of students advocating against capitalism, also were involved.
“One of the things we aim to do, not necessarily as the #NoDAPL Coalition but as the Socialist Alternative, is we’re really careful about creating an effective protest,” Fairhaven College student Kaia Gran said.
Gran said protests such as blocking roads or shipments show people have the power and are in charge and in turn can make change with it.
In response to the criticism the protest may have inconvenienced a number of regular people, Vendiola pointed to the purpose of such protests.
“Our native communities are held up, physically blockaded like this throughout our lives,” Vendiola said.
The protest remained free from violence while protesters were blocking the freeway for an hour and while they were exiting the freeway and marching back to Civic Field, where they met before the protest.
The #NoDAPL Coalition’s next move is at the City Council meeting on Feb. 13, urging the city to divest from U.S. Bank. A petition to Mayor Kelli Linville and the Bellingham City Council was being signed when the protesters met at Civic Field.