All posts by Roadblock Earth First!

Blockade I-69 – now is not the time to build a new freeway – Southern Indiana mobilizes vs. NAFTA highway

With construction beginning in 2008, and evictions beginning this summer, folks in southern Indiana are stepping up resistance to Interstate 69. Long time residents, farmers, small landowners, and eco-activists all show up at the Indiana Dept. of Transportation’s public meetings to barrage them with complaints and insults. Office demos have continued, in Indiana and further along the route. A month long roadshow recently returned after speaking in cities on the route from Indiana to Texas about I-69 and road resistance. A lawsuit is in the courts over the contested Patoka National Wildlife refuge, where I-69 is planned to cut through. And this summer’s national Earth First! Round River Rendezvous will be in southern Indiana, with much of the trainings and discussions focused around resisting road construction.

Introduction to I-69

I-69 is a massive superhighway planned to facilitate increased trade between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It is currently built from Ontario to Indianapolis, via the Port Huron border crossing in Michigan. National planners hope to see the highway extended through southwest Indiana, then into Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, where it will connect with the highways of the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) in Mexico.

Given that the existing I-69 crossing in Michigan handles about half of all NAFTA traffic between Canada and the U.S. and that the proposed crossing in Texas will handle over half of all Mexico-U.S. NAFTA traffic, its obvious that I-69 is an extremely important artery for globalized trade and for capital. This artery will be constructed at an enormous cost to the land community across the center of the U.S. The Trans Texas Corridor (the road-building project in Texas which encompasses I-69) will gobble up hundreds of thousands of acres. I-69 will destroy and disturb much of the remaining wilderness in southwestern Indiana and evict 400 rural families, not to mention the devastation caused in the other five states it will go through. Furthermore, I-69 is projected to handle more than nearly 12,000 new trucks every day through Indiana alone, meaning a vast increase in air pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases in our state.

The Fight Continues

The kind of destruction that I-69 promises to wreak means that is has been strongly opposed ever since it was first seriously put forward, at the same time NAFTA was being passed. Most of the states that it will affect are waiting to see if Indiana and Texas will even be able to start construction because of the many barriers that have been set up to construction, including ongoing community mobilizations, lawsuits, and a history of militant resistance.

In fact, a combination of these tactics won a major victory in Indiana on March 24, when Indiana’s governor, Mitch Daniels, announced a cancellation of two major roads connected to I-69. Just a few months prior, he had announced the construction of these two new toll roads, one of which would connect directly with I-69, and which would be sold off in the immediate future to a multinational corporation in order to fund the rest of I-69′s construction. However, in his press conference at the end of March, he was forced to admit that it was the overwhelming public opposition and growing resistance that forced him to withdraw these proposals. Now, although the state remains committed beginning I-69′s construction in 2008, it faces a growing financial crisis that might lead them to re-conceive I-69 itself as a private toll road, a move that would lead to even more resistance and anger across Indiana.

Expanding resistance

RBEF! is only one specific group within the wider anti-I-69 resistance community. A number of other organizations are continuing old initiatives or starting new ones as construction approaches. These range from the continued campaign of home and office demonstrations against those involved in planning to the filing of a new comprehensive lawsuit challenging the way that the environmental studies were rigged by INDOT.

Local Earth First!ers are contributing to the growing momentum in a number of ways. Besides continuing to be an antagonistic presence at INDOT-sponsored public meetings, RBEF! members are working with other local organizers to start a Listening Project, a concept borrowed from anti-Mountain Top Removal struggles. Earth First!ers are also organizing bike rides and camp-outs along the proposed route so that as many people as possible can get to know the bioregion that is being put at risk. Other recent projects have included restarting Bloomington’s Critical Mass bike ride to help highlight the connections between road-building, car-culture, and global warming; a new newsletter called the “Roadblock Report” to help co-ordinate different elements of the struggle and improve communication between the threatened communities; and speaking/performance tours across Indiana and the national I-69 route to help build resistance to the road.

There has also been an increase of activity against I-69 beyond Indiana. Farmers in Texas continue to organize, with some of them forming a Direct Action Network. Meanwhile, office demonstrations have spread up and down the route, with actions in Lexington against Wilbur Smith Associates, a global infrastructure planner that has also been involved in the PPP, and in Austin against Cintra, a Spanish multinational involved in dozens of highway construction and privatization schemes. We have also heard that an ongoing No I-69 graffiti campaign in Little Rock, AR has received attention from both the police and mainstream media.

We will never let them build this road

Over and over again media pundits in Indiana have claimed that I-69 cannot be stopped – and that as it gets closer to final approval it will become futile to fight against it. In their world view, ordinary people can only have a voice in the process by calmly submitting a comment to the bureaucrats at INDOT during the approved public comment period. Our struggle has proven them wrong again and again. Indiana’s governor was just forced to admit that popular resistance killed his plan to build separate toll roads to fund I-69. Momentum against the superhighway is growing at just the time INDOT officials were hoping people would learn to accept the “inevitable.” But how could it be any other way? We all know just how much is at stake: the future of our bioregion, the integrity of our communities, and the success or failure of one of their most important free trade infrastructure schemes. We will never let them build this road.

Roadblock Earth First! can be reached at roadblockef@yahoo.com. Contact us if you are interested in getting involved in the fight against I-69.

I-69 News is a new resource set up by an autonomous collective. Visit them at http://i69news.bee-town.com or submit content at i69news@riseup.net.

For info about the 2007 summer Earth First Round River Rendezvous, to be held in southern Indiana check http://earthfirst.bee-town.com or email efindiana@riseup.net