Who We Are and Why This Book: Our Approach

Stories of Resistance

This book offers stories of sadness and pain, visions of hope, and reflections on strategy. It explores the consequences of a system of global capitalism that has pushed our planet and those who live on it to the brink of collapse. Taken together, the chapters examine key impacts of the largest industrial project on earth—and they point ways towards a new world. They are about the tar sands specifically, but they are also about the human spirit, struggling to push through centuries of colonialism and standing on the edge of a new era. Of all possible futures, the least likely is one in which business as usual continues unabated. Peoples’ movements will either succeed in transforming our economic and political systems to build a new world, or we will burn with the old one.

We hope this book will be useful in classrooms, in activist strategy sessions, and anywhere that people are struggling for a more just and sustainable world. It includes contributions from locally grounded community members and activists on the frontlines of tar sands destruction, alongside academic analyses of the global consequences of this industry. It offers insights into organizing and activist missteps, as well as lessons learned. Many of these stories are central to movement strategy, and all too often go unheard. They need to be screamed from the rooftops for anyone who will listen.

Who We Are

We see our role as editors as being similar to that of facilitators: this is not our story to tell, and this book is an effort to support others who are speaking for themselves and their own communities. Like all environmental injustices, tar sands impacts hit Indigenous communities, low-income people, and communities of colour first and hardest. While everyone who breathes air and drinks water has a stake in this fight, those on the frontlines of the tar sands have been resisting for decades, and their experiences shine light and leadership for the rest of us.

As editors, the four of us have different relationships to tar sands struggles. We’re a mixture of academics and activists. Our team includes individuals who have spent some or all of our adult lives engaged in solidarity work or national-level campaigning. None of us comes from frontline communities. Therefore, we have approached our contribution in editing this book as a way of using our access and relative privilege to co-create a platform. We have prioritized supporting activists whose primary focus is serving their communities, as opposed to the behind-the-scenes mechanics of editing and publishing. There are many streams of resistance to the tar sands, and we have looked to the book’s contributors to define their contours and how they flow into a single river. Aligning diverse tributaries of resistance is the work of interdependent solidarity, and requires nuance in giving explicit attention to the streams of frontline campaigns. The content in this book emerged from a process of consultation with people living in the communities hit hardest by the industry, as well as with activists, journalists, and scholars. It reflects an attempt to balance insights on impacts and organizing from frontline communities with technical and theoretical analysis from people working at other scales. Creating a platform that centres a frontline lens presents similar challenges and contradictions to those present in the messy complexity of real-world organizing. Therefore, the process of facilitating this collection reflects the politics articulated within the book itself. Acknowledging and navigating limitations and contradictions is central to the praxis of solidarity and common struggle described in this volume. We believe there is great value in bringing this range of perspectives together, and are guided by a politic that those directly by injustice are best positioned to determine appropriate strategies and visionary solutions. This book therefore centres women and Indigenous authors.

These motivations are reflected in how the chapters are organized. The first group provides analyses about the broader impacts and politics of the tar sands. The heart of the book beats in the second section, which focuses on a range of oppositional struggles occurring on different fronts and includes visions that articulate some of the ways towards a better world. The third group picks up on this challenge of moving forward, and provides insights into how struggles against the tar sands relate to the need for wider social transformations. Our ultimate hope is that the various pieces of this book add up to both a penetrating picture of the tar sands and a useful tool for social movements, which can help to strengthen resistance.

Themes and the Line in the Sand

The title of this book is a metaphor of uncompromising resistance, because the tar sands are an environmental injustice of the highest order. A “line in the sand” means: it has gone this far, but no further. We are confronting an industry that is worth trillions of dollars and is driven by some of the largest corporations on Earth, which have no goals any nobler than maximizing short-term profits and growth. The fight to stop this industry is clearly one of the epic challenges of our age, and only serious and sustained mobilization can turn the tide.

One key theme that runs through many chapters is that, while the implications of the tar sands extend up to the scale of the whole planet, the movement to stop them fundamentally demands solidarity with the Indigenous communities struggling to defend their land, water, and sovereignty. Another key theme is that there are many possible points of intervention, but struggles around pipelines appear to have distinct significance as a point of weakness to the tar sands industry. Thus, to use another metaphor, the spreading tentacles of the tar sands industry extend with them the seams of resistance in a wider continental upsurge.

In facilitating this book, we did not expect anything resembling a blueprint or single programmatic response to emerge, and we recognized that an all-inclusive reporting of the impacts, injustices, risks, and fronts of resistance is simply not possible. The magnitude and scope of the tar sands industry precludes any one collection of essays from covering everything. We hope that any gaps and limitations in this book do not detract from the analytical, tactical, and strategic insights it brings to readers. We also hope that this book will help open further conversations about the tar sands, and that the resulting dialogue will be fortified by the many stories and intersections that were not covered here.

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