Thomas Walker, 19, didn't plan on getting handcuffed during Missoula's first date with the big rigs. But if the heavy haul's big night last week had one theme, it was "expect the unexpected."
The Rosauers parking lot on Reserve Street was a cluster of picket signs, bicycles and 50 eager demonstrators around midnight last Wednesday. Crowds arrived fresh from All Against The Haul's march and vigil downtown, anxiously awaiting a moment of protest nearly a year in the making. Even the unanticipated shouts of derision—"Get a job" and "You're un-American"—from passing cars did little to stifle grassroots fervor.
ConocoPhillips kept the protesters cooling their heels for more than an hour. When the loads did arrive, the heavy haul got handsy. Montana Highway Patrol pushed crowds back onto the sidewalk. Those who didn't cooperate were hauled away; those who did shook their signs at the fuzz, chanting, "This is what Democracy looks like." It became clear the corporation hadn't made a good first impression.
ConocoPhillips got a second chance further down Reserve, where Northern Rockies Rising Tide attempted to greet the loads with an impromptu dance party. But the music died when troopers shut off the sound system. Passions erupted as protesters flooded into the street. Three individuals—Ann Maechtlen, 50, Carol Marsh, 69, and Walker—unexpectedly sat down on the pavement and refused to budge. Walker was handcuffed and detained.
The scene got even uglier as several individuals berated crews hanging off the passing loads. Ignoring pleas from protest organizers to keep their frustrations aimed at big oil, they instead welcomed the workers with a loud "fuck you." Arguments broke out, and for a moment it seemed mace might come into play.
But by 3 a.m., ConocoPhillips had passed. Protesters collected their signs and strolled away. Northern Rockies member Max Granger said the event was hardly anti-climactic, though, rather the start of something much bigger. That certainly proved true for Walker, whose second date with the big rigs the next night landed him in the Missoula County Detention Center. Troopers arrested Walker while he waited for ConocoPhillips near Bonner, this time charging him with disorderly conduct.
When things get hot and heavy with Imperial Oil—which is poised to ship 200-plus big rigs through Missoula to the controversial tar sands in Alberta—it's safe to assume the heavy haul won't be shy about whipping out those handcuffs again.