By the end of my third day of living high in the wick drain stitcher in the northern construction area of the CalTrans Willits Bypass (Saturday, June 22nd), I felt as though in the throes of a dream I was mostly powerless to control. I'd been severely rationing the little bit of food and water I'd been able to bring with me. Meanwhile, due to the floodlights the CHP shined into my platform from four directions, I'd barely been able to sleep. (It was hard enough to sleep on a two-by-seven platform, 50 feet in the air, without a pad, to begin with.) Earlier in the afternoon, I'd run out of food entirely. I was down to about a gallon-and-a-half of water. My body already felt achy and clumsy from being undernourished, such that when I stood for very long, the muscles in my thighs began to shake and I sat back down.
My throat was beginning to parch. I looked down at the wetlands, which already had thousands of wick drain tubes inserted into them. It struck me that CalTrans, which clearly controls the policies of the CHP vis-a-vis the Bypass police operation, was intent on drying out both of us. I felt a sense of kinship with the wetlands — these kidneys of the valley, which absorb its waters and slowly release them back into the system — on a level far greater than before.
By this point, CalTrans' strategy was evident. They wanted to starve me out, to make my situation as unbearable as possible so that I would climb down voluntarily, thus saving on the resources and potential negative publicity of a police extraction. If this was to be a test of my will, I knew I needed to become as disciplined as possible. I schooled myself against expending any unnecessary energy, against any extraneous body movements, which might burn calories or cause me unneeded stress. I was putting all of my faith in the people supporting me from the ground to carry out some unknowable means of resupplying me.
Meanwhile, I had another worry teasing at the back of mind, one that I wasn't entirely willing to face at that point. Several people had been hanging out regularly in an adjacent pasture, monitoring me and keeping me company — particularly since I didn't have a cell phone.
My good friend Amanda, aka ‘The Warbler,’ was among them. She yelled up to me that it was supposed to rain lightly the next night. While I had brought a tarp with me, my intention was to use it as a privacy curtain, rather than as a roof; the damn thing had several small tears in it. If it rained in any significant way, my platform would invariably become its own miniature wetland. That, combined with my lack of food and inability to sleep, promised a level of discomfort for which I had no reference.
As the sun was setting, I was elated to hear raucous shouts coming from my west with voices calling out “Merry Solstice, Will!” and “Thank you, Will!” I rolled over and was elated to see around 40 people — most of them familiar faces, people I had seen or worked with in Willits across the previous six months — striding gallantly toward me across the deadened wetlands. Many of them were carrying water and bags that were surely full of food. The two CHP guards got out of their squad cars and stood in the throng's path. The throng formed a stream around them and continued in my direction. The officers fell back and followed after the front line of the throng, which in turn was headed straight for the wick drain stitcher tower.
I quickly lowered my “drop line” — in this case, a jumble of some truck rope and static rope I had uncoiled and tied together with sturdy knots the previous day. As one especially determined young man reached out toward the rope and attempted to clip a bag of food onto the carabiner I had attached to a loop at the end of the line, one of the CHP officers reached out and forcefully yanked the rope away from one of my would-be food-angels. Pulling out a knife or multi-tool from his belt, the officer slashed the rope.
As the police rotated around, making threatening gestures towards anyone who might creep up toward my rope, which was now approximately seven feet shorter, most people opted to sit down to demonstrate their intention to remain non-violent, and thereby guard against any violent police outbursts. One man desperately flung a pack of granola bars toward me as hard as he could, but even that little bit of sustenance only came tantalizingly close to reaching the platform.
I heard sirens screaming down Highway 101. It had taken less than ten minutes for several law enforcement reinforcements to arrive on the scene. People began to shuffle out, most of them stopping to turn toward me with plaintive looks on their face, some of them offering words such as “We'll be back!” and “Hang in there, Will — we won't abandon you!” As everyone was leaving, the officers opted to arrest several people. Ultimately, six people were arrested in all.
One of them, Sara Grusky, was clearly singled out not because of anything she did in particular, but because the police recognize her as a leader of the Bypass demonstrations. When Sara's daughter deigned to complain a little bit to the officer who was unceremoniously dragging her mom into the squad car, the police arrested the daughter as well.
As I watched this dramatic scene play out, I felt rage flowing through me — which was itself a form of vitality. I suddenly felt energized. The CHP had just arrested six people who were merely trying to feed me and give me water, and they weren't even pretending to apply the law equally or fairly in doing so.
Then again, I already had zero faith that law and justice were governing anything related to the outcome of the Willits Bypass. I had scaled the wick drain tower because I wanted to document and report on my experience, and also because I knew there was no other choice.
As I've documented extensively in some of the 14 articles I've written on the subject, CalTrans has propelled this project forward not because it will enhance the well-being of people in Willits, or because it will enhance the planet's well-being, or because people want it, or even because it is justifiable on the grounds of reducing traffic in Willits. Rather, this project is proceeding because CalTrans is an extremely powerful institution of the state that has alternately bought off, intimidated, manipulated, cajoled, or run over anyone who has stood in their way. If this destructive and illegal project is to be stopped, it will only be because of civil disobedience.
Actions speak louder than words, though the combination of the two is more powerful still. Noticing a video camera pointing up at me, I looked directly at it and yelled slowly and deliberately, placing an emphasis on each word, “I would rather starve than let this wick drain stitcher install one more wick drain!”
As I attempted to sleep that night, my sense of outrage continued to supplant my earlier anxiety. I'd meant what I said: I was determined to stay for as long as I could. The words of one of my influences in my early-20s, a former Black Panther named Babatunde Folayemi, rang through my head: “If you've got nothing you love that you're willing to die for, you've got nothing you're really living for.”
The third and final part of this series will appear next week. For pictures and another description of the effort to resupply me, click here.