ForestEthics recently coordinated with two young activists from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area of Minnesota, Sen and Carrie, to drop a 1,600-square foot banner from the iconic Washington Bridge. Why? Because 3M destroys forests, and it slaps a phony eco-label on some of its products, like Post-It notes. And that’s deceptive and unacceptable.
We were so fortunate to get connected to Sen and Carrie. They were willing to brave great heights, and arrest, to hold 3M accountable. Here’s Sen’s story:
Can you tell me about yourself? Where are you from? What do you do?
I grew up in Florida, on the west coast of Florida. I moved to St. Paul [Minnesota] about four years ago...I do a lot of art. I’m working on a couple graphic novels.
When you’re not hanging banners from bridges, what do you enjoy doing?
Dreaming about hanging banners from bridges.
How did you get into climbing?
I’ve always liked climbing everything. When I grew up in Florida there were two jacaranda trees in our yard that were fantastic for climbing. So I’ve been climbing since I was really, really young.
So, what is it that you like about climbing?
There’s the sheer physical challenge of it. And also the mental challenge of okay, I can’t just muscle through this...I have to figure out how to get to the next hold. So that’s really fun for me. Mostly though, I like being in high places--I see it as my reward after clambering up a difficult climb.
Once you learned about our campaign to stop 3M from being a forest destroyer and using SFI’s label to greenwash, what about it appealed to you?
A lot of it was fueled by frustration about the destruction that 3M was causing, especially to old growth forests, [some] caribou habitat, and endangered forests...I was motivated by that injustice and the need to do something about what we as humans are doing to the environment. And so it was an opportunity to try to hold companies and corporations accountable.
So, why do you think that it’s important that 3M in particular does the right thing and becomes a more forest friendly brand?
Well, they’re a really big company. The bigger the company, the more impact they’re going to be having on the environment. So, the more change can happen. But also, on a smaller note, 3M is doing damage, so 3M needs to stop doing damage. And if we just use that basic equation for all companies, all corporations--and all people--then we fix everything.
Did you have any fears or personal barriers that you had to overcome to participate in the action? I now know you’re not afraid of heights, but was there anything else that you had to kind of push through?
No, not really. I felt really secure in why I was doing it, and so that helped to negate any fears I might have had. I felt strongly about doing it. And I felt really close with the other climber I was working with, and the person that trained us in banner hanging. So that security, and feeling that sort of community that we had quickly formed also helped negate any fears that might have come up.
What was the sensation like, once you were suspended from the bridge?
The banner almost acted like a sail. So we were sort of wind sailing for a while, being blown around quite a lot.
That sounds so cool! Was it fun? Or kind of terrifying?
No, for me it was really, really fun! It wasn’t scary because I felt really safe with our set up and we knew what we were doing...In the moment, I was thinking it’s a nice fall chill, this is perfect weather to be in, and...I’m windsailing!
How long were you suspended from the bridge for?
I think about four hours.
Four hours, wow. Um, did you bring snacks with you?
Yeah, I had some granola bars and water.
You were arrested and taken to jail, following the action. What was it like to be arrested?
[Carrie and I] got taken in at the same time, and we were in the same holding cell. It took about eight hours for them to process me. There was a lot of sitting in one room, then being called out to this other room...it took them a really long time before they called me to go through my belongings. And then I waited more, then I got my picture taken, then I waited some more, then they sent me to this other room...where I waited some more, then I got my fingerprints taken, then after they had done all that...they put me in another cell…
Wow. That sounds like going through an emergency room process only even more cumbersome.
Yeah, it was long. And somewhere in there I also got a call so I got to talk with the support team on the outside. And it was nice to hear from them.
What’s the status of your case now?
Currently, I am being charged with one count of trespassing (misdemeanor) and a second count of trespassing on critical public services facilities, pipeline, utility (gross misdemeanor). My first court date is Tuesday, October 22.
Finally, what does it feel like to play such a direct role in holding a huge corporation accountable?
It’s definitely empowering. And for me it’s definitely a reminder to hold myself accountable for whatever I do and to try to think about what it is that I want. And what’s important to me. And once I’ve established that, to figure out how I want to change things, because changing things is important to me.