Campaign Against I-69
With I-69’s construction set to begin in 2008, and evictions beginning this Summer, Earth First!ers in Indiana are feeling anxious and excited, overworked and yet ready for the fight. The threat of this superhighway has loomed over the communities of central and southwestern Indiana for nearly 20 years, but it has become increasingly clear that the controversy will be resolved, one way or another, in the next 18 months. The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) finished its final round of environmental surveying, enough money is in the state’s coffers to begin (but not finish) construction, and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has staked his political future on beginning construction next year. At the same time, more and more people are getting involved in the fight against I-69 and are starting new, autonomous initiatives against the road. The farmers of southwestern Indiana aren’t backing down.
Introduction to I-69
I-69 is a massive superhighway planned to facilitate increased trade between Canada, the US and Mexico. It has already been built from Ontario to Indianapolis via Michigan. National I-69 planners hope to extend the highway through southwest Indiana and then into Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, where it would connect with the highways of the Plan Puebla Panamá in Mexico. Given that the existing I-69 crossing in Michigan handles about half of all North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) traffic between Canada and the US, and that the proposed crossing in Texas would handle over half of all Mexico-US NAFTA traffic, it’s obvious that I-69 is an extremely important artery for capital and globalized trade.
The Trans-Texas Corridor—a road-building project of which I-69 is a part—would gobble up hundreds of thousands of acres in Texas. In southwestern Indiana alone, I-69 would destroy and disturb much of the area’s remaining wilderness and evict 400 rural families. Furthermore, I-69 is projected to add 12,000 new trucks to Indiana’s daily traffic, meaning a vast increase in the air pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases in our state.
The Fight Continues
It is because I-69 would cause such vast destruction that it has been strongly opposed from the beginning. Indiana and Texas may not even be able to start construction because of ongoing community mobilizations and lawsuits, in addition to militant resistance.
A combination of these tactics helped us win a major victory on March 24, when Governor Daniels announced the cancellation of the construction of two major toll roads connected to I-69, just a few months after he had announced their construction. Daniels was forced to admit that it was overwhelming public resistance that forced him to withdraw these proposals.
Because of this cancellation, Indiana’s portion of I-69 faces a growing financial crisis. It may be reconceived as a private toll road, which would lead to even more resistance and anger across the state.
Roadblock EF! (RBEF!) is only one part of the wider anti-I-69 community. As construction approaches, a number of other organizations are continuing old anti-I-69 initiatives and starting new ones. These range from a continued campaign of home and office demonstrations against I-69 planners to the filing of a new, comprehensive lawsuit challenging INDOT’s rigged environmental reports.
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-mountaintop removal struggles. The basic idea is to create a forum for discussions between people in affected communities and eco-radicals, thereby allowing us to share their stories of resistance with a wider audience. EF!ers are also organizing bike rides and campouts along the proposed route so that as many people as possible can get to know and love the bioregion that is at risk. Other recent projects have included: restarting Bloomington’s critical mass bike ride to highlight the connections between road building, car culture and global warming; creating the Roadblock Report, a newsletter that will help coordinate different elements of the struggle and improve communication among threatened communities; and setting up speaking and performance tours across Indiana and the proposed national I-69 route. There has also been an increase in opposition to I-69 outside of Indiana. Farmers in Texas have formed a direct action network. Office demonstrations like the one at the EF! Organizers’ Conference (see page 8 [of this issue of Earth First!]), which target involved corporations, have spread up and down the route. There is also an ongoing “No I-69” graffiti campaign in Little Rock, Arkansas, which has received attention from both the police and the 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. As it gets closer to final approval, they say it will become futile to fight it. In their worldview, ordinary people only have a voice when they calmly submit a comment to INDOT bureaucrats. But our struggle has proven them wrong again and again. 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 fate of one of their most important free trade infrastructure schemes. We will never let them build this road!
I-69 and the Plan Puebla Panama: The Global Connection
The battle against the construction of I-69 stretches from one end of North America to the other. This superhighway is a whirlwind of destruction much deeper and wider than six lanes of concrete.
With the construction of I-69 comes a new vision of development that tears through Mesoamerica, transforming it into a massive, interconnected, industrial production site. It is clear that these projects are part of a single, massive scheme that will cause irreversible ecological destruction and social dislocation. This scheme used to be called the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), but the planners have attempted to drop this unifying title in order to disrupt the cross-border resistance to the many facets of this project.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) states that only eight percent of Central America’s hydroelectric potential has been tapped. It plans to build several hundred more dams, which will power factories and send energy north. Each year, dams displace more people around the world than war. The impact on the land and people will be immense. Other forms of PPP development include Pacific and Atlantic highway corridors, railroads, dry canals, a biological corridor, privatized hemisphere-wide electricity grids and international airports.
The multilateral development banks have identified high transport costs as one of the biggest hurdles to competitive free trade in Mesoamerica. The PPP’s essential infrastructure reveals a weakness in the free trade agenda.
In San Salvador de Atenco, Mexico, the people stood up to this kind of displacement and development. Armed with machetes, highway blockades and the fear of having to live in high-rises, they completely halted an international airport from being built. Like I-69, the purpose of the airport was to steal and then transport resources from Mesoamerica to the US and Canada. The halting of the airport’s construction reminds us, in Indiana, that these projects are linchpins in schemes of dispossession and export-based economies in the Western Hemisphere.
While the executives can hide in their offices behind legions of cops, making plans without consulting communities, they cannot hide the structures that represent their greedy theft and ecological destruction. And we can fight concrete and evictions in a way that ideas can’t be fought. Infrastructure projects like I-69 and the PPP are weak links in an otherwise insurmountable fight against capitalism. By looking at the situation south of the US-Mexico border, we are infused with both hope and a sense of urgency toward stopping I-69.
© Earth First! Journal May-June 2007