Bomb Trains and Butterflies

[Patti Robrahn, an active member of XRPDX and of the affinity group XRArt, gave this speech on April 29, 2023 across from the gates of Zenith Energy as part of the “Bloom Not Doom” action during The Spring Rebellion.]

Once I became a mother, the reality of our changing climate started to sink in. To be honest, I don’t know how much I paid attention until I had created two new people who were going to inhabit the future. I struggled with the sadness of realizing I’d brought my daughters into a world where they would feel this great impact of climate change, without having made the decisions that led to it. While that is the way each generation leads to the next, I thought, how utterly unfair of us to see the problem, and do little more than shrug our shoulders in hopelessness. My kids were at least going to know that I did what I could to move the needle of progress. 

So, in the fall of 2021, I got involved with Extinction Rebellion. I have a design background, so I figured I could help paint signs or something. I soon learned about what’s been going on out here at the CEI Hub – how Zenith’s (and other corporations’) unreinforced oil tanks sit here on land that will liquify in an earthquake, all the while releasing unfiltered, toxic chemicals into the air our children and grandchildren breathe, and how the dirtiest oil in the country casually rolls through Portland neighborhoods.

I found myself juxtaposing a bomb train with a butterfly. Little did I know my interest in protest art would soon lead me to create images, slogans, poems, a soundtrack, and a street performance – things I hadn’t even imagined I could do. And in the midst of it all, I got to work side by side with some people whose fiery badassery still inspires me. 

On June 4, 2022, we marched across the bridge [from Highway 30] and to the doorstep of Zenith with our message. The choice was clear then, and remains so now – we can accept the DOOM that’s been forced upon us by the failure of our city leaders, or we can tell Zenith to get the hell out of our backyard! Let’s get ready to restore this land and let it BLOOM!

This isn’t just the work of activists – every member of the community has skills and interests that can advance the effort, if only they choose to share them. Folksinger Joan Baez said that “Action is the antidote to despair,” and that has been true for me.


What are you good at? 

That’s what we need.

Together we will restore this land and let it BLOOM!

Demands of Zenith: Transition from Doom to Bloom

[On April 29, 2023, these demands were read aloud by Margaret Butler during the “Doom to Bloom” protest across from the gates of the Zenith Energy facility, as the third action of The Spring Rebellion in Portland, Oregon.]

  1. Immediately begin to work with community representatives and the neighborhood associations in impacted areas to adequately address public health and safety concerns.
  2. Secure risk bonding so that Zenith Energy does not profit from our endangerment and leave the residents of Portland, Multnomah County, and Oregon to pay for the immense costs of a disaster (train derailment, earthquake, etc.).
  3. Cease self-reporting emissions estimates under AP-42; use the more accurate EPA methods 204 and 235 with actual emissions measurements by an independent entity.
  4. Following the city’s policy of not exporting and transitioning from fossil fuels, bring in renewable fuels only to serve the regional market for a short period until a transition to clean, renewable energy. No exports of fuels that will burn and contribute to climate chaos at a time when we need to eliminate GHG emissions.
  5. Renewable diesel has a similar chemical composition to petroleum diesel with the same risks of spills, fires, toxic releases, and with about the same or even higher in terms of carbon intensity in many cases. Respect the public’s right to know both the types and source of the feed stocks for renewable diesel, the fuels used for hydrogenation, and the alternative land usage values.

Turning Angst into Activist Art

Do you ever feel the sear of rage-fear in your hands? It’s the one that starts when you contemplate the totality of problems we have made for planet Earth, that we continue to ignore, and will leave to our children to face. Yeah, that one. What do you do with the gnaw of your anxiety? Scoff and complain? Sing la-la-la with your fingers in your ears? Throw your hands up in defeat? I’ve done a lot of all of those – so I’m learning instead to transform my rage-fear into something else at the end of a paintbrush.

For a little over a year, I’ve been turning my angst into activist art with Extinction Rebellion PDX. My background is in space planning and design, and I’m a homeschool parent, so art supplies were at the ready when I decided to see if XRPDX could use some additional creative support. I figured I would paint some signs, but I didn’t realize I’d write poems, make soundtracks, lead street performances, and meet some people whose badassery I can only hope to attain – I’ve learned a lot so far!

What I know to be true is that art has the power to DISRUPT. What happens when we shake people out of complacency by disrupting something about their day? I like to think it’s the moment a new idea might make it through, a flash of curiosity.

Art speaks not only with words, but with color, symbols, ideas, and emotions.

Art turns a mirror on ourselves.

Art makes demands.

Art builds a vision of what could be!

Diana Meisenhelter cutting out images created by Patti. Photo credit: Patti Robrahn.

On June 4, 2022, XRPDX hosted the “Doom or Bloom” demonstration in the driveway of Zenith Energy. The event involved a meeting spot, a short walk, and a gathering, so part of the planning involved understanding how our banners and signs would read from Highway 30 as well as Zenith’s driveway. After all, only a message that can be read makes its point!

In the weeks leading up to the event, I created digital images that were printed on billboard material. At a group work party, the XRPDX team cut and taped our way to 50 double-sided signs. One major consideration in the design was the weight of the sign, since it would be held for an extended period of time, and the other was its weather resistance. On one side, familiar cautionary road sign imagery declared the dangers of Zenith, while the other side declared a new direction, with blue skies, birds, butterflies, and flowers. With few words, the signs spoke clearly: We have a choice. Shouldn’t the answer be clear?

On the day of the event, 50 participants held the “Doom” side out to the street as the soundtrack started with bits of dire news reports crackling through the sound system. After an audible frequency change sequence, a little like changing the station, the news reports took on a different tone. The narrative was shifting and the activists were winning! On cue, performers began to flip their signs – one after another until the driveway was in full “Bloom.” It was a performative realization of our future hopes for the CEI Hub. Because if we can’t imagine the world we want, how can we ever expect to build it?

Activism’s fire is fed by our rage-fear, but in order that it might not consume us, Art brings the rain to grow images, sounds, and themes to connect us, and our collective action gives form to an otherwise shapeless longing for a more just and sustainable world.

An Extinction Rebellion PDX Art team is forming now – connect with us at info@xrpdx.org.

Year-End XRPDX Working Group Reports

ANCE (Act Now for Climate Emergency) Report 

By Diane Meisenhelter

During 2022, XRPDX’s ANCE work group monitored and protested the City of Portland’s inaction on reducing GHG emissions.  

Early in the year we pressured the City Council to include more funds during the City Budget process. We helped organize protests against Portland Business Alliance’s attacks on the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF), including actions at City Hall and PBA offices, resulting in sit down arrests in conjunction with Scientist Rebellion in April. Later this fall, we organized folks to testify on preserving community control over a segment of funding in the proposed PCEF revisions.     

In commemoration of 2021 Heat Dome deaths, the ANCE team, joined by allies, organized a memorial at City Hall and pushed for substantive emission reduction actions as part of the City’s Climate Emergency Workplan.  

Throughout the year we supported Youth vs. ODOT in their push to prevent freeway expansion. We participated in the City’s Build/Shift process for strong policies to reduce emissions in the building sector while ensuring climate justice for low-income tenants.  We gave testimony on the City’s renewable fuels policy as well as advocated for enforceable fossil fuel phase out language in Phase 2 of the City Charter process.  

After the City granted the LUCS to Zenith, we joined forces with the Scrub the Hub group to push the City to rescind that decision and are planning actions scheduled for December 14 and beyond.  On the national level, ANCE members worked hard to defeat the Manchin Dirty side deal.


Scrub The Hub/Shut Down Zenith Report

By Margaret Butler

In March, we started planning for a coalition action at Zenith. With excellent artistic support from Patti Robrahn, we offered our community the choice of Doom or Bloom, calling on Zenith to “Cease and Desist” its operations. With an Appeals Court legal victory for us in Zenith’s battle with the City, we decided to hold off on direct action, with the hope that when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled or refused to hear the appeal, Zenith would be shut down.  

Our June 4 march and rally drew over 100 people to Zenith’s facility in the rain. Speakers from XRPDX as well as Portland Youth Climate Strike, Braided River, and others gave short, inspiring speeches. Some rebels performed a satirical skit, and we all danced and sang.  We promised that we would come back, which hasn’t yet happened. 

As we started planning for the next action, we asked allies to give some input into our strategy. Those August meetings turned into a new coalition effort, with agreement to work together on public education and mobilization.

On November 16, XRPDX members and allies gathered in front of the Bureau of Development Services offices on SW 4th Avenue. We deployed our banners: “Rescind the Zenith LUCS, No More Backroom Deals Dan,” and “Committing Climate Crimes? Better Call Stoel Rives!!” We handed out leaflets about shutting down Climate Criminal Zenith Energy.

Then we danced to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, with our own lyrics of “We Will Stop You”, and Megan Trainer’s “All About That Base,” with our own lyrics. The best part: taking the song and dance inside, to entertain and educate those inside. Having fun and raising awareness at the same time!The new Zenith/ Critical Energy Infrastructure hub (Scrub the Hub!) coalition has hosted two educational “Rumble on the River” forums, with another on December 8 and a fourth on January 17, 2023. The mobilization to shut down Zenith and to alert the public to the dangers of the Hub is growing once more.


Regenerative Culture Report

By Michaela McCormick

The Regenerative Culture working group, aka “Regen Team,” met weekly on Wednesday afternoons throughout the year. We planned and hosted the XRPDX Retreat on January 22 where we discussed how we work together now—what is good and what needs to change, next steps towards a strategic plan, and what matters most to us, using a pro-social practice. 

For our June 4 Zenith Action, Regen took on the roles of Coordinating, Peacekeeping, Parking, Greeting, Petition and XR Contact List Sign-up, Wellness Supplies, and Clean-up. Basically everything needed for a large action with over 100 activists to go well, which it did! 

The Non-Violent Direct Action Training we hosted, led by Bonnie McKinlay on July 24, was attended by 20 people and got rave reviews. We organized Affinity Groups which involved a Rapid Action Network, Outreach, Meetups, and Organizing within XR. Over the course of 2022, we presented 16 Introductory slideshows plus discussions on zoom. The Regen Team hosted a potluck picnic for XRPDX on July 14. We continued our regular practices of leading a short breakout for listening pairs and telling jokes in meetings, which have now become a part of XRPDX culture. We do an 8-minute mindfulness meditation to begin our meetings.

For more information on Regenerative Culture, please see this:

Open Letter to the Attorneys at Stoel Rives

[XRPDX organizer Lynn Handlin Spitaleri (pictured here) read this letter in front of the Stoel Rives office building, before attempting to deliver it to the law firm. Delivery was denied. – Ed.]

To: The Attorneys at Stoel Rives LLC                                                          6/15/2022

From: Concerned Citizens of the Portland Metro Area

RE: Appeal the Appeal, Zenith Energy, Fueling the climate crisis

The people of the City of  Portland have spoken, loud and clear and often: Zenith Energy’s operations are not compatible with the City’s climate goals, land use plan, clean air, clean water, safety and a livable planet. Zenith Energy has been denied by the City and DEQ. Yet your firm continues to enable Zenith’s toxic operations.

According to your website, your firm claims to care about the environment and the climate crisis in particular. “The attorneys and employees of Stoel Rives remain committed to meeting the needs of today without compromising those of tomorrow.” In no way is defending and supporting Zenith Energy’s fossil fuel infrastructure business consistent with this statement.

On the basis of the 2021 IPCC Report on the Physical Science Basis [of climate change], the UN Secretary General has declared “code red for humanity,” because of the climate crisis. Ending our dependence on fossil fuels is critical if humans, and those we share this planet with, can survive. Now is the time for drastic actions, we do not have 5 to 15 years to start moving away from fossil fuels. At a DEQ hearing, a Zenith representative claimed that Zenith is considering moving away from fossil fuels “as the market dictates” in maybe 5 to 15 years. Five to 15 years? It will be far too late by then.

While it is important that everyone has fair legal representation, it does not follow that corporations that are killing the planet, starting with marginalized communities, deserve your legal representation. Zenith Energy has been expanding its oil by rail infrastructure, added new rail platforms and increased crude oil throughput by over 11 fold. That increased throughput has nothing to do with renewable fuels, it is all about fossil fuels. That sounds, looks and smells like an increase in fossil fuel infrastructure. Have you spent time at the site? Especially on a hot day? The fumes are not fun. It is making people living in the area and along the route sick. If there is a derailment in Portland it will destroy neighborhoods, predominantly BIPOC and low income communities.

When, not if, the earthquake hits the Portland area the resulting oil spills and explosions will be catastrophic, according to the recent CEI Hub Earthquake report commissioned by Multnomah County. This is part of why the Multnomah County commissioners and many state legislators have come out in strong opposition to Zenith Energy’s fossil fuel operations.  Zenith is the only fossil fuel facility in the CEI HUB that did not report on the contents of their tanks.

Is 116 degrees hot enough for you? Are the smoke-filled skies not making you sick? Do you want to see Portland’s rivers destroyed by spills from Zenith Energy’s facilities? How many more have to die before firms like Stoel Rives will take this crisis seriously? Do any of you have children? Grandchildren?  Anyone you care about have children? Do you want them to have a livable future? Is the income you receive from Zenith really worth more than our children’s futures?

“Climate change represents not only an existential threat to humanity but also material financial risk to investors.” (a quote from the Morningstar investment analysis firm’s report, “Investing Toward Net Zero”). Setting aside the fact that without humanity there are no investors, surely the very knowledgeable people who work at Stoel Rives can recognize that supporting the expansion of fossil fuels is a bad business practice.

We do not believe that all of the humans that work at Stoel Rives really want to be on the wrong side of this. Do the right thing, stop enabling Zenith Energy’s fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Why not be on the side of defending the rights of nature instead?  Consider defending the rivers, instead of those who are destroying them. The people at Stoel Rives should consider whether they want to be on the side of a future doomed by the climate crises, fueled by companies like Zenith Energy, or on the side of a future blooming with hope and possibility on a livable planet.


Many Portlanders

We Bloomed! Defiance, Art and Joy at Zenith

June 4 was another chilly, rainy day in Portland’s Critical Energy Hub, but XRPDX rebels and our allies from Cedar Action, 350PDX, Jobs with Justice’s Climate Jobs, and neighborhood groups brought the spring colors and energy to Zenith! With our huge banner reading “Zenith: Cease and Desist” and our World on Fire Truck with its huge banners, approximately 100 folks marched from Highway 30 to the front entrance to the fossil-fuel-transshipment facility. While a Zenith worker on the rail platform watched, we set up with sound system, a Timeline banner of the history of Zenith, Doom or Bloom double-sided signs, and more.

A lively program kicked off from noon-ish to 1:30, with MC Victoria Wingell welcoming the crowd and introducing speakers Margaret Butler and Jan Zuckerman, both “Zenith 5” defendants and longtime opponents of Zenith’s dangerous oil-by-rail operations, and Liam Miller Castles, a recently graduated high school student.

Jan told the story of the lower Willamette River as a braided river, which was filled with soil from the west hills and silt from the river, and turned into an industrial zone. (Ninety percent of all vehicular fuels, and 100 percent of all airplane fuels for the state of Oregon are packed into this narrow strip of land between the west bank of the Willamette and Forest Park.)

Jan’s remarks acknowledged the meaning of the date chosen for this action: “the day after the anniversary of the oil train derailment and explosion in Mosier. By showing up you make it clear that our community, like their community, does not choose doom, we choose BLOOM- we choose a future that does not include Zenith Energy.”

Margaret then described the dramatic direct action at Zenith in April 2019: “On Easter morning 2019, at 6 am, we brought a dump truck of soil and a tiny house and built the garden, thanks to Mike and Harlan and Dan and others. … The rail line was shut down for two days. Seven days later, a bunch of us went back and did it a second time.  …
“With awesome legal support from the Civil Liberties Defense Center and the National Lawyers’ Guild, we were able to present a full necessity defense, including expert testimony from a climate scientist.  The courtroom was packed, and the testimony was compelling.  Despite video evidence of us trespassing on Zenith’s property, we convinced 5 out of the 6 jurors to vote to acquit us.  It was a legal milestone in terms of use of the necessity defense in climate cases and the case against us was dropped.” 

Liam read a statement by Youth vs ODOT organizer Adah Crandall, who was a no-show due to illness, adding his own urgent remarks at the end. Adah’s speech included this:
“We are running out of time, and we need urgent climate action now. And by that, I don’t just mean getting solar panels and reducing our plastic waste. Combatting the climate crisis means radically transforming every aspect of our society – how we get our energy, our food, how we get around, how we relate to one another and to the planet.  It means stopping our dependence on fossil fuels, and cutting ties with corporations like Zenith. Zenith is a disaster for our climate, and for our community.”

After the speakers, we lined up our signs, designed by artist Patti Robrahn, across the Zenith entrance, and, to the blasts of recorded “breaking news” about transforming the CEI Hub to a place of beauty, we showed first the “Doom” sides, then the “Bloom” sides. A visually powerful moment of transformation. As Patti called out details of Zenith’s ugly history of deception and expansion, we chanted our demand at each point on the timeline: “Why are they still here?!”

A dance party followed, with live music by Wendy Emerson and friends, and some remarks on Zenith’s law firm Stoel Rives by Michael Fairhurst winding up the program.
Please sign our Letter to the City Council demanding that the City of Portland take specific steps to shut down Zenith’s operations once and for all: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/shut-down-zenith-energys-fossil-fuel-operations
The struggle continues, and we continue to ask the City of Portland: Doom or Bloom?

Doom or Bloom? Zenith Energy Protest, June 4

Extinction Rebellion PDX will protest Zenith Energy’s continued operation at their transshipment facility, gathering at Highway 30 and Kittredge at noon on June 4, then marching half a mile to Zenith’s front gate at 5501 NW Front Ave. The name of this campaign, “Doom or Bloom” encompasses the choices we face, at Portland’s Critical Energy Hub and all over. Doom signifies what will happen to the earth if we do not stop burning fossil fuels. Bloom signifies a future of clean renewable energy with environmental, racial, social, and economic justice.

Zenith stores and exports volatile shale oil transported into Portland via train from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. Shale oil contains carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. This toxic fuel is loaded on tanker ships on the Willamette River and sent to refineries out of state. In a recent count of train cars in the Zenith yard, there were 50 tankers carrying crude oil into the facility. It operates in an earthquake liquefaction zone, vulnerable not just to the predicted massive subduction zone earthquake, but also to local earthquakes in the Portland area.

As our allies at Portland Audubon pointed out years ago: “These oil trains move through neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland, putting 1 in 4 residents within the blast zone of this oil trains.” From https://audubonportland.org/our-work/protect/climate-change/zenith-energy-and-tar-sands-oil-in-portland/

Zenith expanded its processing capacity in defiance of the City’s policy against new fossil fuel infrastructure, using a grandfathered construction permit. Last August, the City of Portland denied Zenith a land use compatibility statement which they needed for an air quality permit renewal to continue operating. The Land Use Board of Appeals upheld that denial, while asking for further information from the City. Zenith has appealed the decision; meanwhile, their dangerous trains continue to run and the facility continues to store and export oil. Zenith’s operations are NOT compatible with sensible land use between the Willamette River and Forest Park, especially during the Climate Emergency.

Our June 4 peaceful protest will include a short march, music, art, street theater, and rally with powerful speakers. For more information and to get involved, please email info@xrpdx.org. Let’s bloom in the Rose City, not passively accept our doom!

[Note: this blog post was co-authored by Margaret Butler. – Ed.]