To Tread Troubled Waters

from the 4th issue for November 2013:

AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY the Seattle Weekly titled “Troubled Waters” by Daniel Person documents the history of how the Duwamish River was developed by early Pacific Northwest colonizers and settlers and rerouted for commercial ports, the consequent introduction and extreme rise in pollutants found in the riverbed and its devastating impacts on the communities that have depended on fishing the river to feed their families.

The Duwamish River is the last twelve miles of water that connects the Green River flowing from the Cascade Mountains into the Puget Sound just south of Seattle. According to Person’s article, the physical manipulation of the Duwamish to fit capitalism’s needs began in 1913. While noted for its beautiful winding bends, the nature of the Duwamish River “was bad for business, and what was 13 miles of river eventually became five after 20 million cubic yards of mud and sand were moved to fill in its bends.” Many shipment facilities were built in and around the Duwamish River Estuary, including a Boeing manufacturing plant that hit high production rates for its B-17’s during the second World War and continues to this day to produce unmanned drones for U.S. led aggression overseas.
What could be seen as a turning point in the pollution of the Duwamish was in the 1930’s when Monsanto developed polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a class of chemicals that made paint last longer and prevent electrical systems from overheating. It was considered the best product on the shelf at the time for high-end construction, and was also extremely carcinogenic. It wasn’t until 1979, after nearly fifty years of its production, that it was banned in the United States due to its link to causing cancer. From Person’s article: “With every rainfall in Seattle, more PCBs are washed off buildings with old coats of paint and elsewhere and into Seattle’s storm-drain pipes. In the river, the chemicals settle into the river bottoms, where they are consumed by tiny worms and other creatures in the sand. From there the PCBs travel up the food chain until they reach the resident seafood.” Despite the ban, the PCBs are continuing to have disastrous affects.
The South Park neighborhood of Seattle, located directly across the Duwamish from the airport in Georgetown, is home to a large community of immigrant families relying on fishing and crabbing for sustenance. People crab and fish the Duwamish for a multiplicity of reasons, economic and cultural amongst them. Often language barriers prevent an understanding of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) signs about the high levels of contaminants in the river.
Immigrant communities in South Park fish and crab the Duwamish as a way to maintain some sort of economic autonomy. This creates a feedback loop between government bureaucracy and those it fails to serve because the inherent nature of capitalist infrastructure requires there to be those who are pushed so far to the margins. The EPA has offered a variety of services that it perceives as helpful to families who depend on fishing the river for food, like facilitating carpools from the Duwamish to other fishing spots where the water is not contaminated and funding Duwamish Dollars, a form of fake-currency that businesses accept near the river. Both of these band-aid strategies might ease the woes of families struggling to feed themselves in the short-term, but nonetheless reinforces the dependency on government initiatives. It is never our aim to strengthen aspects of capital or the state based on understanding the long-term implications of living a life under capital.
The EPA and other environmental agencies have lined up a multitude of different strategies for cleaning up the Duwamish, with the EPA claiming its intention to make fishing and crabbing the river safe. All of the proposed strategies are caught up in a quagmire of bureaucracy between funding (with some of the projects requiring hundreds of millions of dollars) and arguments over whether or not some of these strategies will actually make the sea-life fit for consumption. It has been acknowledged as well that the Duwamish River can only be as clean as the Green River that feeds it, and so taking on cleaning up one river would mean cleaning the other.

These kinds of issues between funding different government initiatives in cleaning up a river shouldn’t be what catches our eye when examining this situation, and one should fault Person for giving that specific issue so much thought in his article. One should also fault him for leaving out an entire history of indigenous people who lived in the region long before settlers came to destroy the land, but he’s just a journalist.
Instead anarchists must do what only anarchists can do when engaging with those outside of our milieu; take what we like and forget the rest. Understanding the history of the development of the Duwamish can give anarchists in the Pacific Northwest a better understanding of the context in which we exist on these lands, and even better a deeper understanding of our enemies and why. For instance, Boeing is one of the largest companies on the river and is a leading developer of unmanned drones at home and abroad. Monsanto sent carcinogenic products into this region’s waterways and continues to poison national and international food supplies. Getting a grasp on the contexts in which these entities exist can deepen the ways in which we attack and extend solidarity to those who are also pushed to destroy what destroys this world, from comrades in Italy fighting in the No TAV struggle, those committed to animal and earth liberation struggles, or the indigenous communities much closer to home struggling against the infrastructure of coal-mining across North America.
We also cannot buy into the lies of the EPA and believe that the Duwamish River can realistically be repaired after a hundred years of pollution and industrial infrastructure. If the plans for cleaning up the Duwamish go through, it will not meet federal water-quality standards and still not be safe to eat from at the end of the proposed clean up. This must be taken as a lesson for future industrial infrastructure developments and how we can engage with and against them. If things like the proposed coal trains running through the Northwest are completed, we will see even more wild space disappear with longer reaching affects than we have yet to feel. These development projects can seem like impossible monsters not worth tackling, but only through fighting does one learn how to swing their fists. The potential comrades that lay in wait in striking against projects of industrial development can only be met if we step out of the light of interacting with the spectacle and into the shadows of negating it.

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