I-69, an interstate that currently runs from Port Huron, Michigan to Indianapolis, Indiana, has been facing a fifteen-year battle to expand in Indiana. According to overall plans for the highway, it would eventually run from Port Huron, through Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, before ending in Laredo, Texas. However, the highway has never been completed, in large part due to widespread opposition to its construction in Indiana.
In Indiana, the highway would run from Evansville to Indianapolis along a 142-mile route. That route–the majority of which is “new terrain” and not built over an existing road–would cut through farmland and a wildlife preserve while paving some 5,000 acres of farmland, 1,500 acres of forest, and 3,000 acres of wetlands. The highway is expected to evict 400 families, many of whom have already signed contracts giving up their homes and lands under the threat of their land being seized by eminent domain.
The I-69 project has been opposed by a wide variety of groups including Road Block Earth First!, COUNT US!, Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads, Students Mobilizing against State-planned Highway I-69, and Protect our Woods in Indiana, as well as groups in the surrounding states. Over the years a variety of tactics have been used to oppose the plan, including the usual lawsuits, petitions, public education campaigns, studies, city resolutions against I-69, and protests. However, the campaign against I-69 has been interesting in that it has brought together many diverse perspectives, from anti-civilization radicals to farmers who will be displaced by the highway project. Those organizing against I-69 have setup an “I-69 News Clearing House” website and have announced plans for continued organizing as the project moves into the construction phase in the summer.
Far from just being isolated to radical environmental activists, direct action tactics have been adopted by portions of the broader movement against the highway. Roadblock Earth First! summarized this resistance stating:
“Resistance has been ongoing in Indiana from local farmers, including those being forced off their land by the department of transportation, and city folk in Indianapolis, Bloomington, Oakland City, Evansville, and elsewhere. This has included such things as letter writing, petitions, angry speeches at public hearings, and survey stake pulling. In addition, Earth First! Activists have stepped up their campaign of protests, office and home demonstrations, public meeting disruptions and anti-surveying actions. After the Earth First! Rendezvous in southern Indiana this summer, activists “evicted” the section 1 (Oakland City, IN) and section 2 (Petersburg, IN) planning offices by dressing as a moving crew, picking up office materials and furniture, and dumping them on the sidewalk.
Recently there was an I-69 public meeting on grants for community groups and businesses to ease the transition to having a huge loud interstate plowing through their countryside. Local activists and community members manage to completely shut down the meeting by shouting, holding banners, and taking over the microphone. INDOT never got past introductions. Later they announced that there will not be another public I-69 meeting in the city of Bloomington.”
This bridge between radicals and residents affected by the highway is interesting, and has been the result of intensive organizing by Earth First! and other opponents of I-69. Earth First! has organized a variety of tactics to cultivate these connections, among them a “listening project” that allows for dialog between radicals and others, a bike tour through the area that would be effected by I-69, and “road shows” along the route of I-69. In addition to taking place along the route of I-69, “road shows” have been held in surrounding states to teach about the highway and to encourage people to get involved, with presentations in Columbus, Houston, and even Kalamazoo to talk about the project and resistance to it.
While resistance to I-69 has been strong for the past fifteen years, direct action tactics have become more common since 2005. That year resistance to the project increased, with a “Road-less Summer” campaign that focused on a variety of targets including firms funding the project and Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), culminating with an admission from INDOT that they lacked the funding for the project. This lack of funding is believed to be a key weakness by many radicals organizing against I-69. With an estimated cost of $4.5 billion dollars but only $700 million to fund the road actually on hand, the state of Indiana has turned to unpopular measures to try to fund the road including privatizing it and making it a toll road. Radicals believe that while INDOT is trying to push the project through in order to minimize resistance, with rising costs–whenever the project is “reevaluated” the cost increases–that the project is vulnerable. Earth First! believes that with early disruptions in the construction process they might be able to stop. Moreover, they believe that stopping I-69 in Indiana might stop it altogether, as many states are waiting to see how Indiana proceeds.
Organizing will continue over the next several months, with that resistance continuing to build as the construction–which is scheduled to begin in 2008–nears. In September a nationwide meeting was held in Indiana to discuss plans against I-69 and a call has been issued for activists to come to Indiana in the spring of 2008 to participate in a multi-faceted campaign aimed at stopping the road by direct action using a range of tactics. I-69 opponents have even produced a video calling for people to come to Indiana:
Earth First! also places the construction of I-69 in Indiana into a larger context of road development and global infrastructure in the Americas. They argue that I-69 is part of an infrastructure project that is designed to facilitate the transportation of goods under free trade agreements and globalization. While in rightwing circles this has led to conspiracy theories about the “North American Union” creating a one-government state consisting of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, the proposed I-69 route does fit into a larger system of development and globalization. At the US-Mexico border I-69 is designed to connect to a network of highways, railroads, and other infrastructure projects being built as part of Plan Puebla Panama (PPP). Activists have argued that in addition to being part of an overall infrastructure that prioritizes the movement of capital and goods that when farmers are removed from their land in Indiana it will make way for factory farmers and a corporate form of agriculture. This argument echoes those made in Mexico, where indigenous opponents to the PPP have said that the project threatens their way of life.
By connecting I-69 to this context, radicals with Earth First! and others hope that stopping I-69 will become a priority in the environmental and anti-globalization movement, as well as serving as a catalyst project that will bring people together across the Midwest, raise important issues about the realities of modern capitalism, and give the movement a much needed victory. Moreover, rooting resistance to I-69 in a larger North American context allows the U.S. movement to learn from tactics and strategies employed elsewhere as well as engage in acts of solidarity that promote cross-border resistance.