How we Win! Summary of findings on successful climate justice campaigns in North America

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How we win was a 2023 research project supervised by Dr. Jen Gobby, and conducted by McGill students Cassandra Ciafro, Anna Henry, Frida Sofia Morales Mora, Thomas Nakasako, Dafne Ozcan, Nico Serreqi and Lea Vadez Reyes. It investigates the following question: What can be learned from the struggles and successes of intersectional climate campaigns across Turtle Island (North America) over the past 20 years, and what factors contribute to the success of these campaigns? Case studies, plus 4 semi-structured interviews and 1 survey were used to explore this question.

This page includes a summary of the campaigns/movements included in the report and the tactics used, key factors that contributed to the success of multiple campaigns/movements, HUB team observations and suggestions based on key takeaways, plus key quotes from interviews and surveys with successful activists/organizers for more specific suggestions and examples.

To read the full report, see the following: How We Win! A Qualitative Review of Successful Climate Justice Campaigns in North America in the Last 20 Years

Defining 'success' and study parameters

'Success’ was defined as having achieved material gains, or advancements in physical, financial, legal, or electoral conditions.

  • 14 successful intersectional climate justice campaigns from Mexico, the so-called United States and so-called Canada were explored to respond to the research question.
  • 12 directly addressed racial justice, 11 addressed Indigenous rights, 8 tackled health and/or water justice, 3 addressed housing justice, 2 tackled disability justice and 1 addressed food justice.
  • Almost all of those explored were started by local, directly impacted Indigenous communities. The majority set to stop activities before they began (when projects were first proposed).
  • Length of campaign activities ranged from 6 months to over 50 years (Global Nonviolent Action Database, 2023). Half of the campaigns explored are still ongoing.

The successes of the campaigns included in the study included:

How the Research Team Defined This Success

Campaigns Associated with this Success

Cancellation of Projects or Practices; material success

The temporary or permanent cancellation of projects or practices.


Legislation and/or Policy Change; material success

The enactment of policy or laws that align with the campaign’s goals.

3/14 +2/14 partially

Recognition of Indigenous rights/sovereignty; material success

Formal recognition that Indigenous rights or sovereignty were/would have been violated by a project or practice.


Building new and diverse coalitions; immaterial success

Building new alliances and partnerships with other individuals, organizations, or movements that did not exist before the campaign.


Community engagement; immaterial success

A strategy that puts marginalized communities at the forefront of the movement to raise awareness, mobilize support, and foster a sense of collective agency.


Climate justice campaigns

Suggestion: look for campaigns that most resonate with an issue near you, a campaign you're working on etc. Are there tactics that haven't yet been applied in your context?

Stand LA (US)

“For us [...] it's a justice issue. And it's also an equity issue. If there is a universal good, we have to start with the most vulnerable, because equity never ever trickles down. It has to start from the bottom”.

Summary of group 

Founded in 2013, Stand-LA formed to halt oil drilling in residential areas in Los Angeles. Their campaigns address environmentally and health hazardous projects that impact marginalized communities. [1]

'People Not Pozos' (People not wells) campaign

Targeted AllenCo drilling site was polluting a low-income, minority community. This had negative health impacts on residents. [2]

Organizing tactics:

  • Door-knocking to gather data on the various symptoms experienced by residents, followed by making a health report [3]
  • Making an art piece of eight styrofoam heads, each suffering from one of the symptoms caused by the drill site pollution.
  • Organizing a community call-in campaign to the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) to bombard phone lines
  • Conducting a press conference. This got the attention of Senator Barbara Boxer, the federal head of the environmental committee.

SUCCESS: Senator Boxer called on the Environmental Protection Agency to perform an investigation, and the AllenCo site shut down. Following their success, the STAND-L.A. coalition formalized. 

'No Drilling Where We Are Living' campaign 

Organizing tactics:

  • Coalition building and community engagement: Extensive outreach efforts increased participation. These efforts also strengthened the influence of residents [4]
  • Science-based evidence: In 2015, AQMD modified the law. It mandated fossil fuel extraction sites to disclose their chemicals. Activists found that each chemical caused the symptoms they identified in their door-knocking. This strengthened their arguments when communicating the problem.


  • E&B Natural Resources electrified and enclosed the Murphy drill site to keep toxic fumes out of nearby homes and reduce pollution.
  • Won a resolution prohibiting new oil drilling in the Inglewood oil field [5]
  • Influenced legislative changes. For example, Senate Bill 1137 bans new oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of sensitive areas. It has contributed to significant oil phaseout resolutions in Los Angeles, both at the city and county levels [6]
  • Major challenges faced by STAND-LA 
  • Oil lobbying to oppose legislative measures
  • Reports the oil industry is employing canvassers to use misleading tactics when gathering signatures to qualify the referendum for ballots [7]

  • Stop Cop City (US); ONGOING

    “Whether the win comes through the ballot, in the courts or in the streets, Cop City must never be built”

    Summary of campaign and project

    Stop Cop City began in 2017 in response to the city of Atlanta's plan to build the biggest police and firefighter training facility in the country. 

  • Economic: The majority of the funding is expected to come from taxpayers, despite no public consultation on the project.
    • Environment: The proposed site is the Weelanee forest. It comprises the South River, one of the most endangered rivers in the United States due to sewage pollution. [8]
    • Indigenous sovereignty: The land belonged to the Muscogee Creek Nation before they were displaced. [9]
    • Racism: The land was the site of a low-security prison farm. Accounts of torture and violence against black inmates were recorded. [10]
        • Today, the forest serves as an important green space for the residents of the predominantly Black surrounding neighborhoods. [11]
    • Settler colonialism: Officers trained at the facility will not only target predominantly BIPOC communities in the USA; their exchange program will also train members of the Israeli Defense Forces [12]
    Summary of resistance

    After the project was announced, the Atlanta City Council solicited a session of public feedback. Over 1000 people attended and it lasted over 17 hours. The majority of people were against the project. [13]

    Organizing tactics:

    • Weekly safe space events by community members in the Welanee forest, such as potlucks, reading groups, and teach-ins. The goal was for people across Atlanta to learn about the issue, and connect with the forest. 
    • Direct action in the form of protests all over the city to spread awareness. 
    • A ballot referendum campaign to allow constituents to vote on the issue.  

    • Door-knocking/canvassing in various neighborhoods to educate on the issue and collect signatures.
    • Community outreach via postering, zines
    • Media engagement i.e. press conferences, alternative media coverage.


    • DeKalb County, being an unincorporated borough of Atlanta, barred its residents from participating in the voting or signature collection process for the referendum. Four county residents took legal action with a lawsuit against the City of Atlanta. They won the right for DeKalb residents to both collect signatures and initiate a new 60-day countdown [14]
    • Activists needed 58,000 signatures from registered voters in 60-day timeframe. They gathered over 116,000 signatures. [15]
    Major challenges faced by Stop Cop City
    • Police violence has been a major challenge throughout the campaign. During a protest, activist Manuel Terán (“Tortuguita”) was shot fourteen times by Georgia state troopers [16]
    • Many protesters have been arrested and charged for racketeering and domestic terrorism [17]
    • Most recently in November 2023, the coalition planned a peaceful protest and tree planting in the forest, but they were met with physical resistance and tear gassed by the police.
    • At the time of writing the report, the government was delaying the signature approval process. Cop City may not be included on the ballot. 

    Keystone XL Pipeline (US/CAN)

    Summary of project
    • Proposed in 2008 by TC Energy, the Keystone XL pipeline extension was designed to increase the transport of crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. The pipeline extension project would transport crude oil per day across the Canada-U.S. border. [18]
    • The pipeline would have affected Indigenous communities in Montana and South Dakota. [19] The proposed path was altered to not cross Indigenous reservations but still risked multiple Indigenous lands and important sources for drinking water. E.g. the Ogallala Aquifer serves as the main water source for millions of people

    Summary of resistance

    Organizing tactics:

    • Coalition building: Many grassroots activists, including Indigenous communities and environmentalists, were involved before larger organizers, such as They aided in the organizing of the initial coalition, consisting of national environmental organizations including the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club, and First Nations and Native American activist groups such as Idle No More and local landowners. [20]
    • Legal petitions
    • Civil resistance and protest along the construction route/in Washington


    • An initial win for campaigners came in 2015: President Obama rejected a cross-border permit for Keystone XL after years of large acts of civil disobedience and protest. [21]
    • NRDC and their partners legal petitions effectively delayed the completion of the project. [22]
    • Finally, the project was fully put to an end in 2021, as the newly elected Biden administration rescinded a permit for the KXL pipeline, effectively killing it [23]

    Grassy Narrows (CAN); ONGOING

    Summary of project
    • Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek community members of the Ojibwe First Nations Reserve in Grassy Narrows have faced unregulated mercury pollution in the Wabigoon River.
    • Environmental racism: In the 1960s, Dryden Paper Company Ltd. dumped 9,000 kg of untreated mercury into the English-Wabigoon river system, upstream from Grassy Narrows and Whitedog First Nations.
    • Food sovereignty: The Canadian Government banned the consumption of fish from the local river system. Community members still remained reliant on the fish as a diet staple, and the resulting mercury poisoning has devastated the health of the community. [24]
    • Poverty: 60% of Grassy Narrows and Whitedog’s inhabitants had lost their jobs from the fish ban and were placed on welfare. [25]
    • Health: Many community members were diagnosed with Minamata Disease. The most common symptoms are sensory disturbances, poor muscle control (ataxia) and tunnel vision. Researchers also found evidence of Congenital Minamata Disease, which has resulted in cerebral palsy and intellectual development delays.
    Summary of resistance
    • Grassy Narrows continued to demand fair compensation for mercury poisoning, which had been impacting 90% of the population, and ending all logging and mining plans in the area.

    Organizing tactics:

    • Letter-writing campaigns
    • Hunger strikes
    • Blockades
    • Yearly protests and marches (Saku 2021; Gilson 2019)
    • Formation of alliances with environmental NGOs like Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and other grassroots organizers [26]
        • Solidarity and support of non-Indigenous grassroots organizers can be crucial when it comes to funding, direct action, media relations and legal advocacy, evident through RAN’s support during the 2004 blockade.


    • In 2017, the Ontario government pledged $85 million towards cleaning up the industrial mercury contamination in the Wabigoon River almost 50 years after the pollution had been identified [27]
    • By 2021, the Liberal Government agreed to spend $90 million to build and operate the much needed public infrastructure to support those suffering from Minamata Disease.

    Note: In 2023, the specialized infrastructure project failed to be granted any funding by the Government, citing soaring costs.

    #RightToBreathe/PES (US)

    Photo from: Philly Thrive

    Summary of project
    • The 2016 Southport Campaign set out to stop Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) oil refinery expansion. PES was the second largest oil refinery in the United States. [28]
    • The PES refinery was responsible for over 50% of Philadelphia’s toxic air emissions. This is one of the main reasons for the high rates of asthma, cancer, and other respiratory problems amongst Philadelphians. [29]
    • The residents who were at higher exposure from the pollution were low-income people of colour [30]
    Summary of resistance
    • Philly Thrive, an organization led by Black, disabled, and chronically ill activists was a main organizer for the #RightToBreathe campaign [31]

    Organizing tactics:

    • Teach-ins and community outreach; Philly Thrive collaborated with ACTION united to mobilize community members to demand their “Right to Breathe” in 2016. This coincided with “Break Free 2016,” a wave of resistance to fossil fuels infrastructure by activists across the globe. [32]
    • Social media and hopeful imagery: Throughout the campaign the hashtag #RightToBreathe was used across social media channels, and the image of sunflowers, symbolizing the belief in “a better future for Philadelphia with clean air, healthy families and a green economy,” were seen during protests [33]
    • Working groups: Momentum was maintained throughout the campaign due to the organization of small working groups.
    • Direct actions and storytelling: More protests and take-overs were planned, including a “Toxic Tour” of the oil refinery on July 26th led by Philly Thrive, ACTION United, LeftRoots, and Global Grassroots Justice Alliance. At this event, frontline activists shared global and local personal stories of how they have been impacted by the fossil fuel economies. [34]


    • Victory was declared in December when the expansion plans were officially canceled [35]
    • Despite the cancellations, Philly Thrive continued with advocacy and mobilization of more campaigns until PES refinery went bankrupt in 2018 and finally shut down in 2019 after a series of explosions. [36]

    Philly Thrive continues to organize for environmental justice with their campaigns. They are now advocating for their “RightToThrive”, to repair and clean up 154 years of violence and pollution in their communities. [37]

    13 Pueblos (Mexico)

    Summary of  project
    • 13 pueblos started in 2006 to cancel the development of the La Ciénega housing units, around the area of the Chihuahuita spring in Morelos, Mexico. There was no prior consultation or Environmental Impact Assessment. [38]  
    • The infrastructure to deliver water from the Chihuahuita spring had been donated by President Lázaro Cárdenas, to provide water to Xoxocotla and the neighboring pueblos in 1934. The communities had been struggling from a lack of water access  throughout the Mexican Revolution, due to hoarding and misuse for the production of sugar cane. [39]
    • Access to water was threatened by the La Ciénega housing units, as their planned locations were in the water replenishment areas of the spring. [40]
    Summary of resistance
    • The 13 pueblos involved were Tepetzingo, Tetecalita, Temimilcingo, Acamilpa, Pueblo Nuevo, Tlaltizapan, Huatecalco, El Mirador, Benito Juárez, Tetelpa, Santa Rosa Treinta, San Miguel Treinta, and Xoxocotla. [41] Most pueblos were made up of Indigenous communities, and campesinos or farmers. They came together to advocate for their land sovereignty and water access. [42]

    Organizing tactics:

    • Development of a council: The council of the pueblos was created for members from each pueblo to meet every Sunday. They exchanged about one another’s concerns, devised their strategies, and found alternative solutions without government authority. [43]
    • Blockades and protests: For three years, they protested, organized blockades, and counter-reports despite strong government opposition and police brutality. [44]
    • Convening and a manifesto: 153 Indigenous leaders from so-called Canada, the US, Peru, and other counties in Latin America came together in Xochicalco for the Council of the 13 pueblos and the presentation of their manifesto. [45]
        • The manifesto was made in defense of the land, air, and water, and it outlined the current crisis and visions for the future (Pueblos de Morelos 2007; Casiba 2007, 1:08). It also accused the government and corporations of labeling the areas as “unproductive” to justify construction plans despite the presence of Indigenous and farmer communities [46]
    • Legal action: In 2008, a court case was presented in the Latin American Water Court where CEAMA (the State Water and Environment Commission) and Conagua were blamed for having authorized construction permits without proper assessment and not taking into account the needs of the surrounding communities [47]


    • In 2009, three years after the movement's conception, the project plans were canceled and the area within a 100 meter radius of the Chihuahuita spring was protected [48]
    Major challenges faced 
    • Several people were injured and arrested. The people of the 13 pueblos were often tear-gassed by police forces, bribed, and some individuals received death threats. [49]
    • They had to fight opposing narratives from the government and Conagua, Mexico’s National Water Commission, that falsely claimed there was sufficient water for the construction of the housing units. [50]


    Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline (CAN); ONGOING

    Summary of project
    • The Trans Mountain Expansion project (TMX) aims to construct a second pipeline, approximately parallel to the current trans-mountain pipeline that transports crude oil from Edmonton to the coast of British Columbia. The project would triple it's capacity. [51]
    • First proposed by Kinder Morgan in 2013, with an estimated price of $5 billion. The Canadian federal government purchased the pipeline in 2018 after significant resistance and price increases.
        • The price tag for the project has increased to over $30 billion today. A net cost that will be passed on to taxpayer. [52]
    • The project lacks proper consultation for free, prior, and informed consent by Indigenous peoples.

    • Construction causes violence towards women and children due to aggressions from “man camps” that are created to work at these sites. [53]

    Summary of resistance

    Organizing tactics:

    • Blockades: Direct action through blocking the pipeline construction has been supported by many academics, activists, and environmental organizations, and was initiated by local Indigenous land defenders. The Tiny House Warriors of the Secwépemc nation, was created as a camp to inhabit areas to be developed and physically resist the project [54]
    • Win remains partial: Despite increasing public opposition, increased costs, countless delays, financial problems, and difficulties finding banks or insurers to host the project, its construction has not been halted. It is set to begin operations in 2024 [55]
    Major challenges faced 
    • Both the owner and the judge of the project’s feasibility, the Canadian government, is in a favorable position to impose the expansion project and issue construction permits. This poses ethical questions of the democratic processes behind the project.
    • There has been monitoring and policing of activists, including a bill that prohibits approaching any of the construction sites [56]
    • Over 200 activists have been arrested for their involvement in mobilizations against TMX [57]

    Atlantic Coast Pipeline (US)

    Summary of project
    • The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was proposed by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy in 2013. It was designed to transport gas daily from the Utica and Marcellus gas fields in West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina. [58]
    • The proposed project received an Environmental Impact Statement in 2016 and aimed at starting construction in 2017, with an estimated cost of $5.1 billion. [59]
    • The proposed project would have disproportionately affected African American communities and Indigenous communities. [60]
    Summary of resistance

    Organizing tactics:

    • Coalition building and legal action: Environmental organizations, grassroots groups of residents and landowners, and a legal organization (the Southern Environmental Law Centre) converged in instigating legal battles against the pipeline.
        • A coalition of environmental, conservation, and public advocacy groups signed a letter demanding that rigorous environmental assessment be conducted, citing pipeline engineers and environmental specialists. [61]
    • Direct action: The coalitions mobilization strategies included but were not limited to: signs on homes, marches, letters to relevant authorities, public meetings, and non-violent actions. 


    • A significant legal win was the recognition of the impacts on the Appalachian Trail. As a part of the National Parks System, the United States Forest service did not have the authority to issue construction permits [62]
    • In July 2020, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced the cancellation of the pipeline, citing ongoing delays, the COVID-19 pandemic, legal uncertainty, and increasing costs of construction.

    Public Power New York (US)

    Summary of project and campaign
    • In 2019, the state of New York adopted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) which commits to 100% renewable energy by 2040 and at least 70% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. [63]
    • Public Power New York (PPNY) led a campaign that lasted for 3.5 years. They aimed to pass the Build Public Renewables Act in the state budget. The Build Public Renewables Act will require the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to not only provide fully renewable energy to citizens by 2040, but also to ensure that economic, social, and racial justice are considered. [64]
        • The bill will ensure that energy jobs have high labor standards, and that the transition to renewable energy is led by the public sector. [65]
        • The bill will also ensure that the most polluting oil and gas plants, located mainly in low-income communities of color, will be shut down by 2030, and that energy is affordable for lower income communities [66]
    Summary of resistance

    Organizing tactics:

    • Political organizing: The coalition encouraged people to call and send emails to Governor Kathy Hochul, the politician responsible for passing the bill. [67]
    • They got members of the movement campaigning for office on platforms that endorsed Public Power NY. [68]
    • Public education: Public events educated the larger public about the state of the current NY energy system.
    • Coalition building: The most important tactic; the PPNY grassroots coalition brings together more than 20 environmental justice organizations, labor unions, and thousands of volunteers. [69]
    • The coalition pays serious attention to racial and economic justice in the fight for renewable energy.
        • Involving labor unions was notably difficult because of the worker’s skepticism of the ​​notoriously anti-union renewable energy industry. [70]


    • After nearly four years of campaigning, PPNY successfully achieved its goal when the New York State legislature decided to pass the Build Public Renewables Act in May 2023 and allocate a budget to the NYPA that would allow for its effective implementation. [71]

    Mi’kmaq Resistance (CAN)

    Summary of project
    • In 2009, New Brunswick granted Southwestern Energy Resources a permit to explore over a million hectares of land for natural gas extraction [72]
    • New Brunswick citizens opposed this decision by signing many petitions and organizing protests. The citizen-led opposition to fracking was not heard nor taken into account by the government. [73]
    • In 2013, South Western Energy Resources and Irving Oil were allowed to conduct exploration for, and extraction of, natural gas on unceded Mi'kma'ki territory. [74]
    • The Elsipogtog First Nation was opposed to the project because it was hazardous to their lands and waters. 
    Summary of resistance

    Organizing tactics:

  • Blockades: The Mi’kmaq Warrior Society organized blockades and resisted police repression. Support also came from other Indigenous groups and settler allies. [75]
  • Day of action: The Indigenous-led organization IDLE No More called for a national day of solidarity protest. [76]
    • The companies finally decided to abandon seismic testing and to leave the province until 2015. [77]

    • In 2015, a temporary moratorium on fracking was announced by the government of New Brunswick and was extended indefinitely in 2016 [78]

    Challenges faces
    • The government opposition to the protesters and the strong police repression was the main challenge faced by protesters.

    GNL Quebec (CAN)

    Summary of project
    • GNL Quebec project was a 750-km natural gas pipeline operated by Gazoduq, a gas liquefaction plant managed by Énergie Saguenay, and terminal for the export of methane in Saguenay, QC. [79]
    Summary of resistance

    The movement against GNL used multi-level approach, engaging local, national, and international spheres, and created a united front.

    Organizing Tactics:

    • Direct action: The movement began in 2017 with an initial demonstration by Innu Land and Water Protectors. Decentralized actions, like hanging banners at symbolic locations, enhanced visibility and emphasized the project's lack of social acceptability. The global climate strikes on September 27, 2019, that drew half a million people and featured a speech by climate activist Greta Thunberg, provided the GNL Quebec movement with an international platform. [80]
    • Coalition building: Local citizens, civil society groups, environmental activists, opposition parties, and student associations, all united against GNL Quebec. Forming an informal coalition expanded the movement from a local to National issue. [81]
    • Political organizing: Utilizing petitions, polls, and active participation in official public consultations such as BAPE (The Office of Environmental Public Hearings, Quebec), the movement demonstrated resistance through many formal channels with record-breaking participation. [82] The number of citizens that contributed to the public consultation on the environmental assessment was historic (7000 submissions).


    • In 2020 and 2021, major investors, including Warren Buffett's firm, withdrew support from the project. [83]

    • The BAPE (Office of Environmental Public Hearings, Quebec) report came out in the movement’s favor, and Quebec Premier François Legault rejected the project in 2021. [84]

    Standing Rock (US); ONGOING

    Summary of project
    • Energy Transfer Partners proposed the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), intended to traverse sacred Indigenous lands.
    Summary of resistance
    • Standing Rock's primary objectives were: safeguarding the Missouri River, protecting sacred lands and historical sites, and upholding the sovereignty and treaty rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Central to the tribe's argument was the contention that the DAPL breached Article II of the Fort Laramie Treaty, securing the right to the peaceful and uninterrupted utilization of reservation lands. [85]
    • In March 2016, a pivotal moment occurred as Tokata Iron Eyes and the Standing Rock Youth uncovered plans to reroute the pipeline through sacred lands. This discovery marked the initiation of the #NoDAPL movement [86]

    Organizing tactics:

    • Online presence: The #NoDAPL movement was led by teenagers. They used online platforms, petitions, and mobilized. Social media, particularly the #NoDAPL hashtag, was crucial in amplifying the movement's message and reaching a global audience. [87]
    • Physical occupation: As tensions escalated, encampments like Sacred Stone and Oceti Sakowin became central to resistance. [88] These encampments served as strategic hubs, fostering communal dynamics and providing a base for legal strategies employed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
    • Symbolic resistance: ReZpect Our Water played a critical role within the broader #NoDAPL movement. They organized relay runs, symbolizing the historic and spiritual practice of running among Native peoples, contributing to the movement's visibility. [89]

    • International advocacy: Efforts included engagements with the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. [90]


    • In 2016 the Department of the Army denied an easement under Lake Oahe, halting the pipeline's progression. This decision generated jubilation at the Oceti Sakowin camp, and had broader implications for Indigenous rights. [91]
    Challenges faced
    • There was excessive use of force by police and private military personnel during violent confrontations with protestors. [92]
    • President Trump's memorandum in 2017 accelerated the project. In 2021, there remains hope for Standing Rock protestors to be heard. [93]

    Athabasca Tar Sands Resistance (CAN)

    Summary of project
    • Shell proposed development of the Athabasca Tar Sands. The Athabasca-Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) strongly challenged Shell, seeking compensation for damage already done and legal recognition of native land rights on traditional territories outside of reserves. [94]
    Summary of resistance

    Organizing tactics:

    • Legal opposition: The ACFN mounted significant legal opposition against Shell in the form of lawsuits and interventions in the regulatory process. [95]
    • Rejecting government channels: Withdrawing from consultative committees proved effective, as these committees often had little impact, and oil companies could no longer claim Indigenous consultation. [96]
    • In 2010, the Tar Sands Healing Walk was founded by a group of Indigenous activists including the ACFN. The Healing Walk, a 14-kilometer walk through the tar sands, was intended to build community and raise awareness about the damage caused by bitumen extraction. The Walk ended in 2014 after organizers felt its goals had been achieved. [97]
    • Coalition building: Indigenous groups, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), labor groups, and religious groups joined forces. These coalitions extended beyond local communities to the international scale, raising public awareness and increasing pressure on oil companies. [98]

    On coalition building, Lubicon Cree activist Melina Laboucan-Massimo said, “‘When we work in coalitions – the environmental movement, First Nations and the labor movement – there’s such a convergence of diverse voices…we’re really starting to see growing public accountability and public opposition being seen and taken seriously'’” [99]


    • In 2014, a series of large development projects, including Shell’s Pierre River Mine, were canceled due to “market forces and public opposition”  It is estimated that public opposition to the tar sands has cost the oil industry over $17 billion. [100]

    Nitaskinan60 (CAN); ONGOING

    Summary of project

    Nitaskinan – Atikamekw territory – has been threatened by the destruction of logging companies.

    Summary of resistance
    • Nitaskinan60, or the Kilometer 60 campaign, is an ongoing campaign in Manawan, Québec, Canada.

    Organizing tactics:

    • Blockades: The Dubé family and Manawan community established a blockade and announced a moratorium on logging in Manawan. The blockade has the immediate goal of stopping the illegal logging and the long-term goal of Indigenous sovereignty and unity. [101]

    SUCCESS (this campaign is ongoing):

    • The Québec Ministère des Fôrets, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) published seven sustainable forestry recommendations for better community consultation and involvement. [102]
    • The Québec Ministère des Fôrets, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) issued a report in May, 2022, concluding that the MFFP and Scerie Saint-Michel were both at fault. However, the report neither offered reparations or compensation to the Dubé family or Manawan community, nor penalized either of the responsible parties. [103]
    Challenges faced
    • While campaigning, some activists expressed fear of danger to individuals, physical or legal.
    • The greatest challenge has been a lack of government cooperation and responsibility. 

    Strategy and tactics used

    Direct action (14/14)
    • All of the campaigns participated in a form of direct action (physical disruption).
    • Specific tactics varied: protests, marches, sit-ins, civil disobedience and blockades.
    Community engagement (9/14)
    • Community members were engaged through canvassing, community meetings, workshops, teach-ins, reading groups, focus groups, speak-ins and public events.
    • Specific examples include the Standing Rock Relay Runs, the Grassy Narrows River Run, and weekly potlucks for Stop Cop City. 
    Mass engagement (9/14)
    • Mass engagement was achieved through petitions and letters.
    • This was important for the involvement of community members who do not have the same time, ability or privilege to partake in direct action or community events.

    Coalition building (7/14)

    • Success came from the creation of a new entity, creating diverse knowledge, perspectives and increasing the size and strength of campaigns.

    Legal action and political pressure (7/14)

    • Engagement with formalized political and legal processes was used by seeking policy change, using call campaigns, attending public meetings or consultations, running for office or organizing election campaigns.
    • Many campaigns faced high opposition, but many also benefited from political alliances.
    • Legal challenges using lawsuits, legal curt appeals, course cases, referendums and legal advocacy often delayed projects, but did not always result in material gains.
    Mass communication (5/14)
    • Communication platforms such as social media campaigns, banners, magazines, press conferences, documentaries engaged the public.
    • Alternative media and social media was useful in countering mainstream media which often aligns with government and industry perspectives.
    Independent research (3/14)
    • A small handful of campaigns conducted independent research to enhance the campaigns credibility and convince of it's importance.

    Participating groups

    Locally impacted community members/land defenders + grassroots activists + ENGOs = success
    • Actors varied across campaigns. The most common participants were networks made up of community members, volunteers, Indigenous groups, and environmental organizations (ENGO's).
    • Research for the Athabasca Tar Sands case study states that, “Dominant political and industry actors were largely able to overlook the movement until a diverse and influential set of social movement actors began collaborating and shifting these local struggles transnationally.” [104]
    • Unions participated in 4 out of 14 of the campaigns.
    • For the Public Power NY campaign, the involvement of labor unions was identified as a turning point in the struggle. [105]
    Industry professionals and student groups
    • The least recurrent participants were academics, businesses, legal groups, health groups, and student groups.

    • For GNL Quebec campaign, students made up the largest fraction of supporters with 54 student associations representing more than 350,000 members. Student’s involvement was also identified as crucial.

    • Academics were involved in the TMX Pipeline and GNL Quebec campaigns. Academic Tim Takaro camped in a tree scheduled to be cut down for the construction of the TMX pipeline and this gathered significant media attention that reached different audiences. David Suzuki, a well known celebrity and academic, was involved with the campaign against GNL Quebec. The involvement of academics or well-known experts helped these campaigns gain wider media attention. [106]

    Challenges faced

    Government opposition (7/14)
    • Legal challenges and large public demonstrations were used to overcome government opposition.
    Police repression (4/14)
    • Direct action was used both as a counter to repression, and also faced additional repression. Increased project costs and delays to construction helped address the challenges faced using direct action.
    Coalition challenges (4/14)
    • Difficulty creating alliances due to diverging opinions and perspectives.

    E.g. “There has been a lack of structure in the coalition when it comes to making decisions when it comes to allocation of resources…the lack of structure has meant that we are being pulled in like 25 directions all at once. We need to unravel this notion that structure is our enemy. And if we refuse to define what leadership looks like, on the basis that leadership is hierarchical. It just means that leadership goes, unaccounted [for], and it goes unchecked.” -Activist against TMX pipeline

    • Coalitions were used to strengthen the response to challenges by increasing knowledge and resources
    Legal challenges (3/14)
    • Activist arrests, and opposition from industry.
    Health challenges (3/14)
    • Linked directly to the struggle.
    Misinformation (2/14)
    • Educational efforts helped to counter misinformation.

    Results and key research findings

    Researcher takeaways for successful climate justice campaigns

    Direct action
    • Most commonly used to successfully overcome government opposition and police repression.
    Legal action and political pressure
    • Most effective for procedural delays, reducing the economic viability of projects, and sometimes, for facilitating the recognition of Indigenous rights and sovereignty.
    Coalition building
    • Both a strategy and a success, leading to new campaigns and/or activist groups, and providing more perspectives and knowledge
    • When facing police repression, coalitions can help support activists and communities more at risk of experiencing direct criminalization or police violence.
    Community engagement
    • Both a strategy and a success, fostering collaboration, strong community support and diverse campaigns that engage a wide variety of people.
    Communication and raising public awareness
    • Both a strategy and a success, increasing support for the campaign and lowering acceptability of the target.
    Diversity of actors, strategies and tactics
    • Greatly contributed to the effectiveness of a successful intersectional campaign.

    Direct action, community engagement and building strong, large, and diverse coalitions seem to be the most effective strategies, and the best strategies for overcoming challenges.

    HUB takeaways for successful climate justice campaigns

    To mobilize deeper (increase commitment and engagement)...

    • Connect and engage directly with community members (e.g. canvassing, potlucks, skill shares etc).

    "Why in the world would I go to a public park next to a police training facility like I wasn't going to do that. I wasn't going. But when I went back, what I saw was that the community had come in and began to use the land, the community had really started to make it our park. And people were doing teachings there about how to live off of the land, showing you what mushrooms were growing that you could eat, what type of moss you could use to make a poultice for cuts or to any types of wounds, you know, then there was like a weekly potluck that was happening. And people were talking to us about that area of land and what the South River Forest meant to this community." -Organizer for Stop Cop City

    • One-to-one conversations are particularly helpful.

    "When we went door to door talking to people, what we found was that for a lot of people, the people who live farther away from the forest, the mayor's narrative was winning in so many ways, because people were like, 'Oh, it's just a training facility like what are you mad about?'... But when you began to talk to people about the nuts and bolts of it, when you began to tell people 'what do you think about a Blackhawk helicopter landing pad?' People like we're like, 'what do we need that for?'...Yeah, well, what do you think about the firing range?" -Organizer for Stop Cop City

    • Connect on the land.

    "We kept having events in the forest for as long as we could. We kept up our potluck. We started doing distribution with that. So we had food distribution... clothing that people wanted to bring, hygiene kits... whatever you don't need, pretty much just became like the community swap meet and potluck on every Wednesday... we continue to have skill shares in the forest and we continued to do things like the music festival, where a bunch of people got arrested for just being at a music festival. We kept doing those things so that people could see, like, this is where we are, this is what we're doing this is, this is where we congregate as a community. This is where we come together and do things. You know, this is what we are fighting so hard for not only for this land, we're fighting for our community, we're fighting for our bond, we're fighting for this thing that brings us together, but also keeps us alive, keeps us going gives us a greater quality of life." -Organizer for Stop Cop City

  • Know the history of the land you're on, to connect with impacted communities
  • "We're on Tongva Land. The community has been traditionally black... one of the few neighborhoods that black communities could live in, and rapidly converting to large Latino populations. So very much a mixed population on unceded Tongva territory, we refer to it as South Central Los Angeles. Our original offices were on land that was owned by Edward Doheny... the big North American granddaddy oil baron from back in the day... Mount St. Mary's College is built on his former estate. His estate had a petting zoo and all these beautiful Victorian buildings. And that is the neighborhood that our organization started in." -Organizer for Stand L.A.

    To mobilize widely...
    • Engage with many forms of media

    "We have to work hard for alternative media to get things out. So we have a number of different news crews that work with us; independent journalists, local magazines and newspapers. And then we were able to get NBC to come here to do a short documentary about cop city... and also the documentary done by Al Jazeera. Those have been like the mainstream media documentaries that have really opened people's eyes." -Organizer for Stop Cop City

    To get your message across...
    • Relate to issues concerning community members (i.e. rather than a blanket 'stop climate change', campaigns and communication addressed a specific concern, project, proposal or law impacting locals).

    "At the time, I was working for voting rights organization, and I was the lead childcare organizer. And one of the things that I started to do was talk to people about how cop city affected the state of childcare... when you're talking about childcare, you are talking about health care. And when you're talking about health care, you have to talk about economic justice and environmental justice together. And you cannot have a conversation about childcare without talking about reproductive justice. Because according to the pillars of reproductive justice, I am supposed to be able to raise the children that I choose to have in a clean, safe environment that is free of state sanctioned interpersonal violence... So when when you looked at... what that intersectionality was, and how we could get people to understand.. everybody has a stake in this." -Organizer for Stop Cop City

    • Contact press and hold press conferences at strategic times to control the narrative

    "There was, at one point it was really like a back and forth of, we're sending a press release, and then a company has to answer that we're sending a press release under industry, and they have to answer, so we kind of we became master the narrative where they had to always answer our communication." -Organizer for GNL Quebec

    • Use art to grab attention, visualize the story, and help people relate

    "[We used] genderless, ageless wig stands, and assaulted each one of them with one symptom... a nosebleed... asthma [with a] puffer, [an inflamed] thyroid, a congested nose with a clothespin. We had several others. My self portrait was a headache that I described by putting two barbecue skewers from the nape of my neck through my forehead... And we set that up on a table with a big boombox with a black tablecloth... just as kids and parents were walking home from school, and they would walk by and say, "hey, hey, hey, what's that with the nosebleed? I had to take my kid three times to the emergency room last week with nosebleeds"... All of these symptoms began to come together and we use that event and events like it to tell people, we want to talk more with you." -Organizer for Stand LA

    • Provide platforms for community members to share their stories

     "I think [uplifting the] community's voice and just speaking the truth, and providing as many people the opportunity to tell their story... storytelling, personal testimony, community based research, all of those things are very critical." -Organizer for Stand LA

    • Uplift elders, and people who can describe how the community has been impacted over time

    "The elders are also important, because they will be the quickest ones to notice that the air has changed... What's making that happen... being privileged to share the community with people who've lived there for a very long time. I think that's really the greatest asset for change, just listening to community." -Organizer for Stand LA

    To build a stronger force...
    • Form strategic alliances/coalitions between the grassroots, NGOs, unions, associations, academics etc. 

    "Knock on all these doors and find out key organizational and individual levers that the can help you. I think it's critical to find a way to get the big green NGOs on board. They have a lot of mobilization power, and when they actually show up, they can be instrumental, and then you need to find political allies as well... all the opposition parties were with us... and the mobilization needs to be grassroots-led... that is a prime example of how local grassroots organizing, amplified by others, can become the most powerful tool in the world." -Organizer for GNL Quebec

    • Set goals as a coalition and as individual groups/organizations

    "I think that the one of the biggest challenges that I've noticed, is the lack of defining our goals in a meaningful and practical way. There has been a lack of, or an unwillingness, to get specific enough with our goals and what it means to, in my opinion, actually be able to accomplish them. Because... when I talked about the campaign, or the movement or whatever, it's basically a coalition of dozens of organizations that are all united under this banner called protect the planet. And there's very diverse organizations involved in that coalition...There's a lot of overlap between the groups... everyone is united and agrees that our goal is to stop TMX... But that's not enough... it doesn't tell you how we're going to get there. And there's still a distinction between tactics, like tactics, and specific goals are two different things as well. But... what does that actually mean, to stop TMX? What does that look like? Because if we don't get more specific about what that means, we aren't able to tailor our actions in a way that is effective... You know, it ends up with people like, let's hold a rally at City Hall to stop TMX. And it's like, what is that doing? Why are we targeting City Hall? That makes no sense, like City Hall has no power to do anything here? I think there's this kind of something you hear a lot is 'Oh, well, we're raising awareness.' I think something that has become really clear in this campaign, and that I've heard other people say in other campaigns is that if your campaigns goal is just to raise awareness, you've already failed. Like, that's not enough. Yes, it's a component of any sort of social movement or campaign. But if that's where the goal ends, it's not, it's just not going to do anything. It's just not enough." -TMX Organizer

    • Power map as a coalition

    "Without defining what needs to happen for the project to be stopped, we can't tailor our actions to target the right people. And I think that's been a challenge, is figuring out who is an effective target... We need to actually target the people and the the entities that have the power to change what we're trying to change." -TMX Organizer

    • Map out your spectrum of allies

    "You need to analyze where your allies are, active allies, passive allies, who are your active enemies, and really focus on bringing more passive allies to the active side... when this all started, there was a lot of passive allies. The students were concerned with climate, but they weren't specifically involved in the project. At first, the only active allies there was a tiny bit of people from First Nations [communities], and then citizen groups... when you're in that moment, where you're trying to develop a campaign against a big struggle, or a big project like this one, you really need to find, who are those people in society that agree with me, but aren't doing shit about it. And that's a tough part. That's a long process. But you really have to do it." -Organizer for GNL Quebec

    • Do skill and knowledge shares for sustainable engagement.

    "We constantly do teachings with each other. You know, this Friday, we have a teaching with the Palestinian youth movement to help people understand how cop city connects to the struggle for freedom in Palestine. We constantly educate ourselves so that we educate the community. So, we do that by canvassing, we do that by public facing events like movie screenings and townhall meetings, community talkbacks where the community will come and just tell us, hey, this is my concern." -Organizer for Stop Cop City

    • Support action led by directly impacted communities

    "The mass education campaigns on hydraulic fracturing that had been ongoing since 2011 were not Indigenous-led. Numerous action and advocacy groups across the province were also not Indigenous-led. The frontlines certainly were Indigenous-led. So, in support of frontline activities, allies were very supportive, financially and materially." -Journalist for Mi'kmaq resistance

    To conserve energy/resources...
    • Intentionally define a structure, accountability and how power is shared (avoidance creates more problems)

    "There has been, in my experience, a refusal... to even discuss what it might mean to have some sort of structure for the coalition... there's this really problematic assumption that... organizing non hierarchically means that... structure is an enemy because structure is hierarchical. And that has been such a problem because it just means that nothing gets done... if we refuse to define what leadership looks like... it just means that leadership goes, unaccounted, and it goes unchecked. And no one knows what's going on... people are still assuming positions of leadership, but they're not accountable to people for that, and it's not clear, who is responsible for what. And I would actually argue that that ends up resulting in a more hierarchical structure than if the leadership had been defined clearly... One of the one of the teachings from my people that we were using in this context that I think explains it really well, is geese. So when you see Canada geese fly, they fly in a V shape, right. And there's a leader at the point of the V, that goose is the one that is setting the direction of where the flock is going. But they get tired, and they swap out. So when the when the lead goose gets tired, they swap positions with another goose that's in the V, and they just swap over like that. [Otherwise,] no one is responsible for anything, and everyone is responsible for everything at the same time. And it's so cumbersome. It's restrictive in terms of using our time and our energy and resources in an effective way. And that leads to burnout." -TMX Organizer

    To maintain momentum...
    • Recognize and reflect on your successes

    "The biggest victory in this fight against cop city, is that people understand what it is that we do need to be safe and community because this has really opened up a huge conversation about community safety." -Organizer for Stop Cop City

    • Leverage the momentum of other movements by drawing connections

    "At the time of the shutdown Canada movement... when the entire world was watching what was going on in the West... [there were great narratives] built between what was going on out west and what was going on here, tying it to basically being the same colonial projects that were that were being forced down the throat of Indigenous communities." -Organizer for GNL Quebec

    To strengthen relationships...
    • Center joy!

    "We started to choir... there are a lot of people who are very good singers, there are people who are instrumentalists. There are people who just want to have good vibes and chill out with each other. So we started singing together, we started doing that. And we've performed in a couple of places, it's been a lot of fun. People are carrying it on, you know, make sure that you definitely do that make time for joy and make space for healing." -Organizer for Stop Cop City

    To address problematic behaviour internally...
    • Make sure structures and policies for accountability are defined; what is not okay, who to speak to when something happens and how unacceptable behaviour is addressed 

    "It's always these men that have like, this poorly defined power and are operating within this like, very hierarchical system, but because we've refused to define [a clear structure], [abuse/harassment] doesn't get called out." -TMX Organizer

    "Part of what I've learned here is that just defining ourselves as [anti-oppressive] doesn't make it so... 'We will not cancel us' by Adrienne Marie Brown, explains... when we are so quick to cancel each other, and she's not talking about abusers here, there's a difference there. If someone is abusive, that requires... a different conversation, though, when it comes to just transgressions and mistakes that people make saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, like that is going to happen because... every single person that is involved in these movements has grown up in a world that has these... systems of oppression that have been built into our lives in all of these ways. And a lot of the work that we have to do is unlearning all of those systems because we can't see how they have impacted us... we need to be able to have the room to make mistakes... we need those skills to be able to negotiate where that line is with what is unacceptable transgression. And how do we handle those mistakes in a way that actually allows people to correct those mistakes and learn from them and grow and do better next time? Without destroying the movement and like pushing people out?" -TMX Organizer

    HUB observations: additional lessons

    For environmentalists that do not understand how Indigenous sovereignty and police violence relate to the climate crisis...

    There are 2 critical points to emphasize:

    1) How structural racism and ongoing settler colonialism impact historic and ongoing climate justice campaigns, specifically on Indigenous Land defenders. The degree of criminalization, physical violence, and assassinations during environmental campaigns significantly increases when Indigenous people are involved [107]

    2) Most climate justice campaigns that have had success in the last 20 years across Turtle Island have been initiated and led by impacted Indigenous communities.

    For NGOs that want to support grassroots organizers
    • Let the grassroots lead! Listen to what support they say they need; media? Funding? Training? They will tell you.
    • Don't craft the message: uplift the voices of grassroots organizers (co-creation may be more possible if a coalition is formed).

    More to come!

    If you have corrections or additional resources to share with us related to this content, you can contact

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