In Ohio, the People Push Back on Fracking

Tired of waiting for their leaders to ban the destructive drilling practice, citizens passed their own resolution—and took over the Statehouse to make it heard.

Originally published in Yes! Magazine

Last week an estimated 1,000 people took over the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio to protest the destructive practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Joined by others from neighboring states facing similar issues, this “People’s Assembly” rallied and marched to the Capitol building—without a permit—to decide how they, the people, could end the practice in their state.

Jamie Frederick was one of them. She had been told by doctors that it was safe to drink her well water, despite the presence of gas wells surrounding her home. She later discovered the water was contaminated with chemicals used in the fracking process. As a result, she says, she has lost her gall bladder and can’t risk having children because of fatal health risks and potential birth defects.

“If there had been solar panels and wind turbines surrounding my home instead of gas wells, I never would have gotten sick, and I would be called ‘Mom’,” she told the crowd. These days, she said, her mouth bleeds and it’s difficult to talk: “I am losing my voice more all the time. But I seem to have found it today.”

As the Assembly convened, the rotunda, filled to capacity, thundered with stomping, clapping, and chanting that was hushed when families shared experiences of being devastated by the side effects of fracking, as Frederick was. Some had been invited to testify at the Statehouse in the past, only to find empty rooms and legislators who, they felt, did not respect their concerns.

These stories had been shared throughout the lead-up to the action, with three full days committed to workshops, trainings, and cross-movement strategy sessions. Teri Blanton, of Appalachia, connected fracking to another highly destructive extraction process she has been fighting in her own neighborhood: mountaintop coal removal. “They’re trying to do to you what they’ve done to us,” she said. “‘Regulation’ just gives them permission to do it. If you think regulation works, take a look at the West Virginia strip mining.”

The Ohio Assembly ended with the passage of a “people’s legislation” to ban fracking. Though no actual law backs this resolution, it signifies a commitment by many in the state to oppose further development of fracking wells.

This July will see thousands more mobilize in Washington, D.C. for the Don’t Stop the Frack Attack rally. Grassroots communities across New York State are already speaking out against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to turn the Southern Tier of New York into a sacrifice zone for fracking. This creative, nonviolent action bubbling across the United States may turn out to be the most powerful way of halting extreme energy development at the expense of both people and the planet.

BREAKING: Keystone XL Denied!

In case you haven’t heard the thunderous celebration by the North American climate movement, today the State Dept is set to outright reject the Keystone XL pipeline. #booyah

This is a reminder that people power works. Direct Action works. Social movements work. Grassroots organizing works. Lets take some time today to celebrate another huge victory.

Every time we win, it builds our resolve for the next fight. We know the fossil fuel industry owns Congress, and so far the Keystone XL campaign has been like playing Whack-A-Mole, or kinda like going to battle with a zombie who just won’t die. There may yet be another stage of the fight, and there will definitely be other theaters of engagement heating up in the Tar Sands fights, like the Enbridge Northern Gateway. I’m confident we’ll be ready to take em on. Moments like this help us remember our power, and that its worth all the headaches and stress of movement building. So lets keep winning.

If you’re in DC, help build the momentum by joining 500 referees blowing the whistle on congress being soaked in big oil Jan 24th. Or this friday, you can join the J20 (January 20) #occupy actions all around the world mobilizing to take on dirty corporate interests. Here in the Bay Area we will be shutting down the SF financial district with nonviolent direct action (check out the hot Lady Gaga outreach flashmob video here).

Here’s a quick sampling of the breaking coverage of the Keystone XL victory from Bill McKibben, and on Globe and MailWashington Post, Mother Jones, Huffington Post, ThinkProgress, Grist, Daily Kos, and Politico.

Congratulations, climate movement. What a great way to kick off the new year, eh?

– UPDATE — since this post we’ve gotten media coverage from the New York Times to CNN, but my favorite headline of all of them is from Gawker: So Long, You Filthy Canadian Tar Pipeline!

26 go to Jail for Justice outside SLC courthouse

Today, Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to 2 years in prison and taken away from the courthouse without goodbyes or the option to self-report. In court, Tim said “You can put me in prison but it will not deter my future of civil disobedience and it won’t deter others who are willing to fight to defend a livable future.”

Blockading the courthouse entrance following Tim's sentencingOutside the Courthouse, hundreds of supporters had gathered from the Salt Lake City community, singing, chanting, and speaking out as they bore witness to the sentencing. Immediately after the bang of the gavel Ashely Anderson and Ashley Sanders were hauled out of the courtroom for loudly rallying people inside saying, “this court has proven itself incapable of justice. So the people will take it back – it is now our court!” foreshadowing the civil disobedience to come outside. As Henia Belalia left the Courthouse, she made an official statement declaring, “If there was ever a day in history to take action, this is it.” And people took action. Peaceful Uprising activists did a sit-in to blockade the 2 front entrances of the Federal Courthouse, to tell the world “its ours” and emphasize that if Tim was going to jail, they were too, giving meaning to the slogan “we are all Bidder 70.” Taking their lead, members of the community began to join the blockade to show their love and outrage. 26 people were arrested.

A mother who joined the blockade was with her three children during the time of arrest, and said in tears “I need you to see this, its for your future.” Those participating in the sit-in chose to emphasize their point that business as usual is unacceptable by moving to blockade a major intersection in front of the courthouse during rush hour. As supporters continued to sing and support those who locked down, Tim DeChristopher was quickly rushed out the side door in chains and loaded into a police van. We can only hope he felt our support, and that that support is carried to all people of conscience who do what is right for people and the planet.

Today a true crime was committed in every federal courthouse in the United States. Why is Tim now in prison for protecting our future, while corporate CEOs walk free with millions of dollars for destroying it? We recognized today that our justice system has failed us. It, like our economy and other branches of government, are controlled by the fossil fuel industry. And today we affirm that we stand with millions actively taking it back. Please see our official response to the sentencing for action opportunities and links to all of the remarkable actions that are being taken around the country.

Act! The movement is with you.

Breaking: Tim DeChristopher sentenced to 2 years in prison, taken immediately into custody

(Cross-posted from peacefuluprising.org)

Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to 2 years in prison today at the Salt Lake City federal courthouse. He was taken immediately into custody, being denied the typical 3 weeks afforded to put his affairs in order and say goodbye to his friends and family.

Federal prosecutors asked for Tim to receive an extra harsh prison sentence in an effort to intimidate the movement that stands with him. They hoped that by condemning him to years behind bars, they would “make an example out of him” and deter all of us from taking meaningful action. But Tim is already an example. He’s an example of the courageous acts that people across our movements are taking to fight for justice and a liveable future. We support Tim by continuing to organize. Our response to this sentence is an affirmation: we will not be intimidated.  What’s your response?

The government’s statement is clear. Tim has been sentenced to 2 years as punishment for his politics; for the uncompromising content of his speeches and organizing in the two years since his act of civil disobedience protected 150,000 acres of land. Ironically, his principled views and motivations behind his actions he took were never allowed to enter a courtroom, due to their “irrelevance.” In a highly political trial, the jury was unjustly stripped of its right to be their community’s conscience and manipulated into making a political prisoner of a peaceful and concerned young man.

Tim DeChristopher

Author and activist Terry Tempest Williams said, “To think that a young man in an act of conscience might [do any amount of time] in a federal prison for raising a paddle in an already illegal sale of oil and gas leases, compared to the CEO of BP or the financial wizards on Wall Street who have pocketed millions of dollars at our expense  – and who will never step into a court of law to even get their hands slapped, let alone go to jail, is an assault on democracy.”

She’s right. But we have the power to turn this assault on democracy into a battle for democracy. Today the Salt Lake City community is expressing both their love and their outrage.

Fossil fuel lobbyists knew that Tim would be indicted the evening before it was officially filed, Jury members explained that they were intimidated throughout the process. The fossil fuel industry should not control our justice system.

Unless we decide to respond accordingly, as Tim serves his time, the real criminals — the fossil fuel industry wrecking our planet and our communities — will continue to run free, unaccountable for the countless oil spills, asthma attacks, contaminated waterways, cancer clusters, and carbon seeping into the air we breathe every day. If the justice system is intent on prosecuting the people protecting rather than pillaging the planet, we must confront the real criminals ourselves. With our heads held high, we continue to stand on the moral high-ground – and will do what’s right, despite the consequences. We know that mother nature’s consequences of inaction are far harsher than any imposed by a court system.

But we are not isolated individuals. We come together with our communities as groups of empowered agents of change who know our system is broken and does not represent us. Our communities represent us, and our vision of a resilient, just, and sustainable world that we are fighting for.

Tim’s sentence is a call to action.

For those of us who’ve been following his story fervently, our hearts were broken today. It is a sad moment. But we now have an opportunity and a responsibility to act on those feelings of hurt and outrage. For Tim’s sacrifice to truly mean something, for the spark it ignites in each of us to burn, we all must take action.

2011 has already become a year of peaceful uprisings around the country. As Tim once said, we were never promised that it would be easy. We know it will take courage, sacrifice and a willingness to sustain our resistance in our fight for real Justice. Tim has taken a step and we will take the next thousand.

Here are a few upcoming action opportunities to join:

We’ll see you on the streets,

Peaceful Uprising and Tim’s community of courage.

Lessons from Tea Party Tweets

What I learned from spending 5 minutes looking at a Tea Party twitter feed.
cross-posted from Beyond the Choir

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the activist filter bubble, the reverberating echo-chamber of insular social media and political networks that keeps progressives marginal and talking to ourselves. Recently, I’ve had several different Tea Party twitter accounts follow me (at least four this week alone) and began talking to friends about whether or not this means they are 1) building lists of progressive activists for potential future smear-campaigns; 2) following their opposition so they can Retweet things out of context to scare/outrage their base; or 3) genuinely interested in hearing perspectives outside their own echo-chamber. Whatever their purposes, it reminded me that we can learn a lot from the way our opposition presents itself through social media forums (of course there is a lot of deception and other missteps that we don’t want to emulate, but there are some transferrable best practices mixed in too – here’s some of both).

A few minutes ago I got an email notice that @TheTeaParty_net is following me.

1) Their twitter profile (which I see in the notification email) succinctly states the values they profess to hold: “Limited federal government • Individual freedoms • Personal responsibility • Free markets • Returning political power to the states and the people”

I already know what they stand for and I haven’t even looked at their twitter feed yet. In fact, their statement of values is likely the thing that will make me choose to look or not look. And here’s what I notice from literally 5 minutes of browsing their twitter feed: 2) Constant creation of an “us vs. them” narrative, inviting people to identify as part of their group (“us”) and asking people to take a small action (retweeting) to signal their insiderness. A kinestetic action simple as pressing a button helps solidify the choice that was made by the tweeter. It asks them to take a stand, pick a side, and then reinforces that choice with a physical action that their peers can see. They ask their tweeps to do this on a regular basis. Continue reading ‘Lessons from Tea Party Tweets’

The Rapture didn’t come, but don’t worry, the world is still boiling.

Cross-posted from Beyond the Choir
Church this morning must have been quite awkward for some people. The sermon might have gone something like “I know we’re all disappointed that the rapture didn’t come, but don’t worry, its not like it’s the end of the world or anything.” Ha ha.

I was among many progressives making fun of the rapture all day yesterday, but ultimately the joke might be on us. When it comes to global warming and climate chaos, the script is a bit too familiar. According to a recent poll, 44% of Americans believe increased severity of “natural” disasters is “evidence of biblical end times. ” That’s nearly half the people in the most powerful country on Earth. 38% believe God uses Nature to dispense justice. It’s an important poll that climate change activists and sensible people everywhere should take seriously.

The #rapture meme picked up remarkably fast. While some have seen billboards declaring May 21st, 2011 to be Judgment Day for a while now, it wasn’t until a couple of days ago that it started getting into the media and many Americans learned that a small fundamentalist sect believed they uncovered the true date of the Beginning of The End. Within a few days over a million people joined multiple “post rapture looting” facebook events, pranks were being played across the country, it was all over the news, and people were cracking jokes on twitter like there’s no tomorrow.

So why did that meme spread so quickly? Unfortunately biblical notions of the coming Apocalypse are not just entrenched in our culture, but are also rearing their ugly heads in our political landscape. And they’re shaping policy.

John Shimkus, The Republican Congressman who hoped to chair the House Energy Committee told reporters this Autumn that we didn’t need to take action to reduce greenhouse gasses because he knows the planet won’t be destroyed. How does he know? God told Noah that it wouldn’t happen again after the Great Flood. Obviously. Shimkus went on to clarify that “The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over.” And its not just Shimkus – the November election saw a wave of new Republican leadership hell-bent on scriptural justifications for inaction on global warming.

In his excellent article Apocalyptic beliefs hasten the end of the world, Jason Mark discusses the depth of biblical explanations used to explain the recent Mississippi river flooding and tornado in Alabama. He cites “two surveys by the Pew Center [that] reveal what climate campaigners are up against. According to a 2010 Pew poll, 41 percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return by 2050. A roughly similar number — 36 percent — disagree that human activity is causing global temperatures to rise.” Jason points out that while causality between these two stats is dubious, worldview clearly plays a significant role in the public’s response to climate science.

Continue reading ‘The Rapture didn’t come, but don’t worry, the world is still boiling.’

SF to Cancun: Social Movements Bring Hope as COP16 Falters

Thousands of community activists around the world take action to promote Local Solutions to the Climate Crisis


The tone inside the conference center at the U.N. Climate Negotiations in Cancun has been a bit dismal this past week. Yet despite the reduced expectations inside, this morning the international peasant movement La Via Campesina gave us a new injection of hope and vision with a vibrant march of thousands of small farmers, Indigenous peoples and community activists through the streets in Mexico. It kicked off today’s international day of action – “1,000 Cancuns” – where grassroots organizations across the world demonstrated local resiliency and real solutions to the climate crisis. 30 coordinated events took place in the U.S. and Canada today, anchored by the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.

Here in San Francisco, more than a dozen local community organizations joined forces to help convert a Mission District parking lot into a community garden and park with affordable housing units. Click here for photos.

“This action demonstrates a tangible solution to the climate crisis by promoting local food production, challenging our dependence on automobiles and strengthening bonds within the community,” explained Teresa Almaguer of People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights (PODER) “The climate crisis requires community-based solutions and an end to corporate influence within the UN climate negotiations.” In addition to planting vegetables, participants enjoyed live music, theatrical performances and speakers all focusing on solutions to the climate crisis. A common theme at the event was increasing local food production in the fight against climate change, in contrast to the corporate-driven false solutions being put forth inside the U.N. negotiations.

“Industrial agriculture is one of the top three sources of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan of Movement Generation. “Agribusiness corporations profit from everything from fertilizer and pesticide sales to control of what goes onto supermarket shelves. The people are left paying the true costs in polluted water, depleted soil, diet-related diseases, and climate disruption. Meanwhile, U.S. agribusiness harms small farmers, farm workers and consumers – in the U.S. and around the world.” Continue reading ‘SF to Cancun: Social Movements Bring Hope as COP16 Falters’

At COP16 Cancun: Canadian First Nations Representatives Deploy Giant Human Banner Demanding End to Tar Sands Development

Cancun, Mexico, Dec 2, 2010 – Indigenous Peoples of Canada and their allies from around the world are in Cancun at the COP-16 climate summit demanding real action to reduce fossil fuel pollution. Over twenty people with color-coded T-shirts that spelled out the words “Shut Down the Tar Sands” in both English and Spanish gathered in front of the Maya building to directly deliver their message to UNFCCC delegates. Participants included Indigenous community representatives from fossil fuel impacted community across Canada and the U.S., many carrying personal banners linking tar sands with the destruction of their territories.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo of the Lubicon Cree comes from a community impacted by tar sands. “We have seen the destruction of our lands happen right before our eyes. Our water is being contaminated and we are seeing droughts throughout the region. My family used to be able to drink from our watershed, and now within my lifetime we can no longer do so. Young and old people alike have developed respiratory illnesses as neighboring plants emit noxious gases into the air. First Nations and farming communities have reported health effects to the wildlife and livestock. The area is drastically changing – I fear for the future of my homeland.”

The tar sands are the fastest growing source of GHG emissions in Canada. Unless Canada changes track emissions from the tar sands industry are set to triple to over 120 millions tonnes. Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network said, “Our communities demand real solutions to address the climate crisis and that means shutting down the tar sands and a moratorium on new fossil fuel development.”

Continue reading ‘At COP16 Cancun: Canadian First Nations Representatives Deploy Giant Human Banner Demanding End to Tar Sands Development’

Activists Derail Business School Q&A With Chevron CEO John Watson

Chevron CEO John Watson was invited to speak about “The Energy Economy” at the University of Chicago business school, Chicago Booth this morning. The event provided audience members a chance to ask Watson questions, and as it just so happens, we have a few we’ve been meaning to ask him.

Some friends and I were concerned about Chevron’s attempts to evade both the law and the company’s moral responsibility to clean up the 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste it deliberately dumped in the Amazon, killing 1,400 people and poisoning thousands of others. So we paid him a visit.

 

Rainforest Action Network photo: Change Chevron activists confront John Watson at his alma mater, University of Chicago

Chevron CEO John Watson flees up a staircase (Watson is on the top left) while we hold banners.

 

Dressed business casual, we came in early and each took seats in different parts of the room. We listened to John Watson distance Chevron from the BP oil disaster. He reassured us all that Chevron is a thoughtful oil company. He went on to say that, above all other objectives, “No goal is more important than operating in a safe and responsible manner.”

On that note, Debra Michaud, a University of Chicago alumna, jumped up to express her dismay that a fellow graduate would be involved in poisoning the communities of 30,000 people. She asked Watson to speak to Chevron’s toxic legacy in Ecuador.

Watson was quick to evade the question, claiming that the damage was not Chevron’s responsibility. He seemed relieved at the end, as if he was thinking, “Phew, glad that’s over.” But it wasn’t.

Continue reading ‘Activists Derail Business School Q&A With Chevron CEO John Watson’

Campement d’Action Climatique!

Co-written with Maryam Adrangi

Last week saw the culmination of the Quebec Climate Action Camp, the most recent in a series of similar events around the world. Climate Camps look different in different places, but the general idea is to bring together like-minded people from around a region to build common strategies, share skills, and take ACTION!

The Tar Sands have been a focal point this year; in the UK Climate Camp brought together activists challenging the Royal Bank of Scottland’s investments in the Canadian gigaproject. Here in Dunham, Quebec, climate camp was set up to challenge a pipeline coming through this community. The proposed pipeline is called the Enbridge Trailbreaker project, and would bring dirty tar sands bitumen to Montreal and then down to Maine, eventually ending on tankers heading to refineries in the Gulf Coast.

The camp brought together activists from across Quebec, Ontario, the Northeastern US, and beyond, to learn about the intersections of climate and social justice issues, and plan out how to best work together in the coming year. Participants cooked, fed, and set up camp outside and were able to build lasting relationships between various communities to talk about how to build a climate movement.

Resistance to tar sands projects has been growing in Canada and people are taking action locally to end the addiction to fossil fuels and the injustices facing communities because of the dirty industry.

The two-week climate camp ended with a march to the proposed pumping station for the pipeline. Local community member and climate camp participants rallied at the proposed site. “Our objective is to unite in order to act on the root causes of climate change. It is the right time to denounce and block the Trailbreaker project. Local communities and ecosystems cannot afford more oil spills, like that in the Gulf of Mexico.” says Pierre-Olivier Parent, a Climate Action Camp organizer.

Check out some of the media stories about the camp here, and stay up on Quebec action from Climate Justice Montreal

Moments like this are just another signal of increasingly mobilized action-oriented groups who are supporting communities resisting point-source fossil fuel destruction. A couple days ago in the Bay Area, 150 people took action on BP, Chevron, and the EPA, with 26 participating in civil disobedience. Its an exciting moment – lets keep building.


Joshua Kahn Russell


Joshua Kahn Russell is an organizer serving movements for social justice and ecological balance. He is an action coordinator, facilitator, & trainer with the Ruckus Society, and has trained thousands of activists. He has helped win campaigns against banks, oil companies, logging corporations, and coal barons; worked with a wide variety of groups in a breadth of arenas, from local resiliency projects, to national coalitions, to the United Nations Climate Negotiations. He has authored chapters for numerous books, most recently The Next Eco-Warriors. His articles have appeared in Yes! magazine, Left Turn, PeaceWork magazine, Upping the Anti, and Z Magazine. His blog is www.praxismakesperfect.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @joshkahnrussell For a full bio see: http://www.aidandabet.org/roster/russell-joshua-kahn

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