January 8, 2019
Contact: Resist Spectra Media Liaison, Lee Ziesche
Activists Who Crawled Into Fracked Gas Pipeline Found Guilty
In Narrow Ruling, Granted Unconditional Release
Cortlandt, New York - Today, Cortlandt Town Justice Kimberly Ragazzo found three New Yorkers -- Rebecca Berlin, David Publow, and Janet González -- guilty of trespass, rejecting the climate necessity defense; the three shut down construction of the Spectra Energy (now Enbridge) high-pressure, high-volume, fracked-gas, “Algonquin” Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline. Justice Ragazzo highlighted the strict, objective standard of New York’s necessity defense and focused her verdict on the narrow grounds that the defendants had not exhausted all legal remedies, specifically citing the defendants failure to file as ‘intervenors’ with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Courtney Williams, an impacted Peekskill resident and member of Stop the “Algonquin” Pipeline Expansion (SAPE) said she was frustrated by the verdict. “That the judge ruled against these water protectors because they had not filed as intervenors is ridiculous. SAPE, Riverkeeper, City of Peekskill, and Town of Cortlandt all filed as intervenors. At the time of the action in October 2016 we were under a “Tolling Order” from FERC. That meant we had no legal recourse, we couldn’t go to the Court of Appeals, but Spectra could build the pipeline. Being an intervenor wouldn't have given Dave, Rebecca, or Janet any more ability to stop the pipeline. They had to act.”
David Publow, a New York State organic farmer and member of Resist Spectra said, “The legal process is always seeking to go for a narrow route. That process is not going to cut a new path for us, but I think we’re cutting a new path for ourselves.”Read more
On Monday night I went out with my in-laws to a Christmas Eve service in upstate New York. The big crowd gathered in the chapel on the campus of Cornell University, and the minister hit all the right notes for this presumably liberal crowd: alluding to the occupant of the White House, pleading the cause of the immigrant, and giving voice to the yearning for peace and calm.
But something felt deeply off for me. In the midst of the carols and candlelight, the minister expressed a longing for silence, calm, stability and peace in this time of upheaval. She claimed that the time is coming where the strong and gentle people will win.
Honestly I don’t think it’s going to work that way.Read more
Today, we are excited to get to tell you about a project we've been working on over the past year - one that we hope could be a major new force in the climate justice movement. This week three of us are headed to California for the first 'on-boarding' into a new national network of locally rooted cells, working at the intersection of direct action on climate change and racial reparations and atonement.
What is this network?
At the core this network of groups, which is still emerging (and thus hasn't been named yet), is the belief that while there are many paths to make the strides needed in climate action and in reparations, and we are called to orient in a particular way. We know that we want to lead with a fierce vulnerability; being firm in the truth and leading with our hearts on our sleeve. We know that lifting up the gifts and the vocation of each person in the network will make us more powerful than trying to fill slots with foot soldiers. And we trust in the wisdom of emergent strategy, because the top-down, centralized organizations of the past can't muster the power and creativity needed in these times. We hold a vision of a holistic, integrated approach to nonviolence that goes beyond a tactic or a strategy to the core of our world view where the means we use are the ends in the making.
We have felt for a long time that something is missing in the climate movement ecosystem - a network of people for whom nonviolence and justice are more than just buzz-words, but are rooted deeply in an integrated approach at a spiritual level. And it is clear that an integrated approach where the means make the ends cannot simply advocate for a just transition, we need to be living and experimenting with new honest approaches of reparations right now. None of this can wait.
This year, the Climate Disobedience Center has launched a new experiment - and invites you to join us. Collectively, we have come to understand the need for morally imaginative, strategic, and decisive climate disobedience. Yet, within our own selves and our work as climate activists - we also hear the call for deep connection, community, and love. That is why we are convening praxis groups - to more fully sink into the relationships, learning, and trust required to move into climate action.
What is a praxis group?
Praxis groups are intended to hold space for learning, nurturing spiritual and strategic connections to the work and to each other, and to build a resilient network of humans bent towards climate justice and disobedience. We understand that the insidious nature of oppressive forces has created a tendency for our movement to break activists down into component parts, treat community members as leverage points, and create more foot soldiers than holistically transformed leaders and friends. That is why these praxis groups seek to further our own inquiry into ourselves and our collective power.
We want to build a culture that embraces deep struggle with the reality of our crisis and one that doesn’t shy away from difficult, emotional or intense conversation. We want a culture of love but also of asking hard questions. We won’t try to plug you into an action and train you to do a job; we will provide tools and encourage habits to help your group become morally imaginative, creative and self-driving--in short, empowered.
The framework of praxis groups allows for this by: eating and exploring together, giving time for reflection, and learning together. Based around an initial affinity with CDC principles, and a serious commitment to active nonviolence, praxis groups hold the potential to deepen learning and prepare participants to act swiftly when the need to disobey arises.
Finally, we’ll work with our partners across the country to help groups identify and train for action. When anyone in our praxis groups feels called to action, our whole network of people and resources can help to faithfully answer that call. We’ll strive to put ideas into practice quickly, learn from our experiments, and then put the lessons into practice.
The primary lesson reinforced by the Minnesota Valve Turners Trial is that with climate necessity defense trials, and other political trials, you never know what you’re going to get, and you have to be ready for anything.
I’ve attended quite a few trials that were almost necessity defense trials, or what we hoped could have been necessity defense trials, and there is always something standing in the way of the trial becoming what we wanted it to be. A week before the Minnesota trial, it seemed like it was the best hope yet to finally be a full necessity defense trial in front of a jury. The case had already been through two rounds of appeals, with the state superior court affirming that the defendants had the right to use the necessity defense. And this is important: those appeals court victories by the valve turners set a precedent in Minnesota that will help others use the necessity defense. This could be critical in the the line 3 pipeline battle that is now heating up.
But a few days before the trial started, the judge severely restricted what the defense could present as evidence and witnesses. All of the political science expert witnesses who could testify to the lack of legal alternatives, an essential element of the necessity defense, were stricken from the witness list. The witnesses with expertise on the efficacy of civil disobedience were also banned from testifying. And perhaps most importantly, the judge ruled the expert testimony about climate science was not allowed on the grounds that the reality and severity of climate change was “commonly understood and accepted knowledge.”
This threw a twist into the trial at the very earliest stages. The jury selection process is an opportunity to frame the narrative of the case for the jurors. The way questions are asked shapes the way people think about the issues. In a climate necessity defense case, the narrative should be about how we respond to very real and serious threats. But lead attorney Lauren Regan was put into a difficult position by the last minute restrictions on climate science testimony, so she made an unusual gamble.Read more
In 2018 we have been expanding our reach, and we are scaling up. There is a lot of work to do. As part of that new energy, we are excited to announce that Emma Schoenberg is joining the Climate Disobedience Center as our newest Fellow. Emma is a Vermont-born community organizer and trainer, who got her start during Occupy Wall Street in 2011. Emma is bringing her considerable organizing skills, including in direct action and civil disobedience, facilitation and campaigns, to work with the core team - the three of us. Together we are building a more disciplined, focused, and effective Climate Disobedience Center to support and nurture the movement we need. Hurray!
We're grateful to be on your team, and hope to hear from you about starting a praxis group in your area.
-Marla, Tim, and Jay
The climate trial we've been waiting for begins this morning in Bagley, Minnesota. If you need a refresher on what this trial is about, check out Wen Stephenson's analysis in The Nation.
As our friends, Annette and Emily (Valve Turners) and Ben (support team) head to court, they are surrounded by supporters, and they are ready to tell their powerful stories of why their actions were necessary.
At the same time, they have been forced to change up their approach to the trial. Although the highest court in the state of Minnesota affirmed their right to proceed with the presentation of a necessity defense, the Court in Bagley has rejected most of their expert witness list.
As Nicky Bradford and Alec Connon report in this blog post:
"The jury will, in other words, be prevented from hearing the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether or not the Valve Turners actions were necessary."
Climate Disobedience Center's Tim DeChristopher is there to support the Valve Turners and their team, to learn from this trial so that we can apply those lessons in support of future trials, and to share his analysis of the proceedings with all of us. Tim will be tweeting from @dechristopher and @ClimateDisobey.
You can also follow Climate Direct Action (the Valve Turners and their team) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and their trial blog.
We're building community for the long haul because opponents and challenges like this are bound to rise up to meet us. Please know that your support – even from a distance – matters to people who put themselves on the line for the sake of all of us.
Let's keep building hope and resilience together,
Marla (for the Climate Disobedience Center team)
P.S. If you missed our webinars about holding it together in tough times (1) and our new effort to support people to build strong, resilient communities where they are (2), you can watch recordings here and here.
Update! Our email was restored 10/01/2018. You can email any of us at firstname [at] climatedisobedience [dot] org. This week, Tim is at the Valve Turners' #ClimateTrial in Minnesota and probably won't see many emails. For most of the rest of October, Jay (and Meg) are sailing... it's a honeymoon! Marla is on call for all matters! (that's MarLa with an L).
Hi friends, if you have been trying to reach us via email starting Friday afternoon 9/28, your email has gone into a black hole. We've been switching email over and run into a snag. We should be up and running by Monday, but if you need to reach us immediately call (781) 819-0993.
Bringing together Kazu Haga, Michelle Fournier and the Climate Disobedience Center's Marla Marcum and Tim DeChristopher.
I’m writing today to make sure you’ve heard the news about a necessity defense climate trial in Cortlandt, New York where six defendants have been granted a necessity defense by Judge Kimberly Ragazzo. Although the Westchester District Attorney’s office reduced charges to a level that denies these pipeline fighters a jury trial, their case is moving forward in a bench trial (in which the judge makes the ruling on guilt or innocence).
I spent spent the last two and a half days in preparation and in court with the defendants and their supporters, and this necessity defense trial is unfolding in some fascinating and promising ways.Read more