Beyond Extreme Energy: Week of Protesting

sqlogoIn early November, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) founder Cathy Strickler and her husband Charlie participated in a week of training, organizing and protesting against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquartered in Washington, D.C. This Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) week of action coincided with the arrival of the Great March for Climate Action into D.C.on November 1st.

Below are Cathy’s notes and reflections about her involvement with this week of committed climate work:

Beyond Extreme Energy and Climate March Impressions,
October 30- November 7, 2014

Thurs. Oct 30th
Picked up a big U-Haul truck in Washington, D.C., for marchers’ and protestors’ gear. Charlie drove and I followed out to Bethesda’s Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church. Heavy traffic, lost once, traumatic, took a couple of curbs, no dents.

Fri. Oct. 31st Off

The Great March for Climate Action finishes in D.C.
The Great March for Climate Action finishes in D.C.

Sat. Nov. 1st
Metro early to drive truck back to D.C. but didn’t need to in the end so we marched the last seven miles of the Great Climate March from Bethesda to the White House.  Actually fun, good weather, fascinating changing streetscape and people.  Rally short and well done.  Walked three miles up 16th St. to All Souls Church Unitarian for reception and presentation by Michael Dowd who’s got a smooth spiel to get liberal faith activists more active on Climate Change.  He’s done at least one TEDx talk.  Then walked to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church for the marchers’ closing ceremony.  It, too, was well done with everyone at the end bringing their boots to the front in silence.  The stand out for me was the 71-year-old woman, Marian, who was one of four who walked the whole way.  The group elected her mayor 3 times.  Her speech was from her gut.  I can’t remember content.  She was tired and going home to Iowa the next day.

Sun. Nov. 2nd
Training all day in D.C. for the actions Monday – Friday.  A professional group of three led it.  The attendees broke into three affinity groups of about 25 each that would meet and strategize together during the week with each one being responsible for one of the three doors of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) headquarters.  Steve Yoder got there midday.

Monday, Nov. 3rd
Up at 5 AM, in car by 6, at Union Station at 7:15 and then walked two blocks as a group to FERC. 25 arrested.  Processed on site with $50 fine or choice to go to court, 15 days to decide.  Steve was one of the ones arrested.

The worst part were the incidents at the daycare center.  Background:  last July we let parents in with their children but then other employees went in with them.  Prior to this action a huge email discussion was held with the decision being made to keep everyone out and to go to the daycare a week in advance with handouts explaining the ‘greater good’ logic of our action and asking the parents to make other arrangements.  What actually happened was that parents came anyway. We blocked the gates (a courtyard entrance at the back with wood fence and 2 separate gates), the police inside shoved the gates out, we shoved back, lots of shouting by everyone full of righteous conviction.  A mother and baby-in-stroller did get in.  There were several more shouting matches but eventually the decision was made to let them in peacefully.  I think a lot of damage was done to our group’s message because of this.  The rest of the week they were let in.  It was extremely stressful; people in our group felt bad. Some, grandparents included, supported the original plan.  Other employees got in, too, but I think the symbolic as well as the actual partial shut down was still very effective for those who were aware of it; no mainstream media covered it.  Energy and environment media did.

There was a debriefing afterwards at the United Methodist Building but we missed it because we were tasked with getting another U-Haul truck for the art props so we took the metro, got the truck, drove back, loaded it, drove it to a parking garage, metroed back to Union Station in time to tell Tim DeChristopher ‘goodbye’.  He was down for the day that included a protest rally outside the Democratic National Committee Headquarters. They gave the Democratic representatives pillows with oil derricks, etc., on them so the politicians would be more comfortable in bed with big oil and gas.  Our group then gathered at Union Station to walk back to FERC for a New York City group to do a photo there with them all wearing sunglasses, pointing at FERC, symbolizing shady business.

Charlie, on left, is part of the blockade on FERC headquarters.

Tues. Nov. 4th
Today was a repeat of Monday basically.  Charlie was in the blockade and I was handing out information and talking to pedestrians.  Two people told me to go home, another said we were doing the right thing, another whispered ‘Bless you’.   We left D.C. about noon.  We had been asked to be jail support for an action that afternoon for those risking arrest at Solomons Island, MD, so we headed down there.  Met up with that group at Starbucks in Lusby for the last minute strategy meeting, about 15 there.  Also a bus was chartered from D.C. with all BXE people who were going to have a protest rally outside the Dominion construction site as a diversion to the group entering the property illegally.  It all came off better than ever hoped for given the last minute nerves and confusion.  A group of six made it to the top of a HUGE pile of dirt and stood with their well-made Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) sign “WE are > Dominion” before they were arrested and carried or led down.  Five others were also arrested, two of them photographers.  They all were taken to Calvert County Detention Center where we spent the night waiting for their release.  A long night but a big room with upholstered chairs.  I went prepared with a lot of food.  Two other support people were there waiting for their partners.  Information from the police was given sincerely, I think, but we got various conflicting information regarding release.  They started coming out at 1:30 AM and the last at 7:00 AM.  Everyone was great except we had a situation that was somewhat challenging but it worked out okay.

A local supporter with a van took the last four to the Suitland Metro Station at 7AM.  Very glad we didn’t have to do that twice (4-passenger Volt) with no sleep except two short naps, it would have taken four hours.

Weds. Nov. 5th  Sleep and off.

Thurs.  Nov. 6th
Back on schedule.  Today was a silent vigil for at least an hour in coordination with Veterans For Peace.  It was very effective by all accounts and in its solemnity it was a joy and comfort to think of every CAAV steering committee member and others who I’ve worked with and respect so much and of ALL the things we have accomplished together.  Then there was a ‘die in’ with about 12 in the street representing those who have died from causes connected to Climate Change.  All except three got up after the second arrest warning but one of the three arrested was an 83-year-old woman who has been a peace activist for years.  They were put in paddy wagons but then processed on site and not taken away.

After lunch we had a march around capital hill to protest fast tracking the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).  The organizer and leader, Margaret Flowers, was really impressive.  She and her husband, Kevin Zeese run; they are very busy, seasoned activists living in Baltimore. The art props were great.  Then we all, about 30, walked over to National Public Radio headquarters to protest their cutting back Climate Change reporting staff and taking fossil fuel money resulting in horrible ‘ads’.  We all got wet in a hard rain storm but it was okay for me since I had an extra pair of thick socks.  Then it was the metro to St. Stephen’s for supper and strategy session.

We had been told the strategy was to have the most arrests on Friday so Charlie and I had decided to wait until then.  There weren’t any strategy meetings before we left around 9 PM, instead people were working on a sign to hang off the Union Station parking garage facing FERC and constructing ‘lock down’ equipment. (PVC pipe about 2-3’ that people put their arms in to join in the middle with carabiners hooked onto a rod bolted thru the middle of the pipe)  This makes removing blockaders very difficult but blockaders can release themselves at any time.

Friday, Nov. 7th
Same as Monday and Tuesday from our perspective but different for those at the front entrance.  We were stationed at the side door and didn’t see any of the action.  The lock down was across a garage entrance on the other side of the building.  They all, five, were arrested and taken away.  Out front a group from fracking areas in Pennsylvania came and had testimonies from those affected; there were a lot of pedestrians who listened, not sure how many.  Police had put up tape as a barrier not to cross. One of our leaders came to our door and asked for arrestee volunteers; Charlie went but came back soon saying three had tried to cross the barrier and were very roughly pushed back and down by the police.  Earlier two protesters were tased without warning and another accused of assault when no camera was going.  That charge was dropped due to the mature handling of the situation by the protestor.  Another protestor reacted to hearing of this by being loudly verbally aggressive, then tearful, full of too much frustration, knowledge and heartache from the climate march and week of action.

There was a closing circle ceremony in the street in front of FERC with songs, speeches and ‘mike check’ reading by all of BXE’s demands of FERC (this happened every day), ending with ‘we will be back’.  Everybody went to a church on Capitol Hill for lunch and a debriefing.  There was a lot of appreciation all the way around for what was accomplished and a strong hope expressed for more actions.

The week was impressive with the numbers, artwork and passion.  I sensed more than passion, a deep gut conviction, among some of the marchers who stayed the week.  I feel sad that their future holds suffering and struggle and I pay them deepest homage.

The week may have benefited from more follow through with the original organizational plan; but, given the circumstances of stress, energy and time, this was probably an unrealistic expectation.  It may have been problematic had there not been the high level of trust between the marchers that allowed faster cooperation and action.

It was a new, needed experience for me with more anger than the mass arrest against the KXL pipeline at the White House in August 2011.  The FERC blockade taught me how stressful an action could be, somehow I had not anticipated that.  I reacted by somewhat withdrawing and becoming more of an observer, mentally at least.  It was interesting that even with very clear direction from the lawyer on Sunday not to push back against police, this was done repeatedly, once to the point of breaking the facing on the wooden gate.  I think next time, if there is one, I will be more prepared emotionally.  The leadership has stressed that the actions need to be based in love but in reality this is extremely difficult to do.

The seriousness of the issue and future we face calls for a commensurate level of action.  This is difficult.  Having previous friendships with others on the Walk for our Grandchildren that were at BXE helped and I couldn’t have done it without Charlie’s partnership.  We need to build our capacity to have effective actions that create awareness of what is happening and cause people to rethink their involvement in changing the direction of the decisions we made as a society.

After two days and an almost sleepless night on jail support I wrote this stream of consciousness piece (protector is my word for protestor)  and dedicate it to anyone who has read this in the hope that having read all this will decrease the scariness of stepping out:

Mother screaming
Protector pushing
Protector sitting
Protector being picked up
Man and woman telling me to go home
Man telling me I’m doing the right thing
Blind woman talking to me and me helping her thru the crowd
People taking the info – maybe 1 in 4
Nice security
Hot-blooded protectors
Old people protecting
Good props
Stress, anxiety
Enjoyment in connecting
Being worn out
Feeling weak
Having hope and satisfaction
Knowing this is where change happens
Seeing the sun go down and come up at the jail
Being inspired
Being relieved
Being alive

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

BLOCKADIA - THE BEYOND EXTREME ENERGY ACTION in Washngton DCTo read more about this week of direct actions in the D.C. area, see Victory for Beyond Extreme Energy at FERC by CCAN’s Ted Glick.

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