As we celebrate the final defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline, I’ll repost some of the spiritual power that led to this day.
[Originally published Oct. 9. 2013]
I had fun this summer with a great group of folks who came to be known as the ERM 54 (explanation below). After getting arrested, three court appearances, peeing in a cup, negotiating the D.C. community court system, and promising not to get arrested again before Valentine’s Day, I’m ready for the autumn to begin. But that’s not to say that the summer wasn’t fun!
Here’s an excerpt from my most recent column in Sojourners:
OFFICER MARIO normally worked for Homeland Security. On this Friday night he’d been seconded to the Washington, D.C. Metro police, who had their hands full. Not only did they have the usual “drunk and disorderlies,” but now 54 people who looked like card-carrying members of the AARP were filling up their holding cells. Officer Mario, of retirement age himself, was feeling fortunate. He’d been assigned to the women’s side.
“Ladies, ladies, ladies!” Mario said, sauntering in with a mischievous smile. “This must be my lucky night.”
The evening before, we’d all been at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church running role plays on how to “flash mob” the corporate headquarters of Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the firm hired by the U.S. State Department to provide an environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. To the disbelief and concern of climate scientists, ERM claimed that TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline would not significantly contribute to climate change. ERM was suspected of “misleading disclosures” regarding conflict of interest and material gain from the pipeline’s completion.
Our white-haired mob of mostly grandparents converged on ERM headquarters at noon to shine a light on such shady dealings. While six silver foxes blocked the elevators by chaining their arms together inside a PVC pipe, I watched two D.C. police lift Steve, age 70, and toss him into the crowd behind me. I knew this nonviolent civil disobedience wasn’t going as planned.
For the next hour the police threatened us with felony charges, and we chanted complicated ditties on Big Oil, Mother Earth, and the merits of transparency in a democracy. Then they slipped plastic cuffs over our wrists and charged us with “unlawful entry.” …
Read the whole essay here (Sojourners, November 2013, “Unlawful Entry”).
“Resistance” is the secret of joy, wrote Alice Walker in Possessing the Secret of Joy. In the great 20th century experiment of nonviolent civil disobedience, there are currently two cases worth keeping an eye on, reading about, and providing prayerful and material support to those involved.
1. Dennis Apel, longtime Catholic Worker, founder of Beatitude House in Guadalupe, Calif., and organizer of the peace witness outside the Vandenburg Air Force base, recently had his case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. [Send donations to support Beatitude House here: 4575 9th St., Guadalupe, CA 93434]
Issue: When a military installation share custody over a public highway and designated “protest area,” can the base commander bar someone from that area? In what cases is a “public road” a “military zone”?
Judgment: Yes, a “military . . . installation” for purposes of § 1382 encompasses the commanding officer’s area of responsibility, and it includes Vandenberg’s highways and protest area.
Justice Ginsburg and Sotomayor concurred with the judgement. But, they said, “a key inquiry remains, for the fence, checkpoint, and painted line, while they do not alter the Base boundaries, may alter the First Amendment calculus … it is questionable whether Apel’s ouster from the protest area can withstand constitutional review.”
It’s likely that Dennis’ lawyer will bring the case again, this time making a constitutional argument. Read more on this case here.
2. Greg Boertje-Obed (age 58), Sister Megan Rice (age 84), and Michael Walli (age 65), Catholic peace witnesses, were sentenced last week to federal prison for roughly 5 years for Greg and Michael and 3 years for Sister Megan, for crossing the property line of the Oak Ridge, Tenn., nuclear weapons facility and spray painting bible verses and religious slogans on the outbuildings. (Read Washington Post reporter Dan Zak’s groundbreaking coverage.) [Send donations to assist the Transform Plowshares here: Dorothy Day Catholic Worker 503 Rock Creek Church Road, NW, Washington, D.C. 20010]
Their public witness was called Transform Now Plowshares. It is part of the faith-based Plowshares Movement, an effort by people of faith to transform weapons into real, life-giving alternatives, to build true peace. Inspired by the prophets Micah and Isaiah, Jesus and Gandhi, Transform Now Plowshares began a symbolic conversion of the Y-12 Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility on July 28, 2012.
Issue: The U.S. government charged the defendants with willful injury of a national defense premises with intent to harm the national defense (“Count One”) and willful injury or depredation of property of the United States in excess of $1,000 (“Count Two”). On May 10, 2013, Thapar cited the definition of “federal crime of terrorism” to rule that the protesters must remain in jail until their sentencing. The charge of sabotage – which could have brought a life sentence – was brought forward, discussed, and ultimately dropped.
Judgement: Judge Thapar sentenced Megan Rice to three years in prison for breaking into the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and defacing a bunker holding bomb-grade uranium, a demonstration that exposed serious security flaws. The two other defendants were sentenced to more than five years in prison, in part because they had much longer criminal histories. Judge Thapar said he was concerned they showed no remorse and he wanted the punishment to be a deterrent for other activists. They were also charged with more than $50,000 in fines.
Quotes worth noting:
A. “What is the national defense the three are accused of sabotaging? The answer to that question is not defined in the statute. The prosecution wishes to punish the defendants for interfering with national defense without 1) defining what national defense is and without 2) defining what part of their definition of national defense was interfered with by defendants.
The prosecution wants to use the vague sabotage charge as a blunt instrument to prosecute defendants and also as an impregnable shield to avoid admitting that there are preparations for a nuclear war going on at Y-12. The prosecution wants to proceed without admitting that materials for nuclear weapons are prepared, refurbished and stored at Y-12 or allowing defendants to put on any evidence about those weapons. There is a very good reason for the reluctance of the prosecution – the weapons themselves, thermonuclear warheads produced or refurbished at Y-12 are designed solely to reliably and effectively unleash mammoth amounts of heat, blast and radiation. The uncontested fact is that these weapons, as the prosecution well knows, cannot discriminate between civilian and military and are uncontrollable in space and time. They are designed to cause such massive damage that they necessarily would inflict unnecessary and indiscriminate suffering upon non-combatants and thus violate 18 U.S.C. § 2441. Likewise, the planning, preparations or threat to commit the war crime in 18 U.S.C. § 2441 are crimes in themselves.
B. “[Judge] Thapar said the recommended sentences seemed extreme given the circumstances and did not distinguish between saboteurs and peace protesters. “Here, it seems like overkill,” Thapar said of Rice’s recommended sentence. “Six-and-a-half years for Megan Rice? Isn’t it supposed to be sufficient but not greater than necessary?”
Announcing the shorter sentences, the judge cited Rice’s decades of service and Walli’s military history, among other things. And he said he gave similar sentences to Walli and Boertje-Obed to avoid sentencing disparities. Even while emphasizing the importance of deterrence, though, Thapar acknowledged the good works of the defendants, which have ranged from volunteering in soup kitchens to teaching science in Africa.
“The court can say it is generally distressed to place good people behind bars,” Thapar said. “But I continue to hold out hope that a significant sentence may deter…and lead (the defendants) back to the political process that they seem to have given up on. Without question, the law does not permit the breaking and entering into the secure facilities of the United States.” Thapar urged the trio to use the political process and their community of supporters to go to Washington, D.C., to try to abolish nuclear weapons.”–Oak Ridge Today
C. Also fascinating is the “Heartland” Amicus brief and response by the defense on federal sentencing guidelines. Judge Thapar asked for guidance on whether he had to use the federal sentencing guidelines for “terrorism” in judging a nonviolent peace witness and how much he could take into account a defendant’s “good works” and contribution to the community.
Both cases remind me of practices in the early Christian church. A 3rd century Christian manual, called the Didascalia, reads as follows:
You shall not turn away your eyes from a Christian who for the name of God and for His faith and love is condemned to the games, or to the beasts, or to the mines; but of your labor and of the sweat of your face do you send to him for nourishment, and for a payment to the soldiers that guard him, that he may have relief and that care may be taken of him, so that your blessed brother be not utterly afflicted.
This week MTV’s Sway Williams got President Obama to break the climate silence, asking him a tough question about global warming. Obama says he’s “surprised it didn’t come up in the debates.”
Unfortunately, Obama’s answers are based on trying to get the U.S. to the Copenhagen carbon target, which scientists around the world resoundingly agree are woefully inadequate.
According to UK’s The Guardian, “The pledges made by governments resulting from the Copenhagen climate conference are nowhere near enough to hold global temperatures to the summit’s agreed goal of no more than a 2C rise, researchers have calculated. The results, which are the most rigorous analyses yet made of pledges submitted to the UN …, will increase pressure on rich countries to make far deeper cuts in negotiations over the next year.”
The key climate defense strategy right now is three fold (read more at Why Bill McKibben is the New Noah). If we do these three things, there’s a possibility that we can reverse climate change, restore health to our skies, earth, and oceans, and move forward into a future where our grandkids can not just survive, but thrive.
Here’s the plan (and look for Bill McKibben’s “Do The Math” tour this fall):
1. Divest or get active regarding all stockholdings in these six corporations: ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Peabody, Arch, and BP. These are the primary oil, natural gas, and coal companies operating in or through the United States that top the charts as carbon polluters. If Americans focus on U.S. companies, then we can be the tipping point for a transnational shift. If you — or the portfolio you influence — own stock, then get rid of it and tell the company why. If you don’t want to divest, then you need to decide now to become a shareholder activist. If you’re not a stockholder, then pressure your faith institutions, universities, and local governments to get out of “planet-killing” profits. This is the economic part of the plan.
2. Push for carbon “fee-and-dividend” laws on corporate carbon emitters at the local, state, and federal level. No more free rides for oil, gas, and coal companies. You pay taxes to have your garbage hauled away. Why shouldn’t they? The fee is charged at the point of origin or point of import on greenhouse gas emitting energy (oil, gas, and coal). The fee is progressive (increases gradually) over time. The fee is returned directly to the public in monthly dividends to individual taxpayers, with limited-to-no government involvement. Australia initiated this legislation in June. We can learn from them. This is the legislative part of the plan.
3. Take personal responsibility. Everyone can continue to limit energy consumption, use renewable energy sources, and build out a sustainable footprint for our homes and churches. But we also need people to step up and put their bodies on the line to stop the mining of tar sands in Alberta, Canada, and prevent the construction of the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines that are being built to transport Alberta’s unconventional “tar sands” oil. Scientists around the world say that opening the Alberta tar sands and pumping this non-traditional oil through these pipelines will put the planet on a one-way road to climate disaster. That’s why fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline in the U.S. and the Northern Gateway Pipeline in Canada is critical. This is the direct action and personal responsibility part of the plan.
Oak Ridge, TN—Early on Saturday morning, July 28, three Catholic plowshares activists performed a disarmament action in response to U.S. government plans to invest $80 billion to sustain and modernize the nuclear weapons complex, which should in fact be phased out.
Calling themselves Transform Now Plowshares, Michael R. Walli (63) left, Sr. Megan Rice (82), and Greg Boertje-Obed (57) right, entered the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, as a prophetic Christian witness to prioritize people over bombs.
They released a faith-based statement citing Isaiah 2 and saying, “A loving and compassionate Creator invites us to take the urgent and decisive steps to transform the U.S. empire, and this facility, into life-giving alternatives which resolve real problems of poverty and environmental degradation for all.”
They also delivered an indictment citing U.S. Constitutional and Treaty Law as well as the Nuremberg Principles: “The ongoing building and maintenance of Oak Ridge Y-12 constitute war crimes that can and should be investigated and prosecuted by judicial authorities at all levels. We are required by International Law to denounce and resist known crimes.” This action is one of a long tradition of Plowshares disarmament actions in the US and around the world which challenge war-making and weapons of mass destruction.
At Y-12, the National Nuclear Security Administration plans to replace facilities for production and dismantlement of enriched uranium components with a new consolidated Uranium Processing Facility (UPF). It is budgeted to cost more than $6.5 billion.
Read the bios and full statements of Michael, Sr. Megan, and Greg here.
On June 27, 2012, Eve Tetaz, 80, was found guilty of violating 40 USC 6135 for holding a banner on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court protesting the use of capital punishment in the United States.
Eve was initially sentenced to a $350 fine, a 3-year probationary term and stay-away from the U.S. Supreme Court, and a 30 day sentence, all suspended but 15 days. However, at her June 27 sentencing before Judge McKenna Eve said she could not in good conscience cooperate with fines, probation, or a stay way order from the court grounds. Consequently, she was sentenced to 60 days in D.C. Jail – the maximum statutory sentence allowed.
“I’ve spoken with Eve a few times by phone,” said her sister. “Her spirits are good, although she still is not receiving all her medicines. Visiting hours are restrictive – one hour once a week. She still does not have commissary privileges and they confiscated her pen and writing paper so she’s not able to write except when a fellow inmate gives her paper and pen. She enjoys being with her co-prisoners and is doing some tutoring.”
I’ve been arrested with Eve, a former public school teacher and member of Eighth Day Faith Community, several times. Fearless, clear, willing to put her body on the line for justice when so many others can not. If you would like to send letters of support, you can address them to: Eve Tetaz Inmate # 316087, DC JAIL, 1901 E St SE, Washington, D.C. 20003. Please keep her in your prayers — especially that she receives all her medications.
Very nice piece by Chris Hedges (The People’s Bishop) about retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard’s ministry to and with the Occupy movement. I have only one question. Where are the Catholic bishops? Here’s an excerpt:
“Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard was arrested in Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in New York City on Tuesday night as he participated in the May 1 Occupy demonstrations. He and 15 other military veterans were taken into custody after they linked arms to hold the plaza against a police attempt to clear it. There were protesters behind them who, perhaps because of confusion, perhaps because of miscommunication or perhaps they were unwilling to risk arrest, melted into the urban landscape. But those in the thin line from Veterans for Peace, of which the bishop is a member, stood their ground. They were handcuffed, herded into a paddy wagon and taken to jail. …
‘‘Arrests are not arrests anymore,” Packard said as we talked Friday in a restaurant overlooking Zuccotti Park in New York. ‘‘They are badges of honor. They are, as you are taken away with your comrades, exhilarating. The spirit is calling us now into the streets, calling us to reject the old institutional orders. There is no going back. You can’t sit anymore in churches listening to stogy liturgies. They put you to sleep. Most of these churches are museums with floorshows. They are a caricature of what Jesus intended. Jesus would be turning over the money-changing tables in their vestibules. Those in the church may be good-hearted and even well-meaning, but they are ignoring the urgent, beckoning call to engage with the world. It is only outside the church that you will find the spirit of God and Christ. And with the rise of the Occupy movement it has become clear that the institutional church has failed. It mouths hollow statements. It publishes pale Lenten study tracts. It observes from a distance without getting its hands dirty. It makes itself feel good by doing marginal charitable works, like making cocoa for Occupy protesters or providing bathrooms from 9 to 5 at Trinity Church’s Charlotte’s Place. We don’t need these little acts of charity. We need the church to have a real presence on the Jericho Road. We need people in the church to leave their comfort zones, to turn away from the hierarchy, and this is still terrifying to a lot of people in the church and especially the church leadership.”–Chris Hedges
Here’s the word from the horse’s mouth (aka The State Department):
Today, the Department of State recommended to President Obama that the presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline be denied and, that at this time, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline be determined not to serve the national interest. The President concurred with the Department’s recommendation, which was predicated on the fact that the Department does not have sufficient time to obtain the information necessary to assess whether the project, in its current state, is in the national interest.
Since 2008, the Department has been conducting a transparent, thorough, and rigorous review of TransCanada’s permit application for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project. As a result of this process, particularly given the concentration of concerns regarding the proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, on November 10, 2011, the Department announced that it could not make a national interest determination regarding the permit application without additional information. Specifically, the Department called for an assessment of alternative pipeline routes that avoided the uniquely sensitive terrain of the Sand Hills in Nebraska. The Department estimated, based on prior projects of similar length and scope, that it could complete the necessary review to make a decision by the first quarter of 2013. In consultations with the State of Nebraska and TransCanada, they agreed with the estimated timeline.
On December 23, 2011, the Congress passed the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (“the Act”). The Act provides 60 days for the President to determine whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest – which is insufficient for such a determination. The Department’s denial of the permit application does not preclude any subsequent permit application or applications for similar projects.–State Department Memo Issued 18 January 2012
Tim DeChristopher, co-founder of the environmental group Peaceful Uprising, protested an highly contested oil and gas lease auction of 116 parcels of public land in Utah’s redrock country by signing a Bidder Registration Form and placing bids to obtain 14 parcels of land (totaling 22,500 acres) for $1.8 million. He didn’t have the money. DeChristopher was removed from the auction by federal agents and taken into custody.
On March 2, 2011, DeChristopher was found guilty on two felony charges for violation of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act and for making false statements. He refused any type of plea bargain. On July 26, 2011, he was sentenced to two years in a federal prison with a $10,000 fine, followed by three years of supervised probation. After several transfers from three states, he is now serving the remainder of his time in the Herlong Federal Correctional Institution in California.
His courtroom statement, reminiscent of Thoreau’s On The Duty of Civil Disobedience, was a deeply inspiring call to action. Author Terry Tempest William interviewed DeChristopher in May 2011. Below is an excerpt from Orion magazine:
TIM: I think what I was really trying to get across was the idea of not backing down. Because it’s important to make sure that the government doesn’t win in their quest to intimidate people into obedience. They’re trying to make an example out of me to scare other people into obedience. I mean, they’re looking for people to back down.
TERRY: Right. And I think democracy requires participation. Democracy also requires numbers. It is about showing up. And we do need leadership. And I think what your actions say to us as your community is, “How are we going to respond so you are not forgotten? So that this isn’t in vain?” And I think that brings up another question: we know what we’re against, but what are we for? Our friend Ben Cromwell asked this question. What are you for? What do you love?
TIM: I’m for a humane world. A world that values humanity. I’m for a world where we meet our emotional needs not through the consumption of material goods, but through human relationships. A world where we measure our progress not through how much stuff we produce, but through our quality of life—whether or not we’re actually promoting a higher quality of life for human beings. I don’t think we have that in any shape or form now. I mean, we have a world where, in order to place a value on human beings, we monetize it—and say that the value of a human life is $3 million if you’re an American, $100,000 if you’re an Indian, or something like that. And I’m for a world where we would say that money has value because it can make human lives better, rather than saying that money is the thing with value.
TERRY: I think about the boulder that hit the child in Coal River Valley. What was that child’s life worth—$14,000? The life of a pelican. What was it—$233? A being that has existed for 60 million years. What do you love?
TIM: I love people. [Very long pause.] I think that’s it.
I’m home. I’m tired. And I feel great! Today 145 people were arrested in front of the White House to bring attention to the Keystone XL pipeline, a linchpin in the battle for climate justice. My police wristband shows that I was number 49.
With more than 60 people from the religious community joining the Tar Sands Action today, we were able to push the number of arrests over the past week up to 522.
We had a very hot ride in the police van but the Park Police processed us very quickly. We were released from custody and greeted outside with water, granola bars, and hugs. What could be better?
But the point was not to get arrested. The point was to make of our lives a living witness. To make it clear that climate change has gone too far and we are no longer going to stand idly by while our sisters, brothers, and home planet are torn apart by oil companies. Here are a couple of photos from today, but see many more here.