Green Party of Pennsylvania
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Michael Bagdes-Canning, 724-431-8560 and firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Robinson, 215-843-4256 and email@example.com
However, when you’ve done all these things and you can get no
traction, sometimes you have to dig deeper into the toolbox. I once
heard singer/songwriter Anne Feeney say, in an introduction to her song Have You Been To Jail For Justice,
“We have wonderful free speech rights in this country as long as we
exercise those rights ineffectively. If our conduct might actually have
an impact, it’s amazing how quickly we’ll be surrounded by police.”
Since 2015, a group that I have worked with, Beyond Extreme Energy
(BXE), has been pressuring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
(FERC) to recognize the role that it plays in climate disruption. FERC
is the federal agency that approves interstate pipelines and other
infrastructure. It has, throughout its lifetime, been a rubber stamp for
the industry. It has rarely stopped a project and even when it has, it
is usually temporary. Point of fact, until BXE shined a spotlight on
FERC, it had never halted any project.
BXE has been a regular at
FERC meetings since 2014. They have done unauthorized testimony before
meetings, disrupted Commission meetings and been escorted out. They have
done week long blockades outside the building. They have disrupted
speeches by Commissioners at outside events. They have visited
Commissioners at their homes. They have done unsanctioned testimony at
Congressional hearings for FERC appointments, and they have found other
creative ways to shine a spotlight on this once invisible commission.
This pressure has paid off. Several of the Commissioners now acknowledge
climate in their deliberations, and the once unanimous votes for
infrastructure are no longer rubber stamps -- Commissioners dissent and
cite climate disruption. Tellingly, at least two projects have been
Many of these actions have resulted in expulsion from
FERC or other venues. Some have resulted in arrests. All, however, have
been carried out with a firm commitment to nonviolence. BXE is dedicated
to harming neither people nor property.
Beyond Extreme Energy’s
newest campaign (on behalf of millions of affected citizens who are
frustrated by years of FERC’s approval of pipelines and other fossil
fuel infrastructure, and alarmed by Donald Trump’s recent Executive
Orders to further expedite pipeline approval) was launched with an
action aimed at turning the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
into the Federal Renewable Energy Commission (FREC). FERC is beyond
reform and must be replaced with a government agency capable of meeting
the challenge of climate disruption head on.
Very early on the
morning of April 18, a small band of well-trained activists set out to
send a strong message to the FERC Commissioners -- The time for
continued reliance on fossil fuels is running out and, if the human race
is to survive, we must turn our attention to developing alternatives.
FERC must be phased out and FREC must be birthed.
Before the sun
was up, a handful of us set off to drop a banner from the awning sitting
30 feet above FERC’s front door on First Street in Washington, DC. Some
of us (including me) carried a ladder directly past a FERC guard and
erected it. In short order, two of us scampered up to the awning and
dropped the banner. Then we waited.
A few, well informed
reporters from trusted news sources were on the scene, and interviews
were conducted. A live stream from the awning commenced. People riding
by on the subway (Metrorail) were able to see the banner.
FERC security arrived, then officers from the Federal Protective
Service, then the DC fire department. A crowd of people heading to work
also stopped to look. Some great conversations were had. Then more
reporters showed up.
I was acting as a liaison with the police. I
was to act as a conduit. I would communicate with both the police and
the two people on the awning. The climbers had instructed me to tell the
police that they wanted to stay with the banner until closing time.
FERC security wanted them gone. The fire department said they would put
up a ladder, but they would not “extract” anyone. In the end, the
Federal Protective Service elected to allow the climbers to stay and
made no attempt to remove them.
Meanwhile, on the livestream, Ted Glick,
one of the BXE climbers said, “The Federal Energy Regulation
Commission, FERC, has for years been overseeing a major expansion of the
destructive fracked gas industry. FERC is a rubber-stamp agency. It has
rejected only two, out of over 400, gas industry proposed pipelines and
other gas infrastructure over the last 30 years. And at today’s meeting
commissioners could approve two new liquefied natural gas export
terminals in the criminal enterprise to hook the world on U.S. fracked
gas for decades.”
Later, Drew Hudson, the other
BXE climber, said, “Congress has a choice to make: they can pay lip
service to climate action while Donald Trump orders pipeline after
pipeline built -- locking in another 50 years of increasing emissions,
gas exports and climate chaos, or Congress can choose to put renewable
energy first and enact a Green New Deal that remakes FERC and other
agencies. It’s past time to move urgently to get off fossil fuels!”
the meantime, five people went into the Commissioners meeting where
they echoed the demands of the climbers during unauthorized testimony.
Each was escorted out after their interruption. After the completion of
the Commissioners’ meeting, I informed police the climbers were willing
to come down but only if they were not arrested. The Federal Protective
Service agreed, but only if the climbers agreed to remove the banner.
Many blanch at the thought of doing anything illegal,
but I think it is important to put direct action, like the banner drop
described above, in context. Too often, our voices are invisible to the
power brokers. Our political voice is drowned out by the voices with
money. It’s not that the system is broken. The system is working exactly
the way it has been designed to work -- the rich and powerful have
created a system that looks democratic but, in practice, rewards the
elites and ignores the rest of us.
This isn’t new. Iconic
moments from our history illustrate this. The Boston Tea Party was a
powerful direct action, and it was illegal. The march across the Edmund
Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, was met with brutal police violence.
actions happened because there comes a moment in every struggle when
the power of everyday people needs to be felt, and when the community
can only attain victory by stepping out of line and demanding change. If
we are going to win, we must use the tools at our disposal. This
doesn’t mean that you must risk arrest, but it does mean that you use
the tools you are comfortable using, maybe even stretch your comfort
zone. It also means recognizing that direct action, even direct action
that leads to arrest, has a long tradition in the fight for justice.
By Michael Bagdes-Canning
The author is a Green Party member from Butler County, and he has
been an elected member of the Cherry Valley Borough Council since 1989.
This article first appeared in the summer issue of Marcellus Outreach
The Green Party of Pennsylvania
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the two corporate parties. GPPA candidates promote public policy based
on the Green Party four pillars: grassroots democracy, nonviolence,
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