Tredegar 12 Sentenced

On Tuesday I and nine others of the Tredegar 12 accepted a plea bargain from the Commonwealth, for 200 community service hours to be completed in the City of Richmond. It’s a lot of time, and a lot of time in a town none of us live in, but it gives us all a chance to network and connect with folks doing good positive work in Richmond. Below is a post by a friend, with excerpts from the Richmond Times Dispatch’s article about the decision. The one thing I want to add is my favorite comment from that article so far:

“this is indeed an outrage. civil disobedience must be punished harshly! if these agitators can’t participate in an exchange of ideas controlled and monitored by law enforcement then they should suffer the consequences. this is a sad day for our state and nation. these horrible people should be dealt with the same way the romans dealt with history’s all-time worst agitator – jesus. if green likes hanging from a harness so much, maybe he’d like to try a cross on for size!”

Jesus Christ, the all time worst Agitator (if by worst, they mean the most effective and badass community organizer ever seen in old Judea, then I agree!).

From Beth Wellington, a good friend over at The Writing Corner

Eco-Terrorism, Not

The photo, uncredited, was posted at GaMoonbat and shows the Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!) protest at Dominion Resources headquarters on June 30, the day Dominion started construction of its proposed new coal-fired plant in Wise County, Virginia.

I wouldn’t have suspected the folks, pictured above, were considered eco-terrorists, had not Don Thieme at GaMoonbat linked to my June 30 blog post on their sit-in. Thieme, a self-described geologist, archaeologist, and college science teacher in Valdosta, Georgia, tagged his entry “eco-terrorism.”

As I noted in my post, opponents argue that the Wise plant would serve to accelerate mountaintop removal. Before undertaking the sit-in, BREF! activists joined many of us throughout Virginia in signing petitions, testifying in state hearings, sending letters to the editor and to Governor Kaine to oppose the plant. In fact, the last time I heard from Marley Green, one of those arrested, was July 5, when he emailed all his contacts to ask that we sign another petition–this one in support of the wind power initiative started by folks in WV’s Coal River Mountain Watch. Coal River. (Coal River Mountain is another area being destroyed by MTR. Marley, Holly Garrett–another arrestee–and I were all among the first 16 signatures. This petition is so-mainstream that I received a second request to sign it last night from an anthropology research scholar.)

So what is mountaintop removal (MTR)? What is ecoterroism? And should the term apply to these folks?

MTR, as practiced in Appalachia has been called, as I wrote for, “Strip Mining on Steroids.” Coal companies denude mountains of their trees and topsoil, drill holes to insert AMFO (ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil–a combintion similar to that used in car bombs), and after detonation tear down the mountains, removing the coal and dumping the refuse to bury headwater streams. In the process, drinking water is poisoned, communities destroyed. And when folks who have lived in these mountains for years question the process, they receive threats to themselves and their families. For several examples of the latter, consider this description from the Washington Post about Larry Gibson and this piece from the Bristol Herald about Larry Bush. And many people tell me that complaining to the sheriff in rural counties does no good, and that in some cases deputies even serve as enforcers of the coal companies’ will.

Eco-terrorism occurring within the U.S. is a subset of domestic terrorism. Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Pub. L. No. 107-52), according to the American Civil Liberties Union, [my emphasis added]

expanded the definition of terrorism to cover “domestic,” as opposed to international, terrorism. A person engages in domestic terrorism if they do an act “dangerous to human life” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Additionally, the acts have to occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States…

In testimony before Congress, the FBI defined ecoterrorism as [my emphasis added]

the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.

Sourcewatch reports in an article I’d recommend reading, that Ron Arnold, the Executive Director of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise has been instrumental in conflating civic protest and terrorism. [my emphasis added]

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the word ‘terrorism’ has become a potent political weapon. Since the 1980s, Arnold has blurred the boundaries between nonviolent civil disobedience and more contentious tactics such as vandalism and sabotage – which have on the whole been rejected by mainstream environmentalists – and elevated property damage to equal terrorism as a societal threat. More recently, he has been joined by other prominent anti-environmentalists including self-styled “eco-terrorism expert” Barry Clausen and Nick Nichols, the now retired chair of PR firm Nichols-Dezenhall. (After Nichols retirement the company was renamed Dezenhall Resources).

The deliberate conflation of civil disobedience with terrorism by Arnold, Clausen and Nichols has paved the way for the introduction of draconian legislation, such as the so-called Ecoterrorism Prevention Act of 2004 , to ban or increase penalties for civil disobedience protests.

Apparently Arnold et. al’s efforts are succeeding. Take the definition of eco-terrorism promoted by the National Forum for State Legislatures, which has the slogan “The Forum for America’s Ideas.” NCSL’s annual legislative summit, which finished up last week in New Orleans is

an opportunity for state lawmakers from around the country to exchange ideas and debate issues being considered in Washington that will affect state public policies. The resolutions enacted will guide NCSL’s lobbying activity in Washington over the next several years.

Denver staff member L. Cheryl Runyon (email) wrote a piece posted at the group’s site entitled “Eco-terrorism-A New Kind of Sabotage”which ranks towards the top of a Google search on the word “eco-terrorism.” Her second sentence is:

Eco-terrorists commit arson and burglary, trespass, issue death threats, and engage in malicious destruction of property and vandalism-usually against farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, researchers, manufacturers or home builders.

I find conflating trespass and death threats alarming, especially in an official paper by a group that lobbies Congress. How are a misdemeanor involving civil disobedience and death threats in the same category? And, if Runyon prevails, how will that affect legislation and thus our civil liberties?

In re-defining terrorism so broadly, we risk losing the First Amendment rights so important for a democracy.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In the most recenet legislative iteration concerning eco-terorrism, Jane Harman’s (D-CA) H.R. 1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 passed the House by a vote of 204 to 6, on October 23, 2007. The measure would have amended the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to

add a new section concerning the prevention of violent radicalization (an extremist belief system for facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change) and homegrown terrorism (violence by a group or individual within the United States to coerce the U.S. government, the civilian population, or a segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives).

One wonders, just exactly violent radicalization might be identified and what measures will be allowed to prevent it. The only six voting against the measure were: Abercrombie, Costello, Duncan, Flake, Kucinich and Rohrabacher. The Senate has not acted on the measure to date.
<!– –>There was no violence in Richmond, nor even property damage, in any of the other activities by BREF!, who have done things like sing Christmas carols w. new lyrics protesting coal investments by the Bank of America. This time, seven had been standing with a sign “No New Coal Plant in Wise County” or a banner “It’s Up to Us Virginia. No Nukes. No New Coal. Renewables Now! No Dominion Over Our Democracy.” The seven were arrested despite disbanding upon request. The prosecutor told their attorneys that if all of them did not accept the plea bargain, she would withdraw it for everyone. Five accepted the plea, to allow the blockaders to avoid trial. But, when two women refused, the prosecutor allowed them go to trial separately on September 18, while accepting the other pleas, despite her threats to do otherwise.

The sign holders and the blockaders who accepted the plea bargain are willing to work in Richmond, VA for 200 hours with no pay. That’s five weeks, if they can find a full-time assignment, which will require a temporary move across state. Marley, who was hanging from the bridge, was originally to have been required to work an additional 50 hours with the option to go to jail for the weekend and reduce his hours to 200. Without a guilty plea, that seemed legally problematic and thus the prosecutor changed her offer to 25 extra hours. I find it exceptional that the community service would be required to take place in Richmond, entailing an extended period of work without pay, necessitating travel expenses and/or housing costs for a second location.

I ran a community service order program for 17 years in Virginia, supervising both misdemeanants and felons–including one man transfered to my caseload after being found guilty of major drug possession in another area. The current sentences, based on my experience, appear to be more severe than for many felonies and thus may have been invoked against expressive speech based on the viewpoint of the speakers.

Some of those who hold BREF! in contempt have commented at the Richmond Times Dispatch coverage yesterday with vitriol. One said that allowing community service would somehow lead to riots. I ask that they remember that the founders of our nation embodied in the spirit of our Constitution the notion that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ” They designed a government based on free speech, a free press and access to the courts. There are so many communities besides ours here in Appalachia who have had to fight for the health and welfare of their families and their neighborhoods. Whether at Love Canal or or in Times Beach, Missouri, they would not have been able to do so, without free speech and access to the courts.

Yet, in both of those cases, the affected area was relatively small, the remedy evacuation. Here we face almost 1,000,000 acres of mountains leveled, half of them in West Virginia, alone. In a single 2001 case, 1,500 homes were lost in a flood and the courts have held the coal, landholding, and timber companies liable.

When I think of domestic terrorism, the Oklahoma City Bombing comes to mind, or the Ku Klux Klan or the Army of God. For eco-terrorism, maybe the Earth Liberation Front, although its targets have not been as widespread and have involved serious property damage rather than human lives.

But Blue Ridge Earth First! activists as eco-terrorists? Five folks who blockaded Dominion Resources for a couple of hours on June 30 after that company had succeeded in convincing the State to let it build a new coal fired electric plant, which will serve to accelerate the blowing off of mountains? Another five who held signs and banners and disbanded upon request and still got arrested and have agreed to performing 200 hours each of unpaid labor for the City of Richmond hundreds of miles from their homes? Another two, who did who held the signs and disbanded, but are asking for a trial?

Just who are the eco-terrorists here? Those who engage in civil disobedience and are willing to take their punishment or those who perpetrate the destruction of our mountains and our way of life?


Activists To Ratchet Up Climate Heat

Hitting the Web Waves

Activists To Ratchet Up Climate Heat

by Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK – Teams of environmental activists are planning to take to the streets over the coming weeks to put the spotlight on policy makers who they say are prioritizing corporate interests in the coal and oil industries over the impending threat of global warming.0727 02“Climate change is here and more and more people are refusing to sit by waiting for governments to act and watching them fail,” said Alicia Ng, an activist associated with the international campaign called “Climate Convergence 2008.”

The Climate Convergence is part of a global campaign that calls for acts of civil disobedience to draw policy makers’ attention to the threat of climate change and its impact on the natural environment and indigenous communities across the world.

Apparently inspired by the success of British environmental protests against the expansion of Heathrow Airport in London last year, those who have launched the Climate Convergence campaign say they plan to stage direct actions in a similar way in several U.S. and European cities in the next two months.

As part of their worldwide campaign, a little over a week ago, thousands of activists gathered in the Australian town of Newcastle to register their protest against over-reliance on fossil fuels. They stopped all rail transit of coal for a short time, in a blockade that cost the industry an estimated $1 million. Later, they also shut down coal shipments from the coastal city of Kooragang.

Campaigners describe their direct action gatherings as “camps,” where the protest-related activities are not merely confined to speeches or sloganeering, but also include workshops and music to highlight the issue of climate change and the sustainable approaches that are needed to cope with its adverse impacts on communities and the planet.

“Whatever we achieve in our local struggles this summer, they are amplified by the achievements of the five other climate camps around the world,” said Connor O’Brien of the British Camp for Climate Action. The camps are part of a global movement to “[build] pathways to a sustainable future,” he added.

Those running the Climate Convergence campaign are particularly critical of the Group of 8 (G-8) most industrialized countries’ policies toward climate change.

“The G-8 are making pitiful noises and insulting our intelligence with their so-called targets,” said Lizbeth Halloran from the Australian camp. “With world leaders clearly demonstrating that they serve the corporate fossil fuel agenda, it’s up to ordinary people to put the brakes on climate change when no one else will.”

The G-8 club of powerful nations includes the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Canada, France, Japan, and Russia. Despite worldwide protests by environmentalists, leaders of the G-8 countries, which consume much of world’s fossil fuel, have so far failed to agree on concrete actions to turn to clean energy sources.

Despite strong criticism from a large part of the scientific community and civil society groups, the G-8 countries are also pushing for the increased use of nuclear technology as an alternative source of energy. Many environmentalists hold that nuclear energy is not only expensive but also poses serious risks to the health of the planet.

Mining uranium for nuclear power plants produces radioactive compounds that often contaminate groundwater, air, and plant life, explains the nonprofit Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, adding that the byproducts of nuclear energy include plutonium, which remains hazardous for 240,000 years.

The Climate Convergence campaigners say they want dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change, which are not possible without a rapid transition away from oil, coal, and nuclear-based energy production.

For their part, the largest oil corporations are not only resisting such calls, but are also continuing to exert their influence on policy makers to block legislation that would divert the use of fossil fuel-based energy sources and increase reliance on cleaner energy technologies.

In April, as oil industry bosses gathered in Washington for a congressional hearing, they faced angry protests by thousands of environmentalists who questioned their role in addressing the issue of climate change. In the first week of that month, sizable protests also took place in several other industrialized countries, including Canada and Britain.

The Climate Convergence camps are due to take place in Eugene, Oregon and and High Falls, NY from Jul. 28 to Aug. 4; in Kent, England from Aug. 3 to Aug. 11; in Louisa County, Virginia from Aug. 5 to Aug. 11; and in Hamburg, Germany from Aug. 15 to Aug. 26.

© 2008 One World


Citizens opposed to National Coal Corporation mining the Sundquist Wildlife Management Area

Yet another action from Mountain Justice in Defense of the Appalachian Mountains!

CAMPBELL COUNTY, Tenn., July 20 – Residents of coal-impacted communities throughout Tennessee and Appalachia took a stand today for the mountains of East Tennessee by marching on Zeb Mountain, a surface mining site owned by Knoxville-based National Coal Corporation. In the tradition of American Civil Disobedience, the march, organized by United Mountain Defense, Mountain Justice, and Three Rivers Earth First!, included a diversity of coal-impacted citizens ranging from hunters fighting for the state’s wildlife to religious leaders promoting environmental stewardship

The march began with a prayer led by Christians for the Mountains and included political theater, life-sized puppets, rousing speeches, and proud renditions of the Tennessee state anthem, “Good Ol’ Rocky Top.” As the march reached the border of National Coal’s property, four activists decided to risk their freedom by walking across the line to make it clear that the destruction of mountains for short term profit is not acceptable. The Campbell County Sheriff’s Office calmly and orderly arrested the activists and removed them from the property.

Eric Blevins, one of those arrested, and a multi-generational Appalachian, said “I crossed an artificial line today because Appalachia is my homeland, and its life is being destroyed far faster than it can regenerate. I wanted to open people’s minds to how insane it is that we allow corporations to own land without loving it and keeping life sustainable.”

Now that 1345 acres of Zeb Mountain, half the original permit, have been reduced to rubble, National Coal is moving on to assault other mountaintops in Tennessee. One of these areas is the 65,000 acre Sundquist Wildlife Management Area, which cost Tennessee taxpayers $40 million dollars to purchase. Sundquist Wildlife Management Area is a public access game preserve with rivers flowing directly into the water supply of Nashville, Tennessee.

“The land belongs to the state and the people of Tennessee, and corporations should not be allowed to destroy it. The federal mining regulators should start listening to state agencies and representatives,” said Matt Landon, a United Mountain Defense volunteer.

Coal mining involving mountaintop removal or cross ridge mining has many negative effects across Appalachia, and using this method in the Sundquist Wildlife Management Area would threaten the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The Big South Fork has begun to recover from previous mining operations in the early 1900s. There are five federally endangered species of mussels in the Big South Fork and two listed endangered fish. This is about the survival of the New River and the Big South Fork. Mountaintop removal is inherently destructive to the sources of our water, and the fish and wildlife that depend on it.

Of the groups organizing the march, United Mountain Defense is a Tennessee-based non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the state’s land, air, water and people, while Mountain Justice is a pan-Appalachian movement dedicated to similar issues on a regional scale. Three Rivers Earth First! is dedicated to preserving all places.

“We believe Tennesseans need to stand up to the coal companies that are devastating our environment, killing our wildlife, and poisoning our air and water,” said United Mountain Defense co-founder Paloma Galindo. National Coal has committed over 50 violations of environmental regulations since 2004.

“NCC cannot be trusted to protect our public lands based on their prior record of violations,” said lawyer and Knoxville native Chris Irwin. National Coal is unfit to mine our public lands due to their pattern of violations in Tennessee.
The march comes as state legislators continue to debate the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, a bill that would protect Tennessee ridgelines above 2,000 feet, require an environmental impact statement before issuing any surface coal mining permits and would prohibit surface mining operations within 100 feet of any water of the state.

Now is the time for citizens to speak up and take a stand to protect the mountains of Tennessee from the devastating effects of surface mining. With coal prices becoming less competitive than renewable energy and in-state tourism growing in popularity due to the rising cost of travel, the mountains of Tennessee are far more valuable to the state and its citizens if they are protected

United Mountain Defense (UMD) is a nonprofit volunteer based organization committed to protecting Tennessee’s mountains, water, air and people. UMD conducts activities in three principle areas: legal and policy advocacy; scientific monitoring and data collection; and public education, outreach and grassroots organizing. These activities are conducted within the state of Tennessee, primarily in Campbell, Claiborne, Scott, Fentress, Bledsoe, Knox and Blount counties.

Standing for Our Future

So I’m starting to recover, but am no means there yet, from this week’s adventure. On Monday morning I jumped out of a car and ran beneath the foot bridge to Belle Isle on Tredegar Street in Richmond, Va. Wearing a shirt that read “No Coal, No Nukes, Our Future” and bearing the resistance fist of Earth First, I attached my climbing harness and prussucked up my rope, which had been shortly before dropped from above by my wonderful support crew.

Once high enough that no cop or outraged Dominion Employee could pull on my rope, I set up my seat, attached the safety line to my harness, and set up for a long stay as part of this righteous blocade of Dominion’s corporate HQ.

I and the others there on Monday, flying under the banners of Blue Ridge Earth First! and Mountain Justice took this action in protest of Dominion’s plans to build a new coal fired power plant Wise County, Va, and their plans to expand their nuclear facility at North Anna in Louisa County, Va. If you want to talk about the politics of these things, comment here, please. These discussions need to happen

The blocade was by many measures extremely successful. We significantly disrupted the operations of a company who’s actions disrupt the lives of my friends in South West Virginia, and who, if they carry through with their plans for this plant, will shorten the lives of thousands across Virginia and neighboring communities. We spread the message of this struggle far and wide through blogs, newspapers, TV, radio and significant person to person conversations about the role that energy plays in our lives, and that direct action plays in making change in our world.

Read some of the articles linked below to see how we are perceived so far out in the real world. One thing I want to say though has more to do with what I found out about the prison system, and by extension all of babylon, while in a holding cell for 7 hours on monday afternoon.

In the cell, myself and three of the other Tredegar 12, as we have been named by the Richmond Times Dispatch, spoke with the others being held. There were two younger white dudes, an older man who spoke Spanish as his first language, an older black man named Alan, and Antoine, a 30 something African-American from Richmond named. (wanna say that I am uncomfortable using some of these terms like black and African-American, for reasons that are difficult to articulate). These are men that, while not the cleanest or most “responsible” folks, to themselves or to those who depend on them, have had their crimes compounded again and again by their skin color, by their circumstances, and the most by a system which claims to exist in order to “rehabilitate” the destitute but ultimately holds people down, marginalizes and alienates them, by and by creating an underclass that is disempowered and unable to threaten the hegemonic system designed to ensure the longevity of power centralized and concreted in the hands of elites.

These are people. Humans. With love, and light and compassion, and darkness and pain too. They messed up once or twice, or more, and they were put down, and put into the system, and then sucked down by it. Days, weeks and months in concrete cubes with cold bars and cold overseerers chip away more and more at their humanness, take them further and further away from the rebuilt, rehabilitated, rehumanized beings that we hope they can become after their crime. The prison system, in short, despite instances where folks are able to come out better for it, systematically creates humans that are less able to improve their circumstances, less able to rise above.

I know folks who have gone through the prison system and come out better for it. I know that hearing the stories of those inside is only hearing one side of a story. But I also know that there are better ways to bring people up and out of life ways that lead to destructive behavior. There are societies and cultures that have existed throughout time that practice restorative justice, and succeed with it. There are cultures who never write down their laws, or their punishments, who never leave their criminals in isolation, who never feed them the lowest quality food, who never put people away, who take from them restoration for their crimes and give to them constructive paths towards bettering their lives. There is a better way.

But all that being said, we talked to these folks, we shared our story, and they commended us. They liked what we are doing, and several of them noted that if gas prices, food prices, and the price of being poor in America keep going up, you’re gonna start seeing the protests shift from mobilized environmentalists to outraged working class people walking hand in hand with outraged activists. Heady times are around the bend, is what that tells me. Better hold onto your butts!

Peace yall. Remember, the Tredegar 12 are still looking for support, financially and emotionally


WRVA news report, video

Richmond Times-Dispatch news report, video

NBC 12/AP story

Daily Press/AP story–dominionprotest0630jun30,0,4415392.story

Its Getting Hot in Here Blog

Raising Kaine Blog

The Coalfield Progress

The Richmond Times-Dispatch

Metro Section, p. B1

The Virginian-Pilot

Democracy Now!