We four grannies deployed before dawn on a road near the Mountain Valley pipeline right-of-way across the Greenbrier River, each with one foot inside a concrete barrel, sitting in our famous rocking chairs, holding a banner that said, Rocking Chair Rebellion. Ahead of us was another rocker holding a sign in bold red letters, STOP ELDERS AHEAD, so cars coming our way would have plenty of notice to stop. Another two women locked down to the drill that was preparing to bore under the Greenbrier – a beautiful river I’d walked along last year as part of the Walk for Appalachia’s Future that, at 162 miles, is the longest undammed river in the eastern U.S.
As the sky lightened, we noticed a big stretch of beautiful white, pink and yellow wildflowers on the other side of the railroad tracks. The fog that covers the valleys here was ethereal.
We stopped work for a total of five hours, and were charged with trespassing, obstructing an officer, and violating West Virginia’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which had just gone into effect. All misdemeanors, although the cops said we’d be charged with domestic terrorism felonies if we didn’t leave, and that was a possibility. These new laws in many states around the country are meant to intimidate folks from taking action to protect the real critical infrastructure – the pure, delicious drinking water, clean air and stable land. The MVP is being built across the steepest mountains in the country, threatening landslides. And then there is the karst, which make the river one of the worst possible places to drill.
From Wikipedia: The unique karstlands of the Greenbrier River Valley constitute one of the world's densest sinkhole plains, with an average of 18 sinkholes per square kilometer. This green "moonscape" of collapsed craters is a unique problem for development as the ground is prone to subsidization. It is impossible to tell how large a cave system is by looking at the surface, and developers often build their structures too close to the open spaces beneath the ground.
There’s also a big problem with the coating on the pipes having deteriorated after they sat in the sun for five or six years. Best practice is to recoat them at the factory, but the company is just burying them without recoating at all, increasing the risk of ruptures and explosions.
So, building the pipeline is the real crime, and could only finally go forward when the US Congress, at Sen. Joe Manchin’s bidding (with full backing from Sen. Chuck Schumer and President Biden), took the matter out of the hands of the Fourth Circuit appeals court (which had consistently ruled against the MVP, for its many violations). Then the US Supreme Court threw out existing court challenges.
The cops complimented us on our creativity, and after arresting us and tossing rocking chairs and red umbrellas (decorated with NO MVP signage) aside, they chuckled over the STOP ELDERS AHEAD sign and threw it into their truck. I’m sure it’s gracing the wall of some police department.
An action a few days earlier saw two more activists – a young person and an elder – lock down to MVP machinery in nearby Montgomery County, VA. We held a rally at the site with a big banner proclaiming, “Young and old unite – No MVP.” They were also charged with misdemeanors.
When the sheriff arrived at our action, he said we should leave because, “You have zero chance of stopping this pipeline. There’s too much money behind it and the country is too divided.”
What is the role of nonviolent direct action (NVDA) in campaigns to stop the fossil infrastructure that’s killing the planet and ruining the lives and livelihoods of local residents? I had that question before heading down to Appalachia. After all, it’s the court fights that seem to make the biggest difference – although companies also just ignore inconvenient court rulings like that against the Dakota Access pipeline, where a federal judge ordered the oil to stop flowing until an Environmental Impact Statement was approved, but it’s still operating.
One local woman told me we have to keep disrupting because we can’t just let it be built without doing everything in our power, nonviolently, to stop it. Another friend said it’s important to show solidarity with those on the front lines, and by doing that we build the power needed for the next fight. Sitting on the wide porch, looking out over the beautiful mountains, the fog and the nighttime stars, I felt very much a part of a beautiful community where people love and support each other. Also, I haven’t laughed so much maybe ever. It gives us the strength to go on.