A few weeks ago I attended the People vs Oil and Gas Infrastructure Summit (catchy name, I know) in Pittsburgh, with more than 300 other activists. I met people working on both gas and oil pipeline struggles, including many native Americans from Canada and the U.S. A highlight of the conference was an indigenous-led “water walk” from the hotel several blocks to where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers merge to form the Ohio River (which later flows into the Mississippi, giving a clear sense of rivers as being the veins of the earth). It’s a very sacred place, and when we got there the leaders said prayers and smudged us with sage. It was evening of a mid-November day, but in keeping with the warm weather we’ve had almost all fall, it was just a lovely evening (no gloves or hat needed), albeit a reminder of the “climate, changed” as one woman put it.
I interviewed a man who works with the Sierra Club’s Labor and Economic Justice program, who had some insights into how labor activists and climate activists can support each other more. You can listen/read about it here.
An awards ceremony featured three grassroots activists who have either won battles or have helped move the struggle forward in significant ways. I was really touched by Frank Finan, a widower who bought a high-tech FLIR camera that reveals leaking gas that otherwise is invisible and has no smell either. He has taken it on his own dime all over the country to help myriad other fights. I mention he’s a widower because when he gave his brief acceptance speech he gave his wife so much credit for his life’s work, which endeared him to me. Another Pennsylvania man, Ray Kemble, has been on the front lines of the fight against Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, which in turn has filed a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) against him, putting him in danger of losing his home (which is surrounded by fracking wells). The other winner was Ranjana Bhandari, a woman from Texas who organized her neighbors and won a fight to stop fracking in Lake Arlington.
Early Monday morning after the conference, Rising Tide Pittsburgh and allies pulled off a great action by erecting two tripods with a person suspended from each and three people locked down to each other between the tripods (see photo above) at the entrance to an office park that houses many fossil fuel companies, and succeeded in blocking the road for several hours. They were raising the alarm about the terrible destruction that fracking does to their families and communities. Someone at the conference had suggested that it might be more effective to lobby elected officials as the woman from Texas had done, but the direct action proponents always point out that they act after all the other avenues of redress have been exhausted and their concerns have not been addressed. I was with a team that blocked the road further up, advising drivers to make a U-turn because they couldn’t get through anyway. All were compliant; most were silent but a half dozen cursed us. I kept thinking of Heather Heyer being mowed down in Charlottesville and hoped none of the drivers would weaponize their vehicle toward us.
When the cops dismantled the protest, just the tripod-sitters were charged with a couple of misdemeanors.
You can read a story about it here.
Closer to home, on November 30 about a dozen of us pulled off a very fun but meaningful action around the City of New Haven’s tree lighting festival on the Green, which happened to be sponsored by Wells Fargo. We have a campaign to get the city to move its $10 million-plus per day operating budget out of Wells, so we wrote new words to some holiday songs, donned our elf hats, and strolled the Green, singing to thousands of people and handing out flyers. You can read the story and watch the two-minute video
The mayor responded that the city is gradually moving its money (which is fine, but we’re saying it should be to a local bank and she hasn’t yet declared a definite alternative bank for the bulk of the funds), and she said Wells Fargo was being a “good corporate citizen” by sponsoring the event. That sent some of us into paroxysms of scornful laughter; “corporate” doesn’t go with “citizen,” and “good” doesn’t go with “Wells Fargo.”
I’m hoping to do some real caroling before the month is out, and grab a little holiday spirit. Our son, daughter and granddaughter will be with us for Christmas, which will be a big shot of happiness.