It’s cold outside. I forgot my gloves and now it’s time to go. The arrestees practice outside the church, locking themselves into their lockboxes, as I pretend a nearby flowering plant is a security guard. I’m the distraction and I need to give them at least 30 seconds or it won’t work. After practicing the scenario, we get into our cars and head to the parking garage to try it for real. We’re about to join a huge protest, and things could get intense.
The medics have red crosses on their clothing. They’re there in case anything goes wrong, which tends to happen whenever we protest at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) or anywhere in the center of our Nation’s capital. I’m talking on the phone, finding out the best way to exit the garage once we go in. There’s an elevator and a ramp—we choose the latter. Unfortunately, a guard is standing there and tells us to take the elevator. We crowd into the elevator and press the star that will lead us to the top floor.
The lobby has two people in it; they say nothing as we trot by them, at a quick pace, and make our way around the corner. I’m told to go ahead, that’s the plan, I remember, and I do that, I go ahead.
“Hi! Could you tell me how to get to the Department of Energy?” I ask the guard.
“Hey hey! Get back!” she says to me.
The others come out from behind the corner and run to lock-in to the driveway. I hold up my arms with several others, preventing the guards from passing through. The others are locking in, or trying to, and guards are all over now. People shout orders. One guard throws a woman to my right, but still I stand there, waiting to be thrown myself. As some of the others are trying to fasten their U-locks, they hit a snag—the locks won’t lock. My friend Alex steps into the way and tries to block the guards, as my friend Matt locks in. He’s got a U-lock around his foot, Alex does, and he says, “you’re hurting me. I’m not resisting.” He later had bloody knuckles which dripped their way onto the sidewalk pavement.
When the arrestees are in, there are more police. Department of Homeland Security, mostly, wearing jumpsuits. I grab my camera and start taking pictures.
We’re here because FERC is in charge of approving pipelines and their track record is almost a 100 percent approval rating—they rarely see a pipeline they don’t like. It’s Pennsylvania day and because we’re living in the shalefields and fighting fracking every day, we’re here to try to show that Pennsylvania isn’t going to stop standing up. Every day, I see new permitted wells and pipeline applications in my email inbox. Unlike the employees of FERC, most of whom wear ties, suits, and other characteristics of the carbon copy American Dream as depicted by Fitzgerald, we are wearing flannel, jean jackets, and working for less than minimum wage at a non-profit in the middle of the shalefields. We’ve seen “fracking” and drilling for shale gas every day for the past 6 months of our lives. It’s real to us. Very real. And we realize the threats associated with the processes and the disjointed relationships the gas industry has caused in our small Pennsylvanian community.
Meanwhile, FERC approves all the destruction we are working every day to prevent. Having no regard for the people whose lives they ruin, they blindly rubber-stamp approvals, day after day. Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE), a series of actions related to FERC and their environmental suckish-ness has been happening for a week. We came for Pennsylvania day, drove down through a fading sun in the mist of Wednesday afternoon, which then turned to late evening, and soon to a moon and wet roadways with two-way traffic. But we won’t stop coming. We will continue to fight for the open expanses and northeast Pennsylvania breezes we know and love.
I flash back in my mind to the first day I came to Susquehanna County. It was dark and we were outside the home of one of my housemates. “There are gas wells all around us,” Alex had said. “Even though you can’t see them.” I can’t help but think that’s what it is to some people. To have this in someone else’s backyard, that whole NIMBY thing, that’s the problem. Once we put these things in state parks and public lands, people will listen, hopefully. It’s not going to happen without work. This isn’t easy. But this is all we know. And we love what we do. We love these people, we love this earth, we love the idea of a future worth living in.
And so, though the action may be over and the mainstream media treats the action as another “radical environmentalist whatever”, we know in our hearts, our minds, and our souls, that we are doing the right thing. We know we are standing up for our neighbors. It’s not much to hope for, it’s not too effective sometimes, but the world is something we cannot forget, the future is something we cannot give up. I believe that we will, that we in fact, must, win. And believers have been known to change the world. We will keep believing. We will keeping fighting. We will keep winning.
Images by the author