Green Party of Pennsylvania
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Chris Robinson, Communication Team
215-843-4256 and [email protected]
Chris Robinson, Communication Team
215-843-4256 and [email protected]
Doug Mason, [email protected]
“Blame It on My Bladder. I Didn’t Get Arrested”
By Doug Mason
I have been putting my body on the line for more than 30 years now, staring with a protest involving three others at the first such anti-nuke activity at Oak Ridge Laboratories near Knoxville, TN, in August 1988. I've since been arrested at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX, and twice on the Nevada Test Site in opposition to nuclear weapons. I was also detained at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA, for demonstrating against Central American policies emanating from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (aka the School of the Americas), and was twice handcuffed for protesting government policy (or lack thereof) in Washington, DC, regarding climate change. I am chair of both the Centre County Green Party and the Sierra Club Moshannon Group in central PA.
Blame it on my bladder. I didn't get arrested, as I had planned, with 40 others at Jane Fonda's 13th Fire Drill Friday against federal inaction about climate change on January 3 in Washington, DC. Just as the rally ended on the southeast lawn of the Capitol Building, I hurried through security to access a men's room in the hallowed halls of Congress. I finished my business and approached the hundreds of marchers outside, who were by then blocking the intersection of Capitol and First Streets NE. The Capitol Police had just given their last of three warnings to the crowd to cease and desist. As I stepped off the pavement to join the most committed protesters, I was told by one of the officers to turn around or I would be arrested and face additional, more serious charges, including the crossing of a police line. He asked if I was carrying a toothbrush, since I would need it while I was locked up for the weekend awaiting an appearance before the judge on Monday. I moved back onto the sidewalk.
Those handcuffed for "unlawfully demonstrating" included actor Sam Waterston ("The Killing Fields," "Law & Order," etc.); Janet Redman, climate director of Greenpeace USA; and retired Air Force officer Colleen Boland, coordinator of Veterans Against Climate Change. They and the others were charged with “crowding, obstructing or incommoding.” In theory, those arrested would be offered a post and forfeit -- whereby one pays a $50 fine and is released back into society after being transported by paddy wagon to the warehouse at 67 K Street NW. Post and forfeit is an option reserved for people without criminal histories who have not been engaging in the same conduct repeatedly.
Fonda had been arrested five times since her first Fire Drill Friday in October. For that reason, she chose to step back with most of the crowd at the final police warning. She had already been locked up overnight for one of those arrests in the DC jail, which she complained had been hard on her 82-year-old bones. The actress moved Fire Drill Fridays activities to Los Angeles on February 7, after she resumed production on her TV show, "Grace and Frankie," on the west coast.
On the sidewalk, I talked with rally speaker Veronica Coptis, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice and chair of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club's executive committee, as demonstrators were led away by the cops after high noon. Veronica had spoken eloquently that morning as a mother in her fight for environmental justice in southwestern PA, and linked the global climate emergency to the military industrial complex. (U.S. drones had just killed Iranian Major General Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad that day.) The theme of this first Fire Drill Friday of 2020 emphasized that "Holding Fossil Fuel Companies Accountable Can't Wait."
Others at the rally podium included actor Iain Armitage ("Young Sheldon"), who pledged to limit his plastic consumption; film director Josh Fox ("Gaslight"), who is now working on a project focused on climate refugees; and Tamara Toles O'Laughlin, North America director of 350.org, a woman of color who challenged us to listen to the voices of diversity in the climate justice movement.
Of course I'm disappointed that I wasn't arrested (it would have been my eighth bust for nonviolent civil disobedience). I spent a long July Fourth holiday weekend in a Texas jail cell once, and I wasn't quite prepared this time for hearing the slam of the barred doors again. The timing had seemed so auspicious, though . . . threatening weather held its precipitation until after the arrests, I was wearing my new Elvis "Jailhouse Rock" T-shirt and it was Greta Thunberg's 17th birthday. But my daughter was later celebrating her 44th with family at a birthday party in Virginia, where my wife was patiently awaiting my return from the nation's capital as well. Direct action is not for everyone, least of all me that day, but I believe we all need to consider ramping up our activism in light of climate chaos and other things that should outrage, if not enrage us, in this decade that history may remember as the Raging Twenties. I think it may get ugly out there in the years ahead.
Consider two laws proposed in Harrisburg by PA senators in 2019: the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, Senate Bill 887 (SB 887), and the Commonwealth Cost Reimbursement Act (SB 323). SB 887 would make felons of protesters, and could punish violators with a year in jail and a fine of at least $5,000 for a first-time offense. SB 323 would make such demonstrators pay for all governmental costs incurred in response to their actions. Senate Bills 807 and 323 are both autocratic pieces designed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that aim to criminalize our right to protest at pipelines and other fossil fuel sites. [On November 3, the steering committee of the Green Party of Pennsylvania (GPPA) voted to oppose SB 887 and SB 323.]
The slippery slope being molded here is intended to scare us from rising up to exercise our most basic democratic rights. As ALEC was shopping such bills from state to state, it issued a boogeyman letter from fossil fuel giants urging lawmakers around the country to curtail the "growing and disturbing trend" of eco-radicals roving the land, intent on destroying America's corporate infrastructure. I don't know about you, but my hackles are up. It's time we take back our government, our energy system and our future from the corporations and corrupt politicians whose decisions and deceit contribute to the global climate crisis.
The Green Party of PA (GPPA, https://www.gpofpa.org/) is an independent political party that stands in opposition to the two corporate parties. GPPA candidates promote public policy based on the Green Party’s four pillars: grassroots democracy, nonviolence, ecological wisdom, and social justice/equal opportunity. For further information about GPPA, please visit www.gpofpa.org or email [email protected]. Please follow GPPA on social media: Facebook and Twitter.
For more information:
“PA Green Party calls Senate Bill 887 ‘an Act of Terrorism’” by Timothy Runkle, GPPA News Release, November 9, 2019, https://www.gp.org/senate_bill_887_an_act_of_terrorism and https://www.gpofpa.org/pa_green_party_calls_senate_bill_887_an_act_of_terrorism .
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