Creativity Runs Rampant at Stop the FERCus!


by Melinda Tuhus

Just got back from Stop the FERCus!, a week-long series of actions mostly in front of FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in D.C., organized by Beyond Extreme Energy, or BXE. We want FERC to stop approving all the fracked gas infrastructure that allows the unending expansion of fracking, and to move to supporting truly clean energy.There were amazing blockades using people, banners, a metal tripod 20 feet high from which a woman was suspended, and other creative paraphernalia. This action differed from the week we did at FERC last November in that we had many more people here for just a day or two, rather than a full week, so it seemed less cohesive, but it was also good that folks were there representing anti-pipeline, anti-gas export terminals and anti-stinky, polluting compressor stations (to move the gas through the pipelines) all over the East.

I was working on media, trying to get traditional outlets to cover us, as opposed to social media where we made our own news. We weren’t that successful with the former, though we did break through with a local TV station and we have some good ideas for improvement for next time. And I finally learned to tweet, and I could see how it could become addictive.

Kim, a genius organizer and artist from NYC, collaborated with a graphic artist to create a 16-panel “United States of Fracking” that showed 16 different consequences of fracking and the struggles against it. (Visit BXE’s website and scroll down to see it.) They provided a color postcard of each panel that a big bunch of us then spent several hours painting in, which was very satisfying. We displayed the banner every day we were in front of FERC and on the last day we marched around D.C. with it, doing flash mobs in the lobbies of buildings housing a gas pipeline company, the American Natural Gas Association, and NPR, which runs those awful ads from ANGA that all end, “Think about it.” We had our own slogans, like “Fracking destroys communities; think about it” and “Fracking is a climate killer; think about it.”

I was endlessly impressed with the creativity and leadership displayed by the BXE organizers, many of whom were young people who were on the cross-country Great March for Climate Action last year.

It’s legal to sleep on the sidewalk in D.C., and one action we did was to set up a “FERCupy” on the sidewalk right in front of FERC. (See photo above.) It was mostly young people who stayed there for three nights, though three women in their 50s and 60s also did, some not even using a sleeping pad. I wanted to spend at least one night there, but it was complicated getting my bedding there from the place I was staying, so I just stayed til 9 or 10 p.m. two of the nights, which were lovely and cool after the heat of the days. A highlight for me was a sanga (community sharing) one of those nights with about a dozen people. I was so moved to hear from the mostly young people how they really feel about facing severe climate disruption for the rest of their lives, how they turn to others for love and support, and how they don’t plan to stop fighting, in fact needing to escalate resistance to the status quo (and the “all of the above” energy strategy in effect). As one of the teenagers said, “This is my family.”

Only five people were arrested this time, as opposed to about 80 last November, which the media depict as a weakening of our movement. Our goal is not to get arrested, but to make the strongest impression we can on FERC and other players that the status quo needs to change, and I think our actions conveyed that. We actually had significantly more people at our week of action this time, though many only for a day or two. Of course, arrests do accomplish some things: they increase the visibility and seriousness of our work in the media (that’s always the first question they ask) and with our targets; and they provide those of us arrested with a visceral reality check of how the criminal (in)justice system works, which puts us in touch with a demographic different from our own almost exclusively white, middle class one, at least among those who travel to D.C. for the FERC work.

One of the five was Sydney, a 19-year-old college student who decided on the spur of the moment to be arrested. Rather than being processed in 20 minutes and paying a $50 fine like last time, they were held in jail for 30 hours, but ultimately charges were dropped. Click here to listen to or read the eloquent, inspiring 5-minute interview she did with me after her release.

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