For nearly three hours this afternoon, six Beyond Extreme Energy activists blockaded the doors at the Democratic National Committee, calling on the party to stand on the side of people and the planet instead of the fracked-gas industry.
They and a crowd of supporters from BXE, Environmental Action and Greenpeace chanted “Fracking, Drilling, Oil and Gas: None shall pass” and “Hey Democrats, you can’t hide. We can see your corporate side.” They held a large banner with their demands: #StopTPP #BanFracking, #NoDrillingInTheGulf and #NoEminentDomainForPrivateGain.
Before the action, many in the group had delivered the same message to aides of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee. The party platform doesn’t include a ban on fracking or opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership. While the platform opposes offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, it is silent on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The Democratic Party is nothing more than a new form of climate denial: One that admits climate change is real – but refuses to take the actions necessary to stop it,” a letter to Schultz and the DNC said. “These conciliatory nods and appeals for incrementalism only perpetuate environmental racism and sacrifice lives and livelihoods for corporate gain.”
“Incrementalism is killing us,” said Ted Glick, his arms linked to others through sections of PVC pipes in the blockade. “When it comes to the climate crisis, we can’t do it little by little. We are way beyond being able to do that.” Too many Democrats believe fracked gas is a bridge fuel, he said. “It’s a gangplank to hell on Earth,” because of all the leaking methane.
Fracking and its infrastructure “has destroyed my life,” said Maggie Henry, an organic farmer whose family had to abandon their land and home in northwest Pennsylvania, near the border with Ohio. “There is absolutely no recourse” to this industry’s actions, said Henry, who was also part of the blockade. The fracking industry has “stolen from me the right to grow old and raise my grandchildren on that land.”
Michael Bagdes-Canning, also from northwest Pennsylvania, told of a community of 50 families who have had to rely on donated water since January 2011 after fracking began nearby.
“The Democrats have betrayed us. Some in the labor movement have betrayed us,” said Carol Gay, a blockader from the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council. “It’s shameful that the Democrats are not stepping forward to stop the TPP. It’s nothing but a corporate coup d’etat. … We want the Democrats to stand on the side of the people. We want the Democrats to stand on the side of the planet.”
“We are not against trade,” said Margaret Flowers, also part of the blockade and a Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate from Maryland. “But [the TPP] will keep us from being able to pass laws to protect our families and to protect workers and to protect the environment.” Under the TPP, a corporate tribunal would rule on claims by a company that says regulations reduced anticipated profits.
Nancy Vann, an activist from Peekskill, NY, who was supporting the blockaders, said: The DNC is “objecting to us taking over a little of their land for a few hours when [Spectra is] taking over my land permanently.” She has been fighting Spectra Energy’s Algonquin Incremental Market, or AIM pipeline, which runs through her property and within 105 feet of the aging Indian Point nuclear plant. Spectra’s right-of-way destroyed wetlands and required the clearing of 300 trees on her property.
After an hour or so of negotiating, the blockaders agreed to release their arms from the PVC pipes if someone from the DNC would come outside to speak with them. That led to a lengthy and often heated discussion with three DNC staffers, including Ian Russell, deputy director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Russell’s statement that “a lot of Democrats share your position” and “would be heartbroken to hear this” were met with derision, outrage and disbelief.
“We are tired of two corporate parties,” Gay said.
The activists said the Democrats lacked the spine to stand up to Republicans in Congress. “The Democrats stab us in the back,” Flowers said. “This is our future. This is our lives. We don’t trust the Democrats. We know who they represent, and it’s not us. It’s industry.”
Anthony Rogers-Wright, a policy and organizing director at Environmental Action, said the Democratic platform’s stance on offshore drilling amounts to racism and genocide. The platform opposes drilling in the Arctic, to protect polar bears, and the Atlantic, to protect clams, he said, “so, why is the Gulf [of Mexico] still treated as a sacrifice zone?” The surrounding states may be red, he said, “but black and brown people are dying there. … We don’t know who to turn to anymore.” The disappearing land is already creating climate migrants, he said. “Our public health is as important as our vote.”
After about a half hour of discussion, Russell asked what message the protesters wanted him to take to Democratic leadership. “Tell them we are angry and willing to risk arrest, and we’ll keep doing it until the Democrats show some backbone” on these issues, said blockader Steve Norris of Asheville, N.C.
The activists were threatened with arrest but declared the day a victory and left shortly after the impromptu meeting with the DNC staff.
Back at FERC
In the morning, at the monthly meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), BXE activists stood silently outside, large blue dots taped over their mouths.
They were objecting to FERC’s practice of using a blue dot to mark in its files the names of activists who speak out at the agency’s monthly meetings. Those with blue dots are barred from future meetings and instead ushered to an overflow room, where they can watch the proceedings on a TV screen. In this way, FERC commissioners try to avoid listening to complaints about their rubber-stamp approvals of pipelines, compressor stations and export facilities for fracked gas. BXE has organized disruptions at 21 consecutive FERC meetings.
FERC Chairman Norman Bay says that interrupting “does not help your cause.” Use proper channels, he says. Submit comments online on projects. Testify at public hearings. BXE activists and thousands of others have done all that and more – to no avail. FERC approves these projects. Every. Time. Except. Once. (FERC extended a deadline for that one pipeline and fracked-gas liquefaction facility, in Oregon, so that the company could file again.)
Three people spoke out at the FERC meeting today, including Dineen O’Rourke of Sandisfield, in western Massachusetts, who is fighting Kinder Morgan’s Connecticut pipeline expansion project. She called out: “Unless FERC denies permits for fracked gas projects, they’re complicit in the destruction of the planet.” She was quickly ushered from the room. And O’Rourke, along with Adrian Plaisance and Carol Gay, joined the blue dot club.