May 27th, Witness Wednesday

Joanne Louise, Fred Small and Mordechai Liebling/ Photo by Beyond Extreme Energy

Five people were arrested today at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Washington, DC protesting the agency’s blanket approval of gas infrastructure projects. Nearly a hundred people blockaded the agency and for two hours held a meditation and silent vigil, hindering staff from entering the building most of the morning.

The Department of Homeland Security deployed over 30 officers, who seemed somewhat reluctant to make arrests. They issued several warnings to disperse before arresting five protesters who refused to comply.

Steve Norris, one of the arrestees, spoke moments before DHS officers handcuffed him. “FERC has been stolen by the gas industry and fossil fuel companies,” he said. “We are here to say that is criminal, and it is so dangerous that life on this planet is threatened. We will not take that lying down.”

Protesters standing nearby chanted, “Climate heroes!” while Norris and four others were led away.

After the arrests, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling led a two-hour silent vigil and meditation while blocking the sidewalk. “Listen to the Earth,” he said. “Feel the Earth supporting your weight. Allow yourself to be held by the Earth. The Earth is what holds us all; Earth is sacred to all of us. As we sit here in silence for the next two hours, witness to what’s happening in the building behind us, the people who are up giving permits for the Earth to be desecrated. We are bearing witness to the tragedy of the Earth’s destruction. Listen to the Earth. Listen to what she is telling us.”

Steve Norris is arrested at FERC/Photo by John Zangas

FERC has been the target of protests by anti-fracking activists and members of communities adversely affected by pipelines, compressor stations and gas storage facilities which the agency approves. Recently the gas industry has been in the process of upgrading and enlarging its vast network of infrastructure to deliver gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing.

Protesters held a 50-foot banner, painted with scenes illustrating various gas infrastructure projects around the country, using it to block the entrances to FERC. Most of them originated from the Mid-Atlantic region or the Northeast, but some had come from as far away as Iowa and California.

The morning blockade came after twenty protesters spent the night on the sidewalk in front of the building beside a canvas reading, “FERC Destroys Communities.” Activists had moved to the sidewalk after police evicted them from the tent camp they had set up on the grassy plaza behind the FERC building.

While the silent blockade took place outside, FERC was also besieged by phone. Activist group Environmental Action set up a hotline to call FERC Commissioners to tell them “to stop new permits, repeal the old ones, and end the FERC-us.” As of Wednesday afternoon, many Commissioners were no longer taking calls, according to Environmental Action.

Photo by John Zangas

Getting a busy signal isn’t a new experience for many who have dealt with FERC. “FERC doesn’t listen to the health or safety concerns of families in the path of destruction, nor to concerns about the contribution of fracked gas projects to the climate crisis,” said Dr. Susan Rubin of Chappaqua, NY.

The protests against fracking and seizure of land for pipelines have been nonviolent, but retired police Captain Ray Lewis believes the people won’t remain patient indefinitely. “There’s going to come a day when this doesn’t work,” he said. “People are gonna get so fed up that they’re going to resort to violence. Unfortunately the people in power interpret nonviolence as weakness, as no threat to them.”

Activists will camp out on the sidewalk in front of FERC again tonight, and more protests are planned for Thursday and Friday.

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