This is the 2nd installment of a 3-part series on “Fighting For Clean Energy at Anacortes.” You can read Part 1 here.
The Moral Responsibility of Disobedience
Martin Luther King sent this message from a Birmingham jail: “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Does anyone come to disobedience naturally? Somehow I don’t think Mom and Dad had it in their bag of parenting tools to nurture the God-given juice of rebellion that bubbles up organically with teenage growth-spurts and adventurous hormones. But disobedience is in our genes, right? Along with all else. Part of the sacred package.
And, for people of faith and those of the Hebrew and Jesus story, a living spirited existence is pretty totally wrapped in resistance. Jeremiah stripping in the marketplace, Micah beating swords into plowshares, Crazy John in the desert screaming at us to turn around and get a clue (honey and locust wings matted into his beard): these are all sacred resistors. Mary’s whole gestation of a messiah was about leveling the playground, the proud scattered, the poor fed, the rich sent away with their emptiness. She raised her Kid to pay attention and he was arrested for jumping up and down on the power-broker’s parade, turning the tables and making a Holy Mess.
He was arrested. Wow, I never actually made this connection in my mind before. The sacred story is about risking arrest in the face of the death dealing dominators of each successive moment in history, because in each time, since we split the atom, there will be those death dealers and their choices will mark the future with annihilation or healing. The stakes have never been higher.
We are on track to murder our Holy Mother. Fracking shakes her very bones to the marrow. Tar sand extraction eviscerates skin from flesh. We don’t seek a derailment in the way of fiery spills. We need a rerailment. But we must first block this old set of rails, our chosen tracks. Only then will we have a chance to keep our contemporary promise of beating swords to plowshares as we repurpose the tankers of death for a New Train.
This is the best articulation I can muster for the Peoples March on Anacortes and the blockade on the Burlington Nothern rail. Again, I call up a quote from Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, as I did when I decided to show up in Anacortes:
The great Pacific Northwest is not a global coal depot, a pusher for fossil fuel addiction, a logistics hub for climate devastation. We’re the last place on Earth that should settle for a tired old retread of the false choice between jobs and the environment. Coal export is fundamentally inconsistent with our vision and values. It’s not just a slap in the face to ‘green’ groups. It’s a moral disaster and an affront to our identity as a community. After all, what is the point of installing solar panels and rainwater barrels if they are going to be coated in coal dust? KC Golden
I left my solar panels and rain cisterns at home and went. With a whole bunch of other people. I became part of the large support team to help establish the blockade and track the health and safety of those who decided to risk arrest. The blockade began Thursday afternoon, May 12. It continued Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th. At the beginning, a large contingent of police and highway patrol arrived in full armament and riot gear, but, for the most part, throughout the occupation, all was peaceful and non-threatening. Banners had been pre-prepared and routines for quickly erecting and collapsing the scaffoldings and sign-boards rehearsed. The planning was really impeccable for generating publicity, communicating with law enforcement, keeping a routine and providing food and facilities for everyone camped on the tracks. The magic of an assembled community of conscience on the tracks was evident in the conversations, refining the message of why we’re here, doing this, disrupting things.
Of course the refineries each employ 700+ workers, so there is a perception among some that actions like Break Free threaten our communities. It is the “tired old retread of the false choice between jobs and the environment,” but it is real and it should be expected because of the high stakes and we need to be ferocious in our compassion and our pursuit and implementation of a Just Transition to an economy of Shalom in a fossil free, intimidation-free future.
When the time of arrest came, it was swift, at 5:10 AM on Sunday morning. 52 people were arrested. By all reports, all were civil in their disobedience and all our neighbors in law enforcement and those who were processing and caring for those arrested were respectful and kind.
And the spirit of civility and non-violence allowed for conversations across the barriers of authority that couldn’t have happened otherwise. Resistors and police talked with each other. Several folks reported officers at least acknowledging that our economy has got to change. Officer 282, in the midst of his watchfulness, told a group of us across the highway from the tracks, about building his own contraption for extracting hydrogen from water to power his car…saying the cost of extraction was more than the value of the fuel obtained. He said he is optimistic about human inventiveness in the chaos and he looks forward to building a solar home when he retires in Spokane, all the while asserting that he can’t take sides when he’s on the job.
But still…breaking the rules is breaking the rules, arrests are arrests. As we watched, I got the darkness of the moment. I saw our friend, Debby, chained and taken away and thought of the time a few years back when we first talked about the possibility of getting arrested for what is true and just and right. Still…she had her head down and I wondered what mental somersaults might be required to take what, for all intense and purposes, looks like a walk of shame and experience it as a walk of utmost respect and pride. I haven’t had a chance to ask her about that yet.
As observers, we and the other support teams saw people cuffed. We saw the ankles, of young and old, shackled. We were witnesses of teenagers, grandmothers and grandfathers put on busses in chains.
This disobedience, this movement is different than some we’ve seen in our lifetimes. As so many others have observed, those taking action, from Anacortes to Manila are not your usual suspects. Grandmothers with their grandchildren on their backs, policy analysts and scientists mixed and mingled with grandfathers, all cultures, orientations, generations and walks of life, high school teachers with their classes, professors and college students. Many had never taken action before. As I did my part with the jail support team, it was empowering for me to witness how empowered they felt after having put their lives and reputations on the rail. I think if we ask, most would tell us they plan to keep doing this for the rest of their lives. I certainly do.