Thursday, May 25, 2017

Local climate justice activist Laurie Dougherty explains protest, civil disobedience and climate justice activism

Dear friends, my apologies for the length. I got carried away here.

On Friday May19 together with Deb McGee, Sandra Clark, Carolyn Partridge and Elizabeth Chandler from Eugene and Shirlee Evans from Redmond, Oregon, I was convicted of 2nd degree criminal trespass (a misdemeanor) in Skagit County Washington Superior Court. We, along with 46 other people, were arrested a year ago at a non-violent direct action blockading BNSF railroad tracks that led to two oil refineries in Anacortes, WA. This blockade was part of Break Free Pacific NW, a three-day event (May 13-15, 2016) that also included a colorful, creative family-friendly march alongside the refineries and a water blessing led by local Native American Tribes, a kayak flotilla, workshops in the town of Anacortes and at Deception Pass State Park,and a group sitting down at the refinery gates on Sunday afternoon. Break Free PNW was itself part of a global series of actions in several countries and other US locations - Break Free from Fossil Fuels.

A few arrestees pled guilty. The rest of us were divided into groups of five or six for trials. Our group of six defendants received the same sentence as others who were tried before us: 90 days in jail suspended for a year. After a year with no other conviction or when we complete the other terms of the sentence, whichever comes first, jail goes away. The other terms are a $250 fine (maximum would have been $1,000). Most of the fine can be worked off with community service at a rate of $x per hour (I need to confirm the exact dollar amount per hour), plus one day of mandatory community service. Since we are all from Oregon, the judge said we can perform the community service in Oregon as long as it complies with the requirements of the Skagit County Probation Office.

The Washington State Patrol Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) had stormed our peaceful encampment at 5:00 am Sunday morning, May 15, 2016, heavily armed in full riot squad gear. We testified as to how frightening and intimidating it was. The RDF testified that they repeatedly gave an order to disperse and what the charge would be if we did not. Many people who were there chose to leave. The police officers who arrested each of us (talking in court like Officer Friendly, just doing their jobs to protect us all), testified as to whether we seemed confused about what was going on (no), our demeanor (peaceful, calm, singing, chanting, talking with each other) and where we were at the time of arrest (that became a legal issue and is described below).. They had photos of each of us with the arresting officer.

We had sent statements to our lawyers and they used those as the basis for asking questions in court about some aspects of our lives, why we participated in Break Free and why we did not leave when ordered to do so. My story: I have a BA in English literature from the late 1960s, and in middle age I went to graduate school and got an MS in Public Policy with a focus on how work is changing. I took further graduate level classes in Environmental Management which included learning about climate change. I have been studying and thinking about climate change and been a climate activist for many years. The jobs I had after grad school included academic research and non-profit administration. Before grad school - and this was why I went back to school to learn more about the economy - I worked in a large factory where I was laid off several times. So I really get what it's like to need a job. I was working on refrigerators, which used the chemicals that harmed the ozone layer, at the time that the ozone layer was a prominent issue. That put a question in my mind that has shaped the direction of my life ever since: How can we have decent livelihoods without destroying the Earth we live on and depend on?

Other defendants had already talked about what climate change is and what it's impacts are so I talked about the culpabiilty of the fossil fuel industry and some of the local effects of fossil fuels, focussing on oil: oil spills poison land and water; oil trains have been involved in several fiery, explosive train wrecks including one that killed over 40 people in a small town in Quebec nearly four years ago; the smoke from the refineries is toxic; so are emissions from cars and trucks causing many health problems.

When asked why I didn't leave when ordered to disperse, I said I wanted to keep my commitment to others who were there and to hold the space as long as possible. We created a peaceful, joyful community with values that we shared. Once we were gone, the oil trains would run and the industry would have its way again. The prosecutor asked each of us where we slept. I said I was in the grass below the embankment because I promised my kids I would not sleep on the tracks. They were worried. Even the prosecutor laughed when I said that.

We had been camped on and alongside the RR tracks since Friday evening. Our lawyers made the point that we had not been notified to leave until Sunday morning. The RDF officer in charge and a BNSF officer testified that they were most worried about the refineries and the thousands of people expected to participate in the march alongside the refineries on the March's Point Peninsula on Saturday and at other sites for workshops in the town and at Deception Pass State Park.

That's where they deployed the law enforcement units which included local police and RDFsquads from around the state.. They claimed they didn't know about the railroad blockade, which was a few miles east of the refineries, until we got there and notified the RR. The BNSF officer said they had canceled all oil deliveries for the weekend in anticipation of the big march (which some of you were at). Once they were notified that we were on the tracks, they shut down the line completely (it was a spur with little traffic other than to the refineries). Soon after we arrived and started setting up the camp, patrol cars arrived to observe us from a nearby road. Sometimes there were several police cars, sometimes just one. Every once in a while one or two cops would walk along the tracks and look around accompanied by our stalwart legal observers in green caps - Linda and Gary among them.

There were a couple of interesting legal maneuvers. We had two lawyers, David LaCross who is licensed in Washington and who replaced a Washington lawyer who had serious health problems, and Cooper Brinson from the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) in Eugene who led the defense. The prosecutor, a very sharp young woman, subpoenaed Cooper as a prosecution witness because allegedly he had been at the site and involved in legal trainings for participants prior to the event. Our lawyers felt it was harrassment and an attempt to remove him as our attorney. They filed a motion to quash the subpoena. I lost track of all the legal back and forth on that, but the subpoena was thrown out. She persisted, though, and later tried to bring it up in a different way, but that didn't work either.

Another issue, raised by the defense, was that when they were arrested, four of the defendants in our group had been standing on the tracks but on the side of the road where pedestrians would walk across since there was no sidewalk. Our lawyers argued that therefore they were in a place where the First Amendment right to free speech was protected. Under questioning the officer from BNSF said they have easements that give the RR control in specific situations where tracks cross public roads but when the gates are up and no trains are in the area, the road is a public space. An officer from one of the police departments testified that they had closed the road in the vicinity of the RR crossing and the prosecutor argued it was closed because of the protest and no longer functioning as a public space protected by the First Amendment. She won that one. . That would not have applied to me since I was arrested with a group of people who were sitting on the tracks at some distance from the intersection.

We took shifts as security teams at the intersection where people entered the camp and our affinity group was due to be there at 5 am. That's why several of my co-defendants were at the intersection when the cops made their move.. I woke up when someone tapped me walking by; went to the toilet tent and realized (always running late) that I should be at the entrance by the intersection with the rest of our group. I started to go there, but at that moment someone started shouting, "Cops on site, everybody up," and the RDF swarmed through the camp. We froze and I stayed in the area where I was and then with several others sat on the tracks in two rows facing each other. Deb had gone to the front entrance but came back for something and was arrested there with us. I wanted to use a photo of a cop pointing a weapon at us sitting quietly on the tracks waiting to be arrested. (photo copied below). I'm in the denim jacket with my back to him. I didn't know about it until I saw rhe photo a few days later. I've been told it was a paintball or rubber bullet gun. The judge said the only purpose was to inflame the jury and did not allow the photo to be introduced,

At the sentencing the judge asked if we had anything else to say. I told him I could see the refineries frrom where we were waiting to be arrested with the town of Anacortes and the (San Juan) Islands beyond. The toxic smoke from the refineries was mixing with low clouds drifting though the islands and I was thinking: "Some day it will only be the fog and the mist and the low-hanging clouds." The prosecutor shook hnds with each of us. I told her we want her on our side. She said she has a degree in environmental studies. I said come on over. She said something about believing in the law. A friend of the Eugene folks who was there as an observer said he talked with her and she said her mother is mad at her for prosecuting us.

The judge said something like we were the nicest defendants he has encountered and he admires our principles, but when he has his robes on, he can't operate on his personal opinions.

We are the Thin Green Line!

This our crew in the photo in front of the Skagit County District Court yesterday holding up the Thin Green Line: left to right Deb, me, Caroline, Shirlee Elizabeth, Sandra. Shirlee is from Redmond and I think is in 350 Deschutes, the others are in 350 Eugene.

So yesterday, after a meeting with our lawyer, we spent 15 or 20 minutes in the courtroom waiting for the judge, watching people buzz around looking official. The judge came in. We were called to the front, each given a form with our name on it that said our case is continued to May 18 & 19 (which we already knew). Sign here. That was it.

Today we have time out and I took the ferry to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands where I am now on a bench overlooking the Salish Sea - one of those magnificent places we are striving to protect from oil spills and toxic emissions and climate change. Tomorrow more trial prep and Thursday it's show time.

For those of you who aren't familiar with what brought me to Skagit County District Court: along with climate activists from all over the Pacific NW, I was part of a railroad blockade that took place during a three day protest directed at two oil refineries in Anacortes, WA.

The event also included a march on the road alongside the refineries, a water blessing conducted by local Native American tribes, teach-ins in the town and at Deception Pass State Perk and a kayak flotilla. This was one of several events globally called Break Free from Fossil Fuels. Nancy and Nan and some other folks from Salem were at the March. Linda and Gary trained as legal observers and did an incredible and valiant job. 52 people were arrested at the blockade and charged with 2nd degree criminal trespass. A few took a plea agreement. The rest of us were split into groups of about six to go to trial.

This is a recap of Break Free Pacific NW:

I also wrote a Blog Post for BF PNW (but didn't pick the title or do the great job of formatting) on "Roots and Shoots of Just Transition" which is here:

The Thin Green Line is all of us in the Pacific NW who stand in opppsition between the coal mines and oil and gas fields in the interior and West Coast ports and refineries.


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