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A Good Experience with Civil Disobedience

Recently my partner, Lydia, and I chose to be arrested as part of a group doing civil disobedience to stop the building of a new fracked-gas pipeline. We blocked an access road to part of Otis State Forest, in Massachusetts, USA, which temporarily stopped the construction company from moving equipment and materials to the site where it planned to cut down beautiful old trees. We spent about four hours in police custody and had to go to court twice. Our charges were reduced to civil (not criminal) charges, and we faced relatively modest fines.

We did not, and do not, expect to permanently stop the construction of the pipeline. People have already taken many legal and political steps to try to stop it, and none have been successful. Our goals were to slow down construction, create additional costs for the company, draw attention to the problem of pipeline construction, and build our organization and movement. We also hoped that our more extreme action would encourage people to do more to stop climate change. All of these goals were accomplished.

We got front-page newspaper publicity that included many quotes from the eighteen of us who were arrested. We have been asked to speak in a number of local meetings. Many people have asked us about our experience and expressed interest in taking more action themselves. We have become closer and more connected to each other from sharing in the civil disobedience and all that has followed.

I was surprised at how liberating and uplifting the civil disobedience was for me. I felt an unfamiliar sense of freedom and peace, even as I was being handcuffed and put in the police wagon. I think this was because, for a brief time, I didn’t feel compromised by or complicit in the damage being done to the planet. For once, I didn’t feel I should be doing something more to stand up against the destructive policies that are accelerating climate change. For once, I didn’t hold back in showing how strongly I object to expanding the use of fossil fuels. I now feel freer to go beyond what is considered acceptable in standing up for what I believe.

I’m aware that I could be relaxed and confident in taking this action because as a white, highly educated, currently middle-class man I knew that I would probably be treated well by the police and that nothing terrible would happen to me. This is not true for far too many people.

I think the following are all more important than doing civil disobedience and getting arrested: listening to people; counseling people; helping people understand how ending racism, classism, and other oppressions is central to the struggle against climate change; supporting other people’s leadership; and helping people work together and develop a bigger picture of how effective they can be.

I did get to have several hours of deep conversation with the three men who were in the jail cell with me. I can tell [notice] that this experience moved my re-emergence ahead. I think I learned something about creating unity in a group and challenging authority.

Russ Vernon-Jones

Amherst, Massachusetts, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders in the care of the environment

(Present Time 190, January 2018)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00