Breaking the Law to Bear Witness to an Evil

Written by Robin

Topics: Coal

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Check out this letter from Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben calling for mass civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill March 2, 2009. Click here to sign up to receive updates about participating in the action,

There are moments in a nation’s — and a planet’s — history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we hope some of you will join us in Washington D.C. on Monday March 2 in order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill.

We will be there to make several points:

  • Coal-fired power is driving climate change. Our foremost climatologist, NASA’s James Hansen, has demonstrated that our only hope of getting our atmosphere back to a safe level—below 350 parts per million co2—lies in stopping the use of coal to generate electricity.
  • Even if climate change were not the urgent crisis that it is, we would still be burning our fossil fuels too fast, wasting too much energy and releasing too much poison into the air and water. We would still need to slow down, and to restore thrift to its old place as an economic virtue.
  • Coal is filthy at its source. Much of the coal used in this country comes from West Virginia and Kentucky, where companies engage in “mountaintop removal” to get at the stuff; they leave behind a leveled wasteland, and impoverished human communities. No technology better exemplifies the out-of-control relationship between humans and the rest of creation.
  • Coal smoke makes children sick. Asthma rates in urban areas near coal-fired power plants are high. Air pollution from burning coal is harmful to the health of grown-ups too, and to the health of everything that breathes, including forests.

The industry claim that there is something called “clean coal” is, put simply, a lie.But it’s a lie told with tens of millions of dollars, which we do not have. We have our bodies, and we are willing to use them to make our point. We don’t come to such a step lightly. We have written and testified and organized politically to make this point for many years, and while in recent months there has been real progress against new coal-fired power plants, the daily business of providing half our electricity from coal continues unabated. It’s time to make clear that we can’t safely run this planet on coal at all. So we feel the time has come to do more–we hear President Barack Obama’s call for a movement for change that continues past election day, and we hear Nobel Laureate Al Gore’s call for creative non-violence outside coal plants. As part of the international negotiations now underway on global warming, our nation will be asking China, India, and others to limit their use of coal in the future to help save the planet’s atmosphere. This is a hard thing to ask, because it’s their cheapest fuel. Part of our witness in March will be to say that we’re willing to make some sacrifices ourselves, even if it’s only a trip to the jail.

With any luck, this will be the largest such protest yet, large enough that it may provide a real spark. If you want to participate with us, you need to go through a short course of non-violence training. This will be, to the extent it depends on us, an entirely peaceful demonstration, carried out in a spirit of hope and not rancor. We will be there in our dress clothes, and ask the same of you. There will be young people, people from faith communities, people from the coal fields of Appalachia, and from the neighborhoods in Washington that get to breathe the smoke from the plant.

We will cross the legal boundary of the power plant, and we expect to be arrested. After that we have no certainty what will happen, but lawyers and such will be on hand. Our goal is not to shut the plant down for the day–it is but one of many, and anyway its operation for a day is not the point. The worldwide daily reliance on coal is the danger; this is one small step to raise awareness of that ruinous habit and hence help to break it.

Needless to say, we’re not handling the logistics of this day. All the credit goes to a variety of groups, especially EnergyAction (which is bringing thousands of young people to Washington that weekend), Greenpeace, the Ruckus Society, and the Rainforest Action Network. A website at that latter organization is serving as a temporary organizing hub: http://ran.org/get_involved/powershift_and_mass_civil_disobedience_updates/. If you go there, you will find a place to leave your name so that we’ll know you want to join us.

Thank you,

Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben

7 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. tonetek says:

    It’ll be good to draw attention to how coal fired power stations are contributing so much toward global climate change. If it means breaking the law then I’m all for it – as long as the law-breaking doesn’t go too far. Good luck to all involved

  2. Guy Mendes says:

    I want to take part in the March 2nd protest, but I cannot attend the Powershift conference. How do I sign up without paying the conference registration fee?

  3. Uncle B says:

    America is wind and solar rich, coal and nuclear have on place in civilized mans world!
    Think of your sons and daughters and grandchildren every time you use foreign oil! If not for unstated but very true facts of American life and the foreign oil supply, Iraq would never have happened! It is a Saudi obligation completed by George Bush! As oil grows scarcer in the world, the Saudi and OPEC demands get higher! Who do we invade next to appease them, Iran, or do we give up Israel to make them happy enough to ship oil to our shores? We must quit this “mercenary for oil” position and get real about Wind see reference below:
    There is as much wind power potential (900,000 megawatts) off our coasts as the current capacity of all power plants in the United States combined, according to a new report entitled, A Framework for Offshore Wind Energy Development in the United States, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and General Electric. http://www.capecodtoday.com/news246.htm01/01/09
    And remember:
    If the U.S. had chosen to be a moral people, and leaving Iraqi oil alone, and following Al Gore, decided to develop the South Western deserts, with the technology of the times – solar/thermal-molten sodium – electricity installations, for the same amount of money as that war cost, ($650 Billion), today, we would be tapping into the largest, renewable, sustainable, PERPETUAL, energy source the world has ever known. It would have paid every energy bill in the U.S.A. for maintenance fees only – FOREVER! It would be equivalent to an oil field that can NEVER run dry! Low cost electric power, and storeable hydrogen gasoline replacement from the electricity, for all!
    After the millions of murders, and $650 billions of dollars, borrowed from our children’s futures and pissed away, with thousands of our own and others maimed and disfigured for life, millions of families utterly destroyed, ours and theirs, we are no closer to Iraqi oil production than the Iraqis are!
    The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman, stand at a microphone and threaten YOUR safety with someone ELSE’S weapons, remember what you lost America, remember, and weep! (also see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan)

  4. THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS EVIL

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  6. Seshaya says:

    As a Newbie, I am always searching online for articles that can help me. Thank you

  7. Marie Law says:

    You people and all your followers are very brave, I would like to commend you on your convictions and actions, which will be looked upon by future generations as heroic. Your efforts will have another positive benefit it will change the way people view Americans. I hope that the new administration is on the side of good as well. It seems that good people everywhere, people that want to save our planet are fighting short sighted, weak, and immoral politicians, many of which are being bought off by the rich oil corporations. More power to you!

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  1. Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben call for mass disobedience March 2 at Mediacology
  2. Portland Green Streets » Blog Archive » January & February - Events & Opportunities

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