Above photo: Banner dropped at the action.
NOTE: The following report is an update to the action last June in Harrisburg, PA when activists protested inside and outside the state legislature against Senator Gene Yaw, Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, for his close ties to the oil and gas industry. Here is the initial report on that action: https://popularresistance.org/environmental-activists-protest-senator-over-fossil-fuel-corruption/
In their recent trial, people arrested at that action used the necessity defense, which is rarely allowed, and succeeded. Here is a first hand account of the outcome.
Harrisburg, PA – I wanted to update everyone about what happened yesterday in Harrisburg and all that led up to it.
We assembled a crack legal team that included a consultation with Bill Quigley, a nationally known civil liberties attorney who had written an amazing article about the necessity defense; Mark Goldstone, another one of those nationally known civil liberties attorneys (who works out of DC); David MacVeigh, a retired PA criminal attorney; and Ronald “Jack” Read, a Pittsburgh based attorney who was to act as our lead attorney.
As some of you may have heard, Jack died a little more than a week before our trial. It was heartbreaking to lose such a young and inspiring man of passion – he was only 31. This morning, as I was reflecting on all that happened, tears that had been waiting for this all to end finally came. I miss Jack.
David, a retired attorney, stepped up to shepherd us through the trial – 5 of the 6 defendants went pro se (they represented themselves). Mark consulted with us right up to a few hours ago.
I was inspired by the arc of this entire action.
One of the main goals of our action planning was to build a cadre of folks willing to act fearlessly through nonviolent direct action (NVDA) in the face of the twin threats of climate catastrophe and corruption. We didn’t want our action to be a “one off.” Our vison was building a targeted campaign with clear goals – one that was persistent, always escalating. We also wanted to build the campaign across fights and attract people from across Pennsylvania.
Recently, I had a conversation with George Lakey. George is an author of many books – including How We Win, activist of 6 decades, teacher, and an octogenarian with a wealth of experience in bringing about change.
I asked George about our “brokenness.” Is it too late to do anything?
George reminded me that times like these are ripe for change. He reminded me of the 1930s and the 1960s – they were times of great upheaval, violence, repression, and war but, but also times that changed the US fundamentally.
What was it about those times?
People organizing across fights, thinking strategically, being relentless, escalating, demanding justice.
I think that perfectly expresses the vision we had for these actions.
From PAC’s (Pennsylvanians for Action on Climate – a play on Political Action Committee, the formalized bribery infrastructure used by the billionaire class to buy our politicians) infancy, way back in December, we vowed to act audaciously. In fits and starts, we came up with two plans – an “inside” action and an “outside” action to reflect the temperaments of our team – and we divided into two groups.
From the beginning, March On Harrisburg and Veterans For Peace were with us. They lent their expertise and helped recruit folks for the inside action. The Ohio Valley Environmental Resistance, Extinction Rebellion Philly, Veterans For Peace / Gamers For Peace and the Marsh Creek group, too, were plugged in and they brought their skills and helped recruit folks for the outside action and, in a twist of fate, the inside action too. It should also be pointed out that the Green Party of Pennsylvania was plugged in too and ended up swelling our ranks on June 13.
I’m not sure what force of nature brought Penn Garvin to us, but Penn proved to be an important addition. She ended up doing a lot of the training.
The two groups continued to meet – separately, but always cognizant that we were complimentary actions. It should also be noted that, even though we were not of the Climate Convergence, we stood in solidarity with them and their demands for climate action.
The “outside” actions came off without a hitch – banners were dropped throughout Harrisburg during the Climate Convergence. Our friends and allies dropped inspiring messages and bold challenges from buildings and bridges. They put our representatives on notice and inspired the rest of us with their boldness and clarity. I don’t know about anyone else, but those actions stirred my spirit, informed my actions on the 13th. I am grateful to them.
The “inside” actions and a related action that followed a week later all happened in the Capitol. One group paid a visit to Senator Gene Yaw, (he’s the chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee who also holds a side gig with a law firm that works with the gas industry – one of the industries that he writes legislation for) demanding that he resign from his side job. Ten people were arrested. The second action, dropped a banner and rained $203 down on the Representatives. The banner read, “You take bribes, the planet dies.” Two (of the ten who participated) people were arrested. A week later, March On Harrisburg carried out an action with 203 cardboard bricks with a message demanding legislators stand up to the corruption or remain part of the brick wall we run into when we try to deal with corrupt politicians. Two people were arrested when they attempted to take the bricks inside. In Pennsylvania, you can gift almost anything to our legislators and lobbyists routinely do.
Six people decided to go to trial. Two of those arrested in Senator Yaw’s office, the two from the House Gallery, and the two from the brick action.
We knew going in that we had a very low chance of winning, one of our attorneys pegged it as a 1 in 100 chance of convincing the judge that we were justified.
Well, we won! Our cases were divided into three separate trials. In each case, the judge found the defendants NOT GUILTY! We were NOT terrorists as the state alleged. We WERE exercising our first amendment rights to petition our (corrupt) representatives in Harrisburg.
True to our vision, we are not done. We are already meeting to plan our next adventure. I hope that if you are not already plugged in, you are inspired by what happened and you will reach out.
As George so rightly pointed out – the time is ripe for change. Will you be part of the mechanism? Join us!