Newsletter: Making Protest Personal; Take It To Their Homes

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Above: Potluck protest at Norman Bay’s home in Washington, DC. Bay is the Chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Photo by Jimmy Betts.

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chair John Barrasso (R-WY), a mouthpiece for the dirty energy interests (oil, coal and gas) who donated $674,182 to his campaigns since 2011, criticized Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) for their actions against commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Actions included delivering mail “to their homes” and then visiting the homes of four commissioners to hold peaceful demonstrations. In over-the-top language he called these non-violent protests “extremely troubling, very dangerous.” He also expressed anger at other activists “driving FERC Chairman Norman Bay from the stage in Albany, NY.” Barrasso, keeping up his fear rhetoric, described this as “physically intimidating public officials and their families.”

Potluck protest at FERC chairman, Norman Bey's home in Washington, DC. By John Zangas.

Barrasso pressed Jonathan Peress, of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), to condemn the tactics of Beyond Extreme Energy and asked why they were linking arms with BXE. Peress called the tactics “extremely unfortunate” and “not valid tactics.” The Sierra Club has also been critical of protests at the homes of FERC officials.

These “big green” environmental groups are making a tremendous error by dividing the movement (this is a common tactic used to stop movements) and not understanding that their lobbying power is increased by this type of grassroots activism. Sierra Club and EDF should be embracing BXE and defending their actions.

BXE Valentine to FERCBXE’s protest were non-violent, even friendly. The “mail” that they hand-delivered was a Valentine’s Day card urging FERC to protect the one’s they love. The home visits were potluck dinners offering food to passers-by and neighbors, along with information about their FERC commissioner neighbor. These actions come after FERC has made public participation in decisions impossible. While there is the formal process of submitting comments, impacted communities have found that their comments are ignored. At public meetings, the public is not allowed to speak and is removed if they do so. After the first series of home potluck dinners, FERC closed their monthly hearing to the public and only showed it on web-television, inviting a select group of industry lobbyists to participate directly.

Jill Stein at potluck protest at FERC Chair, Norman Bey's house. By Anne Meador, DC Media Group

Jill Stein at potluck protest at FERC Chair, Norman Bay’s house. By Anne Meador, DC Media Group

FERC commissioners are protected from direct contact with the public, many of whose lives they are destroying. BXE’s nonviolent protests at their homes have never involved any threats to the commissioners or their families. This week Green presidential candidate Jill Stein visited a BXE potluck protest and endorsed their actions.

The only threat is public awareness that a person living in their community is committing communicide by approving hundreds of miles of carbon energy pipelines and other infrastructure that is destroying communities, farms and woodland. BXE also provides information on the science of climate change which shows we need to stop building carbon infrastructure now or risk severe impacts that will displace millions of people and have major environmental impacts. FERC irresponsibly refuses to even consider the climate impact of their decisions. The risk to the commissioners is accountability for their decisions which should shame them.

Holding Officials Personally Responsible is Essential for Effective Advocacy

In fact, protests at homes of public officials and corporate CEOs is a common tactic used widely because it can be very effective. The response of Barrasso shows it is working and should continue. As Saul Alinsky, author or Rules for Radicals, pointed out “any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.” Alinsky would likely urge BXE to keep the pressure on, keep focusing on individuals not FERC and use a variety of tactics to keep them off guard and unsure of what is coming next. BXE has shown the commissioners that they will be held personally accountable by any means necessary. Commissioners should be worried when they speak in public, walk in their neighborhoods or go home.

The blockade of Tom Wheeler's driveway on November 10, 2014. Photo by Elias Weston-Farber

The blockade of Tom Wheeler’s driveway on November 10, 2014. Photo by Elias Weston-Farber

This week the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit upheld the net neutrality rules of the FCC which ensure equal access to the Internet and uphold the principle that broadband providers must treat all Internet traffic the same. Holding FCC Chair Tom Wheeler personally accountable was a key to this victory. Wheeler had been moving to a tiered internet that would be unequal based on wealth. A campaign developed involving a large coalition of groups that produced a record 3.7 million comments. As we neared the end of the campaign, Wheeler was still not supporting reclassification as a common carrier to ensure net neutrality.

Along with our colleagues at Fight for the Future, Popular Resistance decided to escalate our tactics.  We went to Wheeler’s Georgetown home and blocked his driveway at 7 in the morning. The NY Times tweeted, Wheeler was forced to take the Metro, a common carrier, to work. Later that day President Obama came out for the position we were advocating.

Musical performance outside the FCC "Which Side Are You On, Tom?" In the performance Wheeler sand "I with the people and not the telecoms," Source Free Press.

Musical performance outside the FCC “Which Side Are You On, Tom?” In the performance Wheeler sand “I with the people and not the telecoms,” Source Free Press.

The home visit was an escalation of protests that focused on Wheeler personally, to hold him accountable, see, e.g. our musical production of “Which Side Are You On, Tom?

The day after blocking his driveway, Wheeler refused to follow the lead of the President and the millions of people who commented by announcing the FCC was an independent agency and would make its own decision. We escalated again placing door hangers throughout Wheeler’s neighborhood with his photo on them and describing how he was threatening the internet. We also made clear that we would continue to escalate until Wheeler agreed to reclassify.  The FCC called some of our coalition partners to try and divide us, but that failed. Finally, the campaign won when Wheeler announced he would support reclassification as a common carrier and strong net neutrality rules.

An essential part of the strategy was focusing on Wheeler and holding him accountable. The tactics escalated to protests at his home at the key moment of decision-making.

Home Protests are a Common Tactic

Torture tour at CIA director John Brennans home -- a torturer lives here

Torture tour at CIA director John Brennans home — a torturer lives here

Throughout the country public officials and corporate heads have faced protesters coming to their homes. These people are inculcated from the public so they never experience our anger. Bringing protests to their home lets them feel public anger, but also produces shame and ostracizing in their social group. Everyone around them knows what they have done and where they live.

In Washington, DC, Witness Against Torture and CODE PINK conducted a “torture tour” that not only went to the CIA headquarters but also to the homes of Dick Cheney and CIA director John Brennan. They held signs outside their homes saying “A Torturer Lives Here” and “Cheney: I’d Torture Again.” CODE PINK has also held protests at John Kerry’s home over Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. Twenty climate justice activists were arrested protesting at Kerry’s Georgetown home demanding he stop the Enbridge Pipeline from bringing Tar Sands into the United States. John Kerry was also protested outside of his Boston home by people calling for no war on Syria.

Activists critical of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership picketed Sen. Ron Wyden's house in Southeast Portland on Feb. 20. Activists also picketed a home owned by Wyden's wife, who lives in New York City. (Portland Central American Solidarity Committee)

Activists critical of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership picketed Sen. Ron Wyden’s house in Southeast Portland on Feb. 20. (Portland Central American Solidarity Committee)

Some people have more than one home and find protesters at all of them. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has a home in New York City (where he says his wife and family live) as well as a home in Oregon (where he is senator). During the battle over fast track trade authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements, we not only protested in his office with multiple day sit-ins, but we also protested at his New York City home while Oregonians protested at Wyden’s home in Oregon.

Fracking as also been a major source of home visits by protesters. Last month in Vermont, members of the People’s Department of Environmental Justice served an early morning notice of eminent domain at the home of Vermont Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia. The notice stated, “the land belonging Commissioner Recchia is now under the legal jurisdiction of those most severely impacted by the permitting of the VGS Fracked Gas pipeline project.” Recchia looked confused when the protest began as he saw people flagging off major sections of his property and putting up a “fracked gas rig”.

Fracking protest at David Cameron's cottage, by Eoin O'Cinneide, www.upstreamonline.com

Fracking protest at David Cameron’s cottage, by Eoin O’Cinneide, www.upstreamonline.com

In the UK, Greenpeace protesters wearing hard hats and construction gear, fenced off the country home of David Cameron put up a sign saying “We apologise for any inconvenience we may cause while we frack under your home,” and directed complaints to the phone number for Cameron’s office. In 2013, “elves” went to the Illinois governor’s home and set up a “fracking well” on his front lawn. The Colorado governor’s home was also besieged by fracking protesters.

Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan had his condo in Ann Arbor protested over the toxic water crisis in Flint. Protesters performed “Washing Away Snyder’s Sins” which included chants of “Justice for Flint, arrest Rick Snyder” and “Snyder, Snyder can’t you see, this poisoned water’s killing me” as walkers and traffic passed by. And Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin was protested at his home during the Wisconsin uprising. Mayoral Rahm Emanuel of Chicago was protested at his home by people calling for his resignation over police violence.

Kayaktivists floated on Lake Washington in front of Bill Gates’ mansion Saturday to pressure him to reconsider his dismissal of divestment. (Photo by Goorish Wibneh)

Kayaktivists floated on Lake Washington in front of Bill Gates’ mansion. (Photo by Goorish Wibneh)

Not only public officials but also corporate leaders have been protested at their homes. Bill Gates was protested by kayactivists on Lake Washington in front of his mansion by people calling for him to divest from oil and gas. Nelson Peltz, the CEO of Wendy’s was protested outside of his home by farm workers and joined by Robert F. Kennedy’s widow. Greg Baer the deputy general counsel for corporate law at Bank of America was protested outside of his home by SEIU with fourteen school buses of people calling for the end to foreclosures.

During Occupy Wall Street, activists did a “Millionaires March” going to the Upper East Side homes of Rupert Murdoch, Jaime Dimon and David Koch, among others, to urge that they be made to pay their fair share in taxes. They chanted “We Are at Your House,” “Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out” and protested the expiration of a New York’s millionaire’s tax that would produce a $5 billion tax break for the wealthiest. The protest got lots of positive response from residents in the wealthy neighborhood.

These are just a few of many protests at the homes of public officials and corporate heads. Senator Barrasso may not realize it but this is a tactic that is commonly used. And, the tactics used by BXE against the FERC commissioners are likely to escalate if they continue to approve carbon energy infrastructure that threaten communities and the planet.

Protests at Homes Need to be Part of a Campaign, Carefully Used

We are not making light of this protest tactic, going to someone’s home has the risk of backlash. It is important to organize in a way that pulls the public to the movement and does not push them away. It is always important to remember; the overriding goal of protest is to grow the movement.

governor's Ann Arbor condo 1 / 10 Residents of Ann Arbor opened up their homes to Flint residents on May 18 to provide them with a shower. The act was a showing of solidarity between the two cities, in addition to protesting Gov. Rick Snyder's handling of the Flint water crisis.

Protest at Gov. Rick Snyder’s home in Ann Arbor Michigan over Flint Water crisis on May 18.

Such protests have to be nonviolent and conducted in a way that does not inconvenience neighbors but educates them about why the protest is occurring. BXE’s use of a community pot luck is an excellent tactic for making their protests neighbor friendly.

These protests done right put the decision maker being protested in the position of being embarrassed in his or her community. The decision maker will wonder if people in the grocery store or walking in the neighborhood know about the controversial decisions they are making or in the case of FERC, whether neighbors know their neighbor is contributing to the destruction of the planet. This should make them very uncomfortable.

These protests are not the first step in a campaign. They are protests that are part of an escalation after many other tactics have been tried. People should also not expect this to be the final tactic, more escalation is likely to be needed. The target of the protest should expect their unpopularity to grow as well as to expect to be ridiculed.

The People’s Department of Environmental Justice (PDEJ) served notice of eminent domain at the home of VT Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia, in the early morning hours, confusing the commissioner.

The People’s Department of Environmental Justice (PDEJ) served notice of eminent domain at the home of VT Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia, in the early morning hours, confusing the commissioner.

These tactics seek to personalize the issue, to make it less abstract than a federal agency, especially one that is unknown to many people like FERC. The campaign will keep their focus on the people responsible, not let up, continue to escalate and make the person isolated and unpopular. The goal is to maintain constant, escalating pressure so the official pays a heavy personal price for their actions.

To those who claim this type of tactic is extreme, they should be reminded that the stakes are high. In the case of BXE and FERC, the issues are a true existential threat. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) now reports we can expect a nine-foot sea level rise by 2050. We are in a new era of climate change where the impacts are worsening, the temperatures are rising and we must rapidly end the carbon-nuclear energy economy.

Those worried about protests at decision-maker’s homes are focusing on the wrong issue – every coastal community around the world will have to be evacuated by 2050. That is hundreds of millions of people. The focus should be on the ones who are creating this catastrophe. That is why we are protesting at their homes. Accountability for these disastrous decisions is essential.

  • dweightman

    Beginning in 2014, the Earth Quaker Action Team visited the homes of PNC Bank Directors as part of its Bank Like Appalachia Matters campaign, which was aimed at making PNC stop lending and related financing for coal companies using mountaintop removal coal mining. PNC stopped lending to these companies last year. (The rumor is that the PNC Directors HATED the tactic, and put pressure on PNC management as a result.)

  • rgaura

    Thank you for the comprehensive article. I saw Barrasso´s rant online and was outraged. My first thought was for all of the citizens who are sickened, and suffering due to fracking pollution which comes into their homes! It does´t just stay at the door! These public officials need to know that there will be nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide should they continue to betray the interests and health of the populace, as well as destroy and pollute the ecosystems that future generations will inhabit. Shame them, repudiate their actions, and take them to court if possible. They need to understand that a certain amount of privacy is given up by those who would hold public office.

  • Pingback: Newsletter: Making Protest Personal; Take It To Their Homes  - Janet's Good News()

  • kevinzeese

    Thanks for the reminder. I remember that happening. It was an effective tactic.

  • Dariel Garner

    Having been on the receiving end of this sort of action, several times, I think the most important factor is to be nonthreatening and actually respectful of your adversary. You might even find they are open to discussion. Acting in a threatening manner (keep in mind your very presence may be seen as a threat) will probably result in hardening of your target and strong counterattack. Keep in mind that some businesses and agencies have little discrimination between their own legal or illegal behavior and tactics
    Also keep in mind that the people you are targeting may be so far up the ladder that they may even be unaware of the situation. Lastly never assume you know where your adversary stands or why. You might be surprised by the personal ask to find out what their positions actually are and how they can aid your cause..

  • kevinzeese

    Great points.

  • Dona Susy

    I deeply admire and honor the courage and vision of all peaceful activists with their diversity of tactics. It is entirely appropriate that the public officials being targeted for protest be publicly shamed for their failure to protect and defend the public from harm. They should be appreciative for such a reasonable form of protest and consider the alternative of a really angry hoi-polloi mob with pitchforks and torches marching up the street towards their homes!

  • Jon

    Amen to this. Lots of good lessons for us activists in this article!

  • ed2291

    So how has being nice and reasonable worked towards stopping global warming and saving the planet? How did it work for stopping racism? Sorry, these are evil and greedy people and we have to stop being polite. That has been tried for decades without success.

  • ed2291

    This article is great! A suggestion for the future is to list all the “greenwashing” organizations whose main purpose is to make money or elect democrats.

  • kimc

    While protesting has its place, what is even more important is starting to develop alternative energy sources and then implementing them. We need to just run them out of business for lack of interest in fossil fuels. We have not done nearly enough of this. Europe is way ahead of us on alternative energy.

  • BeUtahful

    Awesome! Thank You! Yes these people live here on Earth and they have addresses

  • BeUtahful

    Reminds me of a special on TV the CEO of Mohawk Carpet was protested at his house and he went and talked to the protesters and I’m sure a lot of other stuff happened but that same ceo turned Mohawk Carpet around and started practicing a lot cleaner processes. But not all people will react the same way other tactics are needed peaceful and take them to court if possible

  • BeUtahful

    I’m voting for Jill Stein for President again! Vote your conscience! Change the world!

  • Beyond extreme energy is an organization that itself is unaccountable. FERC does not practice “communicide” and you associate with people who hand out flyers full of misinformation.

  • Beyond extreme energy is itself accountable to no one.

  • kevinzeese

    Orlando is a well known pro-carbon energy activist who has been harassing people working for ending dependence on carbon fuels and working for a clean energy environment. She has harassed and threatened activists for three years and will not be posting on this website.

    Beyond Extreme Energy is run as a collective and the people involved reach consensus for their decisions. They make decisions in a very democratic way. In addition, they reach out and listen to front line communities who are directly impacted by the decisions of FERC as part of their decision making process.

  • kevinzeese

    Orlando is a well known pro-carbon energy activist who has been harassing people working for ending dependence on carbon fuels and working for a clean energy environment. She has harassed and threatened activists for three years and will not be posting on this website.

    People from communities impacted by FERC decisions, whose communities, land, air and water are polluted by fracking participate in Beyond Extreme Energy and join their actions. We have seen BXE literature and they are carefully written to be accurate. We have participated in their actions and consider Popular Resistance to be part of the BXE community.

    Beyond Extreme Energy is run as a collective and the people involved reach consensus for their decisions. They make decisions in a very democratic way. In addition, they reach out and listen to front line communities who are directly impacted by the decisions of FERC as part of their decision making process. Orlando only reaches out to communities suffering from FERC decisions to threaten and harass activists. She will not be given a podium on this website.

  • Michael Bagdes-Canning

    As someone who lives in a frontline community, I can assure you, Ms. Orlando, that FERC does, in fact, commit communicide. Decisions rendered by FERC allow fracking to move forward. Proximity to fracking sites has been linked to low birth weight, problem pregnancies, cardiac admits, lower property values, contaminated water, fouled air, increased anxiety, and a host of other problems. Pipeline decisions linked to FERC have led to eminent domain condemnations, ruining a family business and a pristine protected forest. If you can’t acknowledge those are examples of communicide, I’m afraid you’ve lost your heart – but, from what Kevin says, you may have no soul to begin with.

  • Speaking as someone who participated in a FERC docket with people who handed out flyers full of misinformation that Beyond Extreme Energy works with I’m unimpressed with Beyond Extreme Energy and your attempts to make crap up about me and also to silence me Kevin.