On Monday, December 21, 2015, six grandparents sat in six rocking chairs on the access road to the Geyer well in Adams and Middlesex townships. We had no intention of allowing any Rex traffic to pass; most of us were prepared to be arrested if it came to that.
This was, as far as I know, the very first instance of nonviolent direct action with a civil disobedience component carried out by fracktivists in Butler County. This was not a Marcellus Outreach Butler action, though many of the participants are affiliated with MOB.
Why did we do it?
As the action was wrapping up I engaged one of the other grandparents in conversation and she said something that is very powerful: "We don't do this because we think this one action will stop the well. We do it because we are obligated to say no."
While I'm pretty certain that many of the other grandparents, like me, hoped that our action would make Rex reconsider drilling near Mars Area schools, I am absolutely certain that none of us thought that this was even a remote possibility. But, as Berry suggests in the quote above, our "own hearts and spirits would be destroyed by acquiescence" if we didn't do it.
As research evidence piles up, it becomes clearer and clearer that fracking doesn't belong anywhere near people, other living things, water, air, or soil. In the months and weeks leading up to our action, a number of powerful studies were released that linked proximity to fracked wells and low birth weights (Pitt), problem pregnancies (Johns Hopkins), and cardiac visits to emergency rooms (Penn). Duke University released a study linking proximity to a fracked well and decreased property value. Low sperm counts have also been linked to proximity to fracking sites (U. of Missouri).
I applaud the powerful work done by the Mars Parent Group, who have bravely waged a tireless effort to organize and educate the residents of Adams and Middlesex. I am grateful to the residents of Middlesex Twp., the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Clean Air Council, who are fighting the Geyer well with the only state sanctioned tools at our disposal: the legal justice system. I am in awe of the people who have been hit with a SLAPP suit but are still speaking out against drilling near Mars Area schools, still exercising their rights guaranteed by our Constitution.
As an elected official, a former teacher of delinquent boys, a father, a grandfather, a person of faith and someone who appreciates and values the ideals of the founding principles of our country, I believe in playing by the rules. But still... rules are made by people, and people make mistakes. When rules allow unspeakable harm or make it more likely to continue to happen, people must not acquiesce.
I think that civil disobedience is a tool that we are going to have to use skillfully to win this fight, but it's only one of the tools. We need the entire toolbox and we need people to stretch from where they are to areas where they are less comfortable. Many have already done some remarkable stretching -- it was a big stretch by many to advocate for your community in front of your supervisors, commissioners and council people; to knock on doors; to show up at rallies and hold signs.
Stretching is what MOB needs to encourage. We've been talking about it for quite some time. We've got some very educated "members" of MOB. They come to every meeting. They are engaged. They have their hearts in the right place but, maybe, some don't stretch. We need to get the folks who are educated to stretch -- e.g., to do file reviews, to monitor streams or air quality. We need folks who attend our rallies to stretch -- maybe to plan a rally. I love it when people say, "Can you think of something creative we could do about (for example) the trucks on Cliff St. in Butler?" I'd love it even more if they'd stretch and say, "I'd like to organize something around Cliff St., could you help me pull that together?" Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone who attended our meetings said, "You know, that program on pipelines was really good. Can I contact my friend Tim DeChristopher about doing a presentation on..." (Alternate: "You know, this presentation on pipelines was really good. I know a guy who could do a presentation on... (fill in the blank); shall I contact him and see when he's available?")
The fracktivist toolbox in Butler County was opened just a bit wider on December 21st. Let's hope that it's just the beginning.