There’s a lot of celebration in my corner of the world today.
Last year, my friend Jay O’Hara and his friend Ken Ward bought a lobster boat, christened it the Henry David T, and used it to blockade a harbor at Brayton Point in southern Massachusetts. Their enemy wasn’t the invading British, or an advancing navy—they were staving off the arrival of the Energy Enterprise, a freighter carrying 40,000 tons of West Virginia coal. They called it the lobster boat blockade, and plastered the boat with a sign saying #coalisstupid.
Because that coal, when delivered to the Brayton Point Power Station, was destined to be burned, releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gases and contributing to the climate change that may well make the earth uninhabitable by humans. Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s climatologist, says it’s utterly imperative that the coal stay in the ground if we’re to have any chance of slowing climate change.
So they blocked it. Not forever, but for a day. In so doing, they broke a bunch of laws, broke a bunch of unwritten rules, and got a lot of attention for the cause. People started paying attention to Brayton Point, and they started making noise.
They, with others, got the plant’s owner to agree to close it in 2017. This is the largest coal-burning plant in the Northeast, and it’s going away. Thanks to the movement they kindled.
What about the trial?
Last year, Jay and Ken started working up their legal defense, and they decided to use a necessity defense: asserting that their actions were ethically mandatory because, basically, a livable planet is necessary for us all.
(thanks to Alex Krogh-Grabbe, who shared that image for my tune: Jay O’Hara of Bourne)
Jay and Ken explain the necessity defense, and their reasoning, really well.
Lobster Boat Blockade / Climate Trial
Today was the trial. I had a lot of hopes and prayers for it, and here’s what I wrote last night:
They blocked a coal delivery to Brayton Point Power Station by anchoring their lobster boat in the docking slip last year. Their quiet, peaceful, non-violent direct action sparked a movement that has led to Brayton Point’s owners announcing plans to close it.
Now they’re on trial for breaking the law to protect the planet. They’re using a necessity defense, which basically says that the harm of inaction outweighs the harm of action.
Jay is one of the most humble, faithful people I know. He’s a dear friend, and I desperately wish I could be there with him in the courtroom. Please send light and prayers and energy for Jay, Ken, their friends and families, and for the jurors who’ll be asked to consider their case.
Today, the news was shocking.
The District Attorney, Sam Sutter, dropped the conspiracy charges and reduced everything else to civil infractions, carrying a $2,000 fine and no jail time. The trial is over, and the DA implicitly accepted the necessity defense by choosing not to prosecute.
But there’s more.
The DA said, in his press statement, “The decision that … I reached today was a decision that certainly took into consideration the cost to the taxpayers in Somerset, but was also made with our concern for their children, the children of Bristol County and beyond in mind. Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced. In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking.”
The DA also announced that he plans to attend the huge climate rally in NYC in two weeks. Allies in unexpected places. But it’s wonderful to be reminded that, in a world full of terrifying wars and anguishing news, a world where individual people are ground beneath the boots of hatred and oppression, a world of fear and anxiety and hopeless disconnection, that it’s still possible for a few people to plant the seeds of change together.
There is, of course, more to be done. There will be other direct actions, other trials, and other tough choices to make. But today, for the first time, there’s legal precedent for the idea that sometimes peaceful, non-violent direct actions to save the planet aren’t just admirable…
… they’re necessary.
Read more about the #lobsterboatblockade and #ClimateTrial at www.lobsterboatblockade.org.