Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Oral History and Movement Building – Strategies and Methodologies at the Left Forum Conference 2016

            On Sunday, I took part on a conference panel at Left Forum organized by Lesley Wood, on the topic of “Oral History and Movement Building – Strategies and Methodologies.”  After consulting with a few of us on facebook, Wood, one of my favorite social movement scholars and organizers, drew up the following abstract:

Amy Starecheski and company at the Left Forum.

There is a hunger for radical history – to give credit to past struggles, to learn from our mistakes and to improve our strategies for the future. Oral histories are a popular method. This panel brings together people who want to think about the possibilities, strategies, challenges and implications of movement based oral history projects. Adam King will talk about the use of oral history as a methodology, and consider some questions concerning the production of collective memory, 'reliability', and the social context of narrative and remembering. His work is on miners and labour struggles in Sudbury, Ontario. Nate Prier is an organizer of sorts in migrant justice and indigenous liberation work in Toronto and elsewhere, and is trying to slowly develop a hopefully useful movement archive for a city that kinda needs one. Benjamin Shepard will discuss the use of oral histories about the AIDS and global justice movements to help organizers reflect on the lessons, meanings and future directions of movements and collective organizing efforts. Lesley Wood is part of an activist-initiated oral history project of the People’s Global Action Network. She is thinking through the different ways to make the project useful to movements.

Adam King -- adkking@yorku.ca, Lesley Wood -- York University, Benjamin Shephard -- CUNY/NYC College of Technology, Nate Prier -- York University, Amy Starecheski -- Oral History Program, Columbia University/ Groundswell: Oral History for Social Change

Left Forum is the largest annual conference of the broad Left in the United States. Each spring thousands of conference participants come together to discuss pressing local, national and global issues; to better understand commonalities and differences, and alternatives to current predicaments; or to share ideas to help build social movements to transform the world.

I have not been at the Left Forum in years.  So it was a great surprise to see how many people and how much energy there was in the space.   Walking in, the socialists were still peddling their newspapers and a man let me know, “James Earl Ray did not really shoot MLK.”  Upstairs, a sign declared: “Trotsky lied and thousands died.”  It’s good to see some things do not change in the left.

Walking up to the session, I met Amy Starecheski, the author of Ours to Lose: When Squatters Became Homeowners. We immediately started talking about the gardens movement and who was where at the auction of Charas El Bohio Community Services Center. Differing accounts offer different names and explanations. Who was not there?  And then there are our memories of these moments.  It seemed the panel had begun before we even got there.

Lesley, who wrote a wonderful essay with Kelly Moore in our book From ACT to the WTO, introduced our session, asking us to reflect on the uses of oral history for movement work.

Starecheski opened the session discussing what works and does not work with oral history research. Oral history is an area with tremendous potential and challenges. The first challenge involves framing what oral history is; it’s a method for telling stories about the past, long recorded archived interviews.  They are retellings of past moments, in the present, intended for the future.  They are intended to be heard by others.  They are interactive, created by the listening and teller.  They are not always consistent.  Stories are embellished, with details given and taken, with each retelling.  “I’ve told a different story every time I’ve been interviewed,” Starecheski confessed.  It is a way to learn how to think about the past going into the future.  Good oral histories mix anecdotes and interpretation, abstraction and thinking, making meaning of our analysis.  For example, she pointed to the Groundswell oral history for social change program.

The limits of the method are many.  For example, it takes a lot of time to interview someone and transcribe the interviews.  And it is not as fundable.  It produces different findings.  It is hard to generalize with these stories.  They produce different findings.  To balance out contradictory accounts produces complex narratives.  They do not produce sound bites. As Francesca Polletta points out, oral histories produce complicated stories. 

They are a great tool for building empathy and larger structural forces, forming a bigger we.  They are a great way to learn from past organizers and build intergenerational knowledge.  Yet, claiming the authority of stories is hard in a world that puts a premium on quantitative knowledge.  Numbers and statistics are the currency of the realm of much of social science and medical research.  But there are other ways of knowing, which oral histories help demonstrate. This is a method that is full of affective power.  It is a great way of learning and building relationships and consciousness raising. 

Starecheski offered a number a wonderful resources, including upcoming workshops, groups, and guidelines for exemption for oral history from IRB’s.

Nate Prier offered a lovely overview of an oral history project around No One is Illegal in Toronto, trying to build movement history and preserve it. Adam King reflected on a study he conducted of union members reflecting on a union campaign in which differing people have strikingly divergent accounts.  What happens, he asked?  Are we saving face?  You have to deal with tensions between divergent accounts.  It is our job to help make the stories and differing accounts divergent.  Memory is socially mediated, he explained. It is narrated.  And this is subject to power. These stories are not just objects of the past but are social phenomena that help shape the future.

            Throughout the event, audience members asked wonderful questions about ethics and approaches to protecting sources and supporting alternative forms of knowledge production, which favor different kinds of stories and accounts of activists from multiple points of view.  We talked about ways to include more voices, inviting impacted community members to help identify questions.  Listening, I recalled the conflicts between narrative and historical truth I first grappled with twenty years ago in my research.  I was going to go on Studs Terkel’s show in Chicago.  But it did not happen.  So I listened to Studs interview Tennessee Williams, who reflected on Blanche Dubois, who famously argued, “I do not tell the truth, I tell what ought to have happened,” in Street Car Named Desire. 


            It is our obligation as oral histories and supporters of movements to protect those who are sharing their stories, remembering people are in jail, and we cannot create evidence that might keep them there longer.  On the other hand, we are not supporters of propaganda.  Instead of sugarcoating, we need to learn from the past errors, collective dynamics, and contradictions that inform conflicts. We need to include these contradictions and make sense of them.  Oral histories need to happen.

            I was the last to speak at the panel.  I recalled some of the heroes and friends from my quarter century of Oral History research.  My first oral history was with my father about the Beat Generation in which he was a member.  That realization that history was everywhere around us, and we could each play a role, and have an impact, that changed my life.  I began the session recalled the Holocaust Oral History Project and the Pitzer History Project which taught me methods during my historiography class senior year.  The rest was and is, as they say, history.

Oral History and Social Movements, From Chicago to San Francisco and the world.

Goethe said there is no past and future as much as an ever flowing present.  I think about this when I do organizing. Its always been my point, through eight books based on oral history methods and a quarter century of organizing.  Throughout these stories, I find through lines between my life and the movements in which I have been involved.  Malcolm X once said you have to know where you come from to know who you are.  Through oral histories, we participate in some of this process of collective memory creation, preservation, and myth making.

Martin (1996: p.8) has attempted to integrate social work and oral history on the basis of: a) obtaining information where little evidence exists or where documentation is suspect, b) revising history in which conclusions are suspect; c) protecting against loss of history; and d) collecting data to paint a holistic pictutre of biopsychosocial functioning.  Each story highlights the integrity of distinct points of view (Kissinger, 1995).  With each project, I have asked, how does organizing work?  What does it do?  Why are we doing this?  Where do we find ourselves in this work?

My first social work internship at Chicago Area Project in 1995-6 had helped galvanize the point.  As part of my orientation, I learned about organizers associated with the project dating back to the 1930's.  The organization’s founder University of Chicago sociologist Clifford Shaw collected oral histories of delinquent youth, documenting their stories to highlight the multiple dimensions of their worlds and the various impacts on their lives.  The lesson from Shaw’s work was that there is no need to remain detached when one listens to these stories, especially if one listens carefully with an eye toward changing social conditions (Shaw, 1930). Reading the stories of Clifford Shaw and his work with delinquent youth, I was lulled into participation.  

By the second year of my time in Chicago, I followed Shaw’s calling, interviewing many of the organizers who had worked with him starting the 1930’s.  One of the first interviews for my oral history was with Billy Brown, a short then 86-year-old African-American women with short - curly brown hair and animated eyes.  She explained what she had learned about neighborhood life from Clifford Shaw.

“I think Dr. Shaw felt that this was yours.  This was my plot where I belong so I want to make it the nicest part of my life and the nicest part of my entity to live here.  It was just like a castle, like a castle that belonged to you.  And he felt that each person.  Just wherever you went that was your home.  If you were a part of it, you lived there. Its small neighborhoods, that's what it was, small neighborhoods.  And he felt that you could organize wherever you went, you could organize.  And this organization could be your castle” (quoted in Shepard, 1997A).

A love for community was intricately connected with her story. 

Brown was not the only member of CAP to reflect on the group’s neighborhood emphasis.

Another organizer with the group, Tony Sorrentino, recalled Clifford Shaw's understanding of community:

Shaw's approach was, sure he wanted to bring about change in the community but he believed very strongly in the notion that the way you do that is by neighbor helping neighbor.  And so that was his experience of growing up in a very small town in Indiana in the early days of industrialization.  He would give us such examples, if somebody's farm or home burned down, the neighbors all automatically came together, they didn't apply for a grant or call in the government.  They just did it themselves.  Likewise, with the delinquent, he'd get out of line, they didn't call in juvenile court.  They just handled it informally.  So he hoped that some of these forces of the primary community of the rural

small town could be utilized in efforts to deal with the problems of an urban community” (quoted in Shepard, 1997A). 

Saul Alinski (1989) argued every campaign begins with an issue which galvanizes those impacted to organize. “I think that Saul Alinski and the Industrial Areas Foundation did a very, very excellent job of community organizing,” noted Arthur Brazier, a Pentecostal Minister with of the Apostolic Church of God  and founder of the Woodlawn Organization, where he worked with Alinski (see Fish,  1973). Noted for successfully organizing a campaign to push back the development of the University of Chicago in the Woodlawn Neighborhood of Chicago, Brazier was recognized as one of the most effective organizers in history when he died in 2010.    For Brazier, organizing is about identifying issue, not enemies.  “I think what you do is you identify a series of injustices.  I never did look at the University of Chicago as enemy.  I looked upon something that they were doing as something that was not beneficial to this community.  And I didn’t look upon slum landlords as enemies. I looked upon slum landlords as an injustice that had to be dealt with.  As a Christian I do not want to identify anybody as an enemy.  That creates a lot of animosity in your thinking.”  Rather, Brazier viewed issues as the glue, the passion which brings people together to move a campaign. “Its my view that organizing does not happen by snapping your fingers.  People do not organize just for the sake of organizing. Unions do not organize just for the sake of organizing.  You organize for a reason.  The reason does not mean that you are trying to locate an enemy.  The reason is you are trying to deal with some injustices that are happening.  And you want to deal with that.  You deal with that better if you organized as a group rather than trying to deal with it on an individual basis.  I worked very closely with Alinski, for years.  I didn’t see the people who we were opposing as enemies.  I saw us opposing certain objectives to certain kinds of systems that I thought needed to be changed.”

For me, much of organizing began in San Francisco with the AIDS movement, in which organizers were forced to contend with constant losses while moving forward.   My first oral history project began there, busing around town collecting oral histories about the roots of the AIDS movement, in gay liberation organizing. I wanted to talk about AIDS, but they wanted to talk about gay liberation and creating a community in the decade before the epidemic began.

Cleve Jones, who organized with Harvey Milk and later founded the Names Project, recalled. “So when I was 17 sort of coincidentally, because the Quakers were grappling with the whole issue of gay rights, I met a number of the real pioneers in the movement and then I went back to Phoenix and joined the gay liberation group there.  It was a very repressive dangerous situation and I was very anxious to move to San Francisco.  The spring of '73 was when I hitchhiked up here.  I don't remember the day I met Harvey, I just know I met him on the street on the corner of 18th and Castro.  He flirted with me and I told him he wasn't my type.  When he started running for office,  I wasn't really into electoral politics.  I was quite the little radical boy.  I lived in a communal house in the Haight/Ashbury, worked as little as possible and went to all the clubs. It was an incredibly exciting romantic time because it was brand new, so everything about gay people was brand new.  I am only 40 but I do remember the old days.  I just barely experienced them but I remember that when I came out of the closet, there were only two gay bars in Phoenix.  One was in the back alley and there were no windows or doors.  It was just amazing to come here and other gay people were coming here from all over the country.  There was just this electricity, this knowledge that we were all refugees from other places and we'd come here to build something that was new.  I'm sure I romanticize it and idealize it but I remember it as a very happy, remarkable time.

Cleve suggested I talk with Hank Wilson.  He had lots to recall about the gay liberation years, but he was also deeply involved in working to house people with HIV in an old, speed infested HRO.  He was acutely aware of the losses everyone was enduring. Of all the losses people endured, it was the fabric of friendship disappearing which wore at those I interviewed.  It was opening a book of photos and seeing that most of the images of friends from pride parades throughout the years, from Harvey Milk to the mid-1990s, hundreds of those friends were gone.  “All gone,” one interviewee recalled (Shepard, 1997).  Hank Wilson recalled friends he used to trust when he entered a community meeting:

I see some incredibly strong people who aren't here. I have a lot of sadness. I have people that I used to call up at night and we would bullshit and talk. I don't have people like that now. That was fun and I still remember that. I still value that. They are a strength. I think I've been very lucky. I've worked with some incredible people. I remember a group of people who moved this community forward, who asked the hard questions. They weren't career politicians or career in the industry. It used to be that I would go to a community meeting and I would look around and I would see two or three honest ethical people in there. It didn't matter, you knew if they were present. I still think of them when I go to a meeting and I want to be powerful.  We gave each other support. We're at the right place at the right time to make history… (Shepard, 1997).

In Wilson’s narrative, loss extended from friendships to collective memory and practices, stretching across time, impacting Wilson and his activism long after death.

 I was swept up on that narrative, spending the next decade or my life steeping in AIDS / queer organizing around halt the epidemic and the stigmas surrounding it, making friends, getting arrested, making connections.  In my first arrest ever, I went to jail with Sylvia Rivera, Leslie Feinberg, Charles King and Keith Cylar of Housing Works.

I became close friends with Cylar, who was himself HIV positive.  He sat for an oral history about friendships.

BS:      When did HIV/AIDS first cross the path of your life?

KC:     1984, and ’83, when I was in Boston and a very good friend that I had met.

I had developed an incredible network of young black gay professionals, that were my core group of friends.  It was an awesome support group of people that were gifted and lovely.  In 1983, the first of our group died from some rare blood disease – it was AIDS, only the world didn’t know it.  As the epidemic began to show its true nature, we became increasingly uncomfortable.  And at some point around then, we began to count the years of unprotected sex and drug use against the years of monastic life behavior, knowing all the time that any one of us could be the next.  And one by one they died.  Of that circle, I happen to be, I believe, one of the last ones still alive, and I’m infected and scared. 

In sharing their stories people are offering gestures of friendship.   Here, the interplay between experience and recollection, narrative and history, interviewer and interviewee helps us to consider the intangible and often messy subject of friendship and social change.  “Anyone who gives you enough to talk about himself to you is giving you a form of friendship,” confesses journalist Lillian Ross (1999, p. 58), in her memoir.  “If you spend weeks or months with someone, not only taking his time and energy, you naturally become his friend.  A friend is not to be used abandoned; the friendship established in writing about someone often continues to grow,” (p.58).  The interviews which form the backbone of this story serve both the form and content of the larger end of this ethnography.

            Through these stories, we connect through lines between movements, those who participated in the anti-war movement and gay liberation who joined act up, who later joined reclaim the streets and the global justice movement, and Occupy, and Black Lives Matter.

Last week, I interviewed Andrew Boyd of the Billionaires for Bush or Gore.  He talked about his first bust at the Livermore Laboratories thirty years ago with Daniel Ellsberg and Wavy Gravy, connecting the anti-war movement, the ludic Yippies and the antics of the global justice movement in one space.

            Friday, I talked with Bertha Lewis, who organized with ACORN.  She recalled AIDS demonstrations, the theater of the civil rights movement and the millennials who are taking their passion and running with it. 

            Yesterday, as we were getting arrested at the AIM Pipeline, a young seminary student was busy reading, us stories from,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, involved with an assassination plot to kill Hitler.  This activist suggested we all have to live and be part of history, however we can. Its our obligation.  Through these stories we learn how.

            We all have something to learn from each other, locating our narratives within larger stories of organizing.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Civil Disobedience at the AIM Pipeline, Peekskill, NY ‪#‎StopSpectra‬ ‪#‎ResistAIM‬ ‪#‎WeSayNO‬ @SenSchumer and @SenGillibrand ‪#‎keepitintheground‬

 A pipeline explosion near Greensburg, Pa, April 2016.
Do we really want to risk seeing this next to a nuclear power plant?
Salem Township, Photo.
Remember Three Mile Island?  Can you imagine this happening on the Hudson?
I happen to believe an explosion from a pipeline near Indian Point might ignite a similar reaction.

Whose idea was it to put a high pressure pipeline next to a deteriorating pipeline?  That was Spectra Energy.  And the project is moving forward, despite strong opposition.

Last week, even Naomi Klein chimed in on the debate.

"Coming off the largest global mobilization against fossil fuels in history, there has never been a better moment to come together to reject the AIM pipeline -- a project that has united New Yorkers and people across the Northeast not only in defense of their communities, but also around their vision for a just, renewable future. Join the fight (and wear red) in Peekskill at 9am this Saturday -- and on Monday, take the fight to Senator Schumer's office."

JK and a few friends and I drove to the action in Peekskill. We talked about what we wanted, welcoming good spirits and righteous energy for the day’s big action.

When we arrived in Peekskill, the park police were negotiating with activists about where everyone could park.

“Funny how hard it was to get into the park and how easy it was for Spectra to get into the Park.,” noted Monica wryly as we arrived, welcoming everyone into the circle.  “We are here to do direct action.  Lets step up and take power and defend ourselves.  We are teaching them.  How many of you have protested Spectra before?” A bunch of us walked into the circle.  How many of you are thinking of getting arrested today?”  she asked.  Many more of us raised our hands.  People from all over the northeast have been fighting Spectra for years now.  “We live close to the pipeline,” explained Hunken. “The city of Peekskill is against this pipeline. We are fighting collusion with communities defending themselves.  Yesterday, our Senators decided to stand up and say stop this construction along with the Peekskill Mayor.  Yet Spectra has already said they will continue with the project.”

“Shut it down!  Shut it down!” everyone began to scream.

“Come show me why this is a good idea for the city of Peekskill?” asked the Mayor Frank Catalina.  He’s been against it from the beginning, he explained, before ducking off for a wedding.

Monica continued, “I’m gonna tell you the basics.  We are going to process down Welchire  Ave, take a left at Albany Post Road, to the destruction site and line up along there and get ready for the CD, blocking the entrance and exit of the city. Kids from the area are going to lead the procession.

She lead everyone through a know your rights training and we all filled out our forms.

“Non-violence  is an intension in people together, Non-violence to our chore.  We come forward in calm.  Breathe the fresh air, while its still here and remember our intension.   We are here to make a point and keep everyone safe.

I talked with a few of the potential arrestees including Jean Bergman, my friend from my first arrest and the old Housing Works, Fed Up Queers days of the late 1990’s.  JK, my Esperanza buddy was there as well as Shay, a seminary student at Union Theological Seminary.   He showed me his tattoo of St Paul.  We talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, involved with an assassination plot to kill Hitler.  This activist suggested we all have to live and be part of history, however we can. It’s our obligation.  We all have something to learn from each other, locating our narratives within larger stories of organizing.

I spoke with my father and law, Al Smith, who came up for the action.

And a few of us looked at the painting Seth Tobocman made about the story of the pipeline.

“We shall not be, we shall not be moved,” we sang as we walked out, people adding new verses as we walked.  “Pete would be with us, we shall not be moved,”  one man sang in homage to the folk icon who lobbied the governor not to support fracking in New York until his dying breath.

“We say no, we say no, we say no to the pipeline which scars our lands.”

“Get up, get down, leave fossil fuels in the ground.”

Some sang, “No AIM, No AIM, No AIM, No AIM, No AIM, No AIM, No AIM.”

Walking, Shay and I talked about why we were here.  “I’m here to build on Father Berrigan’s legacy,” Shay explained, “I am concerned about the climate as a justice issue, a poverty issue, and a Christian issue.”

Father Berrigan was with us.

“Ain’t no power, like the power of the sun, cause the power of the sun don’t stop,” people chanted.

“I’ve been reading Bonhoeffer,” Shay followed as we walked.  “He had a keep sense of his times, as we must. Spectra, we will stop you.”

Walking to the construction, scratch that, the destruction site, as Monica reminded us, I thought about our bike ride a few years ago to Indian Point with Times Up!  No more Fukishima on the Hudson, declared our banner.

My father and law, who lives in Garrison, walked with us, noting he was not aware that all the construction was right in the town of Peekskill, in the residential areas.

We talked about what would happen if the pipeline exploded like the Spectra pipeline did in Pittsburg earlier this year.

And we all lined up in front of the construction site, with bulldozers in the distance.

Jean Bergman and I talked about why we were here with Democracy Now 

“I didn’t even get to the part about my kids,” she lamented, as we stood blocking the entrance to the construction site. One of the timeless elements of civil disobedience is seeing who shows up and takes part, connecting our past histories of actions with current struggles. 

Jean Bergman with ACT UP and Housing Works, in an office takeover in the late 1990’s.

I got to throw in my soundbite. 

With both the Governor of New York, the two sitting US Senators, and the Mayor of Peekskill calling for an end to the project, we’re left to wonder who is calling the shots, the people or the corporations.  If they won’t stop, then its going to be up to the people to put our bodies on the machinery and stop this project.”

Police eventually came up to warn we would be arrested if we did not leave.  And we said we were staying.

“Arrest Spectra, not the people,” the crowd chanted.

A sixteen-year-old young woman tried to get arrested and the police turned her away. She lives near the pipeline and knows what is at stake.

“FERC don’t work,” the crowd chanted, following up on the point that this regulatory commission has to be more than a rubber stamp.

“Thank you,” the crowd screamed as we were being walked away.

The arrest was simple enough and we only ended up spending a few hours, not days, in the small jail cell, reading the graffiti, daydreaming, napping, and talking across jail cells.  The women sang.  Shay and I talked about Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr

“The affirmation of one's essential being in spite of desires and anxieties creates joy,” explained existential theologian Paul Tillich, as if reflecting on the experience of jail. Tillich was close to point out that god is almost unknowable. 

I’ve always been more in the Reinhold Niebuhr camp.   Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary,” argued Niebuhr, a theologian who ran for political office over and over again, as a socialist.

His point, of course, was germane to today. “The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world,” he argued, condemning fundamentalists on the left and right. “The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism,” he lamented, pointing toward a different kind of democratic engagement capable of solving problems. Democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems,” he counseled.  Democracy is about compromise and listening, explained Tillich.

So we talked and talked and soon enough, Shay and I were released along with the other 21 arrestees. 

Organizers with Sane Energy Project and the community welcomed us as heros.

Soon enough JK and Shay and few other friends were on our way back to the city. JK and I talked about continuing our adventures that we began at Esperanza community garden in the winter of 2000.  We recalled Brad Will, who was with us for that action and is no longer around, killed ten years ago in Mexico. 

She sang a song by Dana Lyons called, Drop Of Water.

There's a drop of water on the wall

 And the drop's about to fall

 And it falls into a trickle

 And the trickle's flowing down

 Down, down, to the ground

 And the moss begins to grow

 Watch, watch, watch watch the water flow

 And watch the current become a stream

 Busting through the seams

 Cracking thorough the concrete

 Bending down the steel

 In a raging that is real

 A tearing torrent you can feel

 Feel the thunder growing, thunder underground

 And in my heart the chain's falling apart

 The wildness in my soul

 And for once in life, for once in life I know

 I'm not alone.

 For the mountains make our bones

 With the oceans in our blood

 Our feet planted, planted firmly in the mud

 We are alive

 The burning embers in our eyes

 The tingling touch upon our skin

 And in the heat of passion we begin to understand

 That we are of this land

 That we are part of earth

 and when it's threatened we will fight for all we're worth.

 We watch the dam

 The dam come crashing down

 Water rushing to sea,

 And now the river

 Now the river

 Now the river

 Now is free

 The river is free.

As I write, activists are going up to Schumer’s office to hold his feet the fire, to push back against FERC.  If they won’t’ listen to the people, he needs to force the issue and not to take no for an answer.

Here are a few more shots of the day.

Patric drafted a press release about the action.

PRESS RELEASE from today's AMAZING action in Peekskill. Thanks so much to the 200 people who came today! And special thanks to the 21 brave defenders who were arrested for standing up against the fossil fuel industry. Together we will build another world.


Twenty One Peaceful Demonstrators Arrested for Stopping Construction on Spectra Energy’s Dangerous Methane Gas Pipeline

Peekskill, NY – Today, hundreds of people stood together to protect the community from the harmful impacts of Spectra’s AIM Pipeline, which if completed will carry high-pressure methane gas through residential communities and within 105 feet of critical Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant safety structures. Neighbors, elected officials including Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina and Councilwoman Kathy Talbot, families, environmental advocates, and concerned New Yorkers marched from Blue Mountain Reservation to a metering and regulating station where Spectra Energy is currently drilling under Route 9; they peacefully shut down construction activities by standing together and preventing Spectra vehicles from entering or leaving the site. Police arrested 21 people.

"We are stopping the Spectra AIM pipeline construction today, to make everyone aware of our environmental and safety concerns about this project, and to show that our voices and opinions matter,” said Tina Volz-Bongar, local Peekskill resident who rallied today against the pipeline. “Our community’s interests must take priority over the financial gain of fossil fuel companies. Peekskill is an environmental justice city, and nowhere has Spectra or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission properly addressed the environmental impacts of the pipeline."

This action comes after years of residents and grassroots groups actively engaging in the regulatory process, only to be ignored by FERC. The City of Boston and several grassroots groups have filed a lawsuit in Federal Court challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval of the project. In February, Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote to FERC asking for an immediate halt to construction while New York State conducted an independent risk assessment of siting the massive, high-pressure pipeline next to Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. FERC denied the Governor’s request, and claimed that a risk assessment by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) showed that the plant was safe. That risk assessment was the topic of a line of questioning by Congresswoman Nita Lowey at a congressional subcommittee meeting where she presented evidence that the assessment was faulty. There is now an internal investigation happening at the NRC regarding the approval. Despite the legal challenges and concerns of numerous high-ranking elected officials, construction has continued on the pipeline for months. Just yesterday, May 20th, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand called for an immediate halt to construction. Spectra’s Director of Stakeholder Outreach, Marylee Hanley, responded that “Algonquin Gas Transmission resumed construction on the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project in April and will continue with its construction.”

The AIM pipeline poses risks at the local, state, and global levels. At the local level, it poses a serious risk to public health from air pollution, and because of its proximity to Indian Point nuclear plant, a rupture could trigger a nuclear accident. Just three weeks ago, a 24.5-foot section of Spectra’s “Texas Eastern” 30-inch gas pipeline exploded in Salem Township, PA, blowing open a 12-foot-deep, 1500-square-foot hole; it scorched 40 acres and critically injured a nearby resident. At the global level, the AIM Pipeline will also worsen climate change as it will involve transporting and releasing methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Furthermore, the pipeline is unnecessary – while Spectra Energy claims that the project will solve a supply shortage in New England, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey found through a study conducted by her office that Massachusetts could meet all of its reliability needs through increased efficiency and demand response technology.

Now that Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York Senator Charles Schumer, and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have all called for an immediate halt to construction activities the pressure is on FERC to respond to the will of the people and their elected officials. On Monday, concerned New Yorkers will gather at Schumer’s Manhattan office and call on him to build broad Senate opposition, especially from Senators representing other states along the pipeline route, and to continue to pressure FERC to halt construction of the dangerous AIM Pipeline.


Erik McGregor
Erik McGregor took some wonderful photos of the day.

Minister Erik R. McGregor photos and caption.

"Neighbors, elected officials including Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina and Councilwoman Kathy Talbot, families, environmental advocates, and concerned New Yorkers marched from Blue Mountain Reservation to a metering and regulating station where Spectra Energy is currently drilling under Route 9; they peacefully shut down construction activities by standing together and preventing Spectra vehicles f...rom entering or leaving the site. Police arrested 21 people. A crowd of about 200 gathered on the sidewalk in a show of community strength and solidarity with those that chose to risk arrest blocking access to the site. City officials, neighbors and activists remained there until noon, keeping vigil for the health and safety of their community.  
— with Benjamin Heim Shepard in Peekskill, New York."
Actions were spreading and spreading across the country.

While hundreds came out today in Peekskill, hundreds more were doing the same at Spectra Energy's destruction site in West Roxbury, MA!
Hundreds march with Mothers Out Front 5/21 demonstration at the West Roxbury Pipeline --with over a dozen getting arrested. The Mothers Out Front drew the line! Thanks to all of you who came.