Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Image may contain: 4 people, including Benjamin Heim Shepard, people sitting
ON our way to Albany with an old friend! Andrew Boyd #CuomoWalkTheTalk
Top photo of this writer about to be arrested by Andrew Boyd, second by Erik
McGregor, bottom by this writer. 

“We have free buses from across New York!”
That’s what the announcement declared.
It was around my birthday last year that Kim told me about the action the Sane Energy Project was organizing called, #CuomoWalkTheTalk.
I got in invitation for the action declaring:
“In a time of record-shattering hurricanes, with our federal government bought and sold by the fossil fuel industry, states like New York must lead fight against climate change. But for all his talk, Governor Cuomo is taking too little action. That’s why on April 23rd, New Yorkers from across the state are descending on Albany to tell Governor Cuomo to walk the talk on climate. From Rochester to Rensselaer, Buffalo to Brooklyn, we will join forces to demand 3 bold actions to fight climate change, create jobs, and ensure justice for all:

1.    Stop all fracking infrastructure projects

2.    Move to 100% renewable energy

3.    Make corporate polluters pay

Governor Cuomo says New York is a “leader” on climate change and that it is “gross negligence” not to address climate change. He also says that he has taken “decisive action.” However, the reality is that New York is drastically behind on our renewable energy goals. Only 3% of New York’s electricity comes from wind and solar. Cars, trucks, buildings, and other sources (aside from the electric grid) make up 80% of our emissions — but we're falling behind on cutting back there, too. New York continues to be a conduit, storage, and dumping ground for the fracking industry, harming us and our neighboring states. This not only contradicts our goals but the principles of Environmental Justice, human rights, and stewardship of the Earth.
On April 23rd, join this energetic and family-friendly march and rally outside the Capitol building that will include an opportunity to participate in a civil disobedience action. This will be the largest climate rally ever directed at Cuomo in Albany. Join us in demanding that #CuomoWalkTheTalk and get New York #OffFossilFuels!
Learn more about three campaigns in New York to meet these demands: Stop NY InfrackstructureOff Fossil Fuels, and NY Renews.
…We will all be marching alongside many campaigns of various kinds – and all of the partners involved in planning this event are excited to be teaming up to put united pressure on Governor Cuomo on these general demands. See you on April 23rd!”
So, I signed up to get on the bus to Albany.
My bus would leave from Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues at 8 AM on April 23.
So I rode my bike over after getting the kids on their bus and subway rides to school, saying goodbye for the day.
I sat on the front, pulled out my labtop and started writing about the action the day before, researching the background on the CCPA, the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act, one of the goals for the day.
Sitting writing, I look up and my friend Andrew Boyd is walking on the bus.  We’ve known each other since 1999 with the global justice movement, working together with Reclaim the Streets, An Absurd Response to an Absurd War, talking about actions, movement ebbs, flows and aesthetics over the last two decades.
Over the years, Boyd has written countless books about the existential dilemmas of organizing. He was the first activist I know to casually refer to Hegel and direct action. Clashing forces are part activism, dialectical forces merging, shifting, and evolving, all part of “[t]he agony of being connected to everything in the Universe,” suggests Boyd in a post on Daily Afflictions.
 “What is to give light must endure burning,” Boyd quotes Victor Frankyl.

“Many of us have set out on the path of enlightenment. We long for a release of selfhood in some kind of mystical union with all things. But that moment of epiphany–when we finally see the whole pattern and sense our place in the cosmic web–can be a crushing experience from which we never fully recover.
Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. You can not turn away. Your destiny is bound to the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.
To seek enlightenment is to seek annihilation, rebirth, and the taking up of burdens. You must come prepared to touch and be touched by each and every thing in heaven and hell.”
When I was seeing a psychotherapist in the Upper West Side, I gave him a copy of Andrew’s post-modern self help book and he loved it.   I had to hear for session after session how clever Andrew was.  Sigh.
I know, Andrew is very very clever.  I know.
I asked Andrew why he was on the bus despite the existential conundrums he sometimes feels. “I like the three goals,” he explained. “Rolling back fracking infrastructure, Move to100% renewable,  Make polluters pay.  They’ve been gaming the system. Very important issues. NY is way behind where it could be.  We’re a blue state not acting blue on this issue. I like NY Renews, their coalition, not looking at just one aspect of the problem. They take a jobs justice and transition thinking, a smart progressive frame and politics. This could be the largest climate rally in Albany history.  I choose to throw my tiny body to these mass moments where the added value will go further.  It feels like this could be a place where we could punch through.  Feels more useful than the usual action.  Its got cd, a free bus. I think its smart they are starting with identifying an environmentally racist proposed project… Sheridan Hallow.”
When we arrived in Albany, the organizers planned to begin in the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood of Albany, a few blocks away from the State Capitol Building. Governor Cuomo’s Power Authority has proposed to build a polluting new fracked-gas plant in this environmental justice neighborhood to power the Empire State Plaza. The proposed fracked-gas project is one of the many fossil fuel infrastructure proposals that organizers demand Governor Cuomo halt across the state, demonstrating the need to move to 100% renewable energy and make corporate polluters pay for the transition.
Boyd and I chatted the whole day to Albany, brainstorming about ways to talk about the climate with skepticsLast time I saw him at an action was at the COP21 in Paris.
We recall some of our favorite chants through the years.
“This is what democracy looks like,” in Seattle.
The deconstructive:
“Three word chant, four words are better,” during the actions proceeding the Gulf War.
“Eat your props, eat your props,” during the French block for peace in 2003.
And, of course, “Tous ensemble, tous ensemble, oui, oui, oui!”
Nicah stands up to tell us about the plan of action for the day.
Arriving in Albany, we assemble in front of the proposed gas plant.
I run into friends from far and wide.  There was Benjamin Schwartz, who I got arrested with at Esperanza Community Garden in 2000, and JK, who was also there.   We took a bust trying to stop the Spectra Pipeline two years ago. I ask JK why she is doing the action.  “Everything is alive and talking to us all the time,” she explains.
What group am I supposed to join, I ask Erik, the amiable photographer at every action. You are with the red, he explains.
Go to Monica and check in.
Monica, the living theater direct action demo diva, is wearing red getting everyone organized.  She gives me a red banner and suggests I write down what or who I am doing the action for.
“For my kids’ kids,” I write.   Its up to all of us to create a more sustainable model of living for future generations.
Standing there, I run into my friend Gabriel Reichler, a high school student involved with the Sunrise Movement.   On his armband, he wrote: “I am taking action for NY, my life long home and my favorite place in the world.  And for all the diverse people who live here and in the world.”
A banjo player is singing some old Pete Seegar songs.  It wouldn’t be a fracking demo without some Pete Seegar songs.
Others sing: “Seas are rising in this land we love and so are we…”
And, of course, they are right. Seas appear to be rising at much higher rates than previously believed. But there is a lot we can and must still do.

A man is carrying a sign that says:
“Hey Cuomo,
Climate Change,
System Change,
Or Office Change!”

The governor’s support around this issue is weak.
People say it all day long.  He talks a good progressive game and clogs up solutions for labor and the environment with his own political calculations.
Cynthia Nixon, who is running against the governor, is there at the rally.  Photographers swarm.  She chats with activists.
The speak out starts.
The climate is in crisis, notes one woman. Cuomo, your empty rhetoric does not count.
One man talks about Sheridan Hollow, where the state closed a trash plant in 1994 when the governor saw ash floating into the snow from the plant.  Today, the state wants to build another gas plant here, bringing more cancer, toxic emissions, and health related issues.  Its  complete disregard for the neighborhood.    The gap between what the governor says and does gets bigger every day. WC Fields said, never give a sucker a second change.  We have to take the same approach with Cuomo.  Lets hold the governor accountable.  There is nothing more fundamental than clean water and air.
We know that you can talk the talk governor.  Now its time to talk the talk, speakers repeat over and over again.
The rally ends and we begin the march, full of signs, art, and mobilization banners, chanting as we make our way to the Capital.
Walking there, Andrew and I run into Zach, our friend who was recently arrested for attempting to disrupt congress, during the debate over the tax bill.  Last fall, he was arrested four or five times, during those actions.  With each action, our actions formed a sort of crescendo of sound.
Zach, Andrew and I talk about the reasons everyone is here.  “I came here because Andrew and you said to come,” noted Zach.  “I have done lots of activism lately.  But this is a way to get climate back on the agenda.”
Walking we talk about French movies and the best way to watch these movies.
“Without talking,” declares Zack.  His favorite movies of late, include:
Les Amants du Pont-Neuf
The Fire Within by Louis Malle
Shoot the Piano Player by Truffaut
Sunday and Cybele by Serge Bourguignon
The Seventh Seal
And of course, Point Break with Patrick Swayze and Keneu Reeves.
What about Godard?
No.  Awful.
Not Alphaville.
What about Pierrot le Fou by Godard?
Zack is not having it.
Neither Zack, nor Andrew are taking a bust.
I’m beginning to wonder if I should?
Apparently, there are no rides home.

Arriving at the Capital, they are holding a rally with more speakers.
I’m beginning to lose my energy and sit down.
Jessica, the police liaison taps me on the shoulder.
Ben, the red group is sitting over there.
I walk over.
Everyone is sitting under a tree.
Each of the different groups are entering the building “in four organized groups to move us through security in a swift and organized manner,” note the organizers.  “Please note: do not bring wooden sticks, instruments, or any metal items you don’t want to be confiscated.”
“You guys brought too much stuff,’ notes Jess, asking us to put everything but our identification in plastic bags.
When we are done, I sit under the tree again, thinking about the times we stormed the capital as a group with Housing Works in 2002. We filled the space with noise, drums, spontaneous chants erupting in the air. But this is a different movement.
“Hurry up and wait,” notes Patrick, laying under the tree to get away from the sun.
The plan, “[o]nce inside the Capitol building, we will converge on and around the Million Dollar Staircase, a large interior space open to the public that is close to the Governor's office, where we will make our demands loud and clear. Activists who have participated in direct action training for this event and are willing to risk arrest will then commence a non-violent civil disobedience action with our collective support in a nearby location. We encourage everyone to stay and support as the protest escalates, but people and/or organizations may wish to leave at this point as trained volunteers will be taking non-violent direct action to send the Governor a message that he must Walk The Talk On Climate.”
Once inside, it takes forever to get through security.
And all the different groups entering get separated.
The police will not let us through into the Million Dollar staircase.
So we sit in outside the governors office, sharing stories about why we are here.
Everyone has an idea of how to hold the space.
Most of us are content to sit and tell stories.
Monica leads in a storytelling session, explaining why we are here.
Stories are abound.  This takes an hour and only a few of us have been detained.
Who do you have to blow to get arrested around here David Feinberg once lamented, waiting for the police to arrest everyone during a similar ACT UP sit in in Washington.
So we sing songs and chant.
One of the organizers doesn’t want us to sing,
“This Land is Your Land.”
So we sit.
Andrew snaps a shot of me and says goodbye.
Their bus is leaving without me.
My bones start to ache.
Not enough padding, I lament to the elder woman sitting by me.
I know.
And Monica leads us in a yoga stretch.
Someone gives us water.
I pass it to my friend to the left.
I can’t drink it, she explains.
I’ll have to pee.
I look at her, wanting to stay serious.
TMI, she smiles at me.
Its fine.
We sing, we shall not be moved, clapping hands with more freedom songs.
Dave tells us about some environmental activists who successfully used the necessity defense in Boston. We cheer the victory.  There are not enough of them. And the planet is still heating.
The governor is nowhere to be seen.  I’m not sure if he or anyone else hears us.
It takes a lot to get his attention.
Gradually, 51 of us are arrested,
All except us.
So we play childhood games, singing and clapping away.
And, the capital police come to arrest us.
I love their hats.
“You do this much?  You come down here a lot?” my arresting officer asks.
I change the subject.
Its better not to fight with someone when your arms are locked.
Within an hour, the police thank us for speaking up and let us go with desk appearance tickets.
I don’t feel deterred at all, notes a college student with purple hair from Bard College.
The sun is shining, a bright light color as we leave.
Ken, an amiable photographer from my neighborhood, has agreed to share a spot in his car for me.
So I say goodbye to JK and Erik and Kim and my other friends.
And make it back to NYC, chatting for the next three hours, munching chips and pizza.
We're not sure if the action is going to have any impact. But as Zack said after getting out of jail in Washington, at least we can say we did everything we could do. Hopefully we have. 
Hopefully, we can slow the rising tides.

The next day, the organizers ask everyone to tweet out the message:

TODAY: make the voices of 1000+ New Yorkers marching on the Capitol Building even louder by calling @NYGovCuomo at 877-235-6537. Gov. Cuomo must end all fracking infrastructure, move to 100% renewable energy, and make big polluters pay!
🌎✊ #CuomoWalkTheTalk

Organizers asked those engaging in civil disobedience to leave their bags and cameras with them, so they could hold onto everything.  And i stopped taking pictures.

Photojournalist Erik McGregor took the following photos as we entered the capital to begin our action.  He writes: "More than 1500 people took the streest of Albany and marched fom Sheridan Hollow to the Capitol Building on April 23, 2018 as part of the "Cuomo Walk The Talk" day of action, governor's seat candidates participated in the protest, Democrat Cynthia Nixon marched the streets of Albany and Green Party's Howie Hawkins marched and got arrested later at the Hall of Governors in the Capitol Building. Actor and activist James Cromwell was also among the 55 people arrested at the Hall of Governors in a non-violent act of civil disobedience, demanding Cuomo to stop all fracking infrastructure, move to 100% renewable energy, and make polluters pay. (Photo by Erik McGregor)."

Last arrest. 

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