Monday, November 18, 2019

#StopCricketValley, Civil Disobedience and Street Theater in Wingdale NY #Smokestack4

Resist Cricket Valley writes: "Yesterday, impacted residents and supporters from across the Northeast, including local farmers, used a tractor blockade and climbed a 275ft tall smokestack to halt construction of the Cricket Valley fracked gas power plant. New York State banned hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or fracking, in 2014 because of health risks associated with drilling, but Governor Andrew Cuomo has continued to approve gas infrastructure like the Cricket Valley plant which poses many of the same risks.Taking dramatic action, 29 were arrested in an action that included a tractor blockade and four courageous activists scaling the plant's 275 foot smokestacks in a twelve hour occupation."

“There is no need to pollute our air and water by building new electric plants,”
Says the organizers with
“Who will protect the children of Dover Plains from Cricket Valley Energy’s emission and pollution?”
All week my friends from all over the environmental movement in NYC talked about it, corresponding, organizing trainings, activists from Sane Energy Project, StopCricketValley, Sunrise, even Extinction Rebellion joined.
A little background information:
The Cricket Valley Energy Center (CVEC) is a 1,100 megawatt plant under construction in Dover Plains, New York. It will receive out-of-state fracked gas through the Iroquois Gas Transmission System, a pipeline project co-owned by TransCanada and the Virginia-based fossil fuel powerhouse Dominion Resources. Advanced Power, a Switzerland-based private energy infrastructure company, will own and operate the plant. The plant is set to begin operations in 2020.
CVEC has generated intense opposition from community members. The project should raise alarm for a number of reasons aside from its destructive impact on the climate. The plant is largely backed by private equity investors, many headquartered outside the U.S., who see it as merely another medium through which to cash in – even if this happens at the expense of surrounding communities and the environment. -

Recognizing that expanding the delivery of fracked gas in any form commits us to a future that not only destroys our health, food sources, and landscape, but threatens sustainable jobs, locking working families into ever escalating home-maintenance expenses that will crush the average budget, activists involved pledged that as long  as Governor Cuomo, and state agencies do not make our health and safety a priority, they would protect the beautiful waterways, farmland, and air, to stand together in opposition to the Cricket Valley Fracked Gas Power Plant that would increase demand for fracking our neighbors in the shalefields of Pennsylvania as well as impact the land, the water, and the air in our communities for generations to come.  They pledged to engage in acts of civil disobedience to protect the land, water, and land by directly stopping this proposed pipeline expansion project.

Saturday morning, I walked through the eco preserve in Poughkeepsie NY, driving West to Wingdale NY for the action.

Unable to take part in the civil disobedience, I still wanted to cheer the activists, supporting the movement.

We all take part in the movements however we can.

Past farms and open pastures, I drive, in awe of the beautiful land was on the way to the action.

When I arrive, activists are locked to a tractor in front of the new plant.

“As long as our friends are still up there, we are staying here,” announce one of the activists, referring to the  smaller group who’d climbed the 275ft tall smokestack to halt construction of the Cricket Valley fracked gas power plant.

“Well, that’s easy,” said Savitri D, who’d driven up from Brooklyn NY with Reverend Billy and the Church  of Stop Shopping.  “I love short messages.”

“How are you?” I asked Kim.

“We stopped a fracked gas plant!” she declares. “I’m ecstatic.”
Looking  up at Monica and company in  the smokestack above

“We accomplished our short term goal – stopping the plant” another one of the activists, locked  to  the tractor out front.  “Our long term goal of  waking Cuomo’s conscience – it remains to be see if we achieve that.  The state banned fracking yet it continues to build infrastructure for fracked  natural gases.  The emissions from this plant will set back any gains achieved with the Climate and Community Protection Act,” the statewide climate bill passed earlier in the year.

Standing talking to activists, I notice my friend Jean Bergman,  a long time  AIDS activist,  also locked to the tractor. Bergman tells me  she is  taking  part for  two  reasons, first  because of the damage fracking  does  to the climate and  second because  of the damage that the plant will do the  beautiful Hudson Valley. “Cuomo is talking  out of both sides of  his mouth,” explains Bergman.  Standing there, we talk about Bergman’s history in  AIDS and environmental activism.  Its another emergency, notes Berman.  Yet, there is not going to be a technical fix, like the AIDS drug cocktail, which slowed the AIDS crisis. 

“We shut down this gas plant,” declares Kim Fraczek.  The workers went home.   We need a new wave, a new way of creating more sustainable forms of work.

With blue skies and a festive atmosphere, the Tin Horn Brass Marching band performs, “Bella Ciao”, the  anti-fascist hymn of freedom and resistance:

“One morning I awakened
Oh Goodbye beautiful, Goodbye beautiful, Goodbye beautiful! Bye! Bye!
“One morning I awakened
And I found the invader

Oh partisan carry me away
Oh Goodbye beautiful, Goodbye beautiful, Goodbye beautiful! Bye! Bye!
Oh partisan carry me away
Because I feel death approaching…”

The  plant feels like the invader here.

JK and I make plans for a solstice night in December.
Mark and I talking about the two decades since Seattle and the ways history has ebbed in some dark directions, from a festival of creative resistance to bombs, terrorism, permawar and climate chaos. 

Certainly, no one knows the future.

And some even cautiously preach optimism:

For example,

Christopher Kerr, who organizes the Inner Forest Service, sending poems around the world, offers:  “Glad tidings and glimmers of climate hope!  The ozone hole is healing due to international efforts, the two largest coal plants in the U.S. closed this year, the New Green Deal was instrumental in Republicans losing control of any arm of state government in Virginia, and Massachusetts and New York are suing ExxonMobil for its fraudulent messaging and destructive conduct toward our climate.  That said, our government puts more money into oil, gas, and coal subsidies than even the Pentagon ($649 billion vs. $599 billion in 2015).”
Sadly, the day before my 50th year, I’m not as optimistic.
The newspapers don’t write reports about the Poughkeepsie Eco reserve, says my friend Rob. 
There’s lots to be  optimistic about.
There’s also reason for caution,  especially the caution I found the week before  in  DC, when so few people showed up to call out the administration  in  DC.
More need to show up.
Patrick Robbins announces the police had informed them that they were about to start arrests.  If people did not want to be arrested, they should need to step back out of the parking lot.
Across the street from the action, members of the Church of Stop Shopping are singing.
How do you stay up for all this? I ask Rev Billy.
I guess the joyful singing helps?
Billy replies.
Sylver Pondolfino, another member  of  the choir and I  talk a bit.
“I came here today because this is an emergency,” he says.  “We can’t burn anymore fossil fuels. Whatever we can do to get people to move in another direction.  We have to do.”
“I’m here because this plant is going to spew stuff that hurts children with asthma, that could cause cancers, the stuff in the air blowing East, its going to fall to the ground effecting  crops and soil,” vents Mary Lynn Kalogeras, holding  a sign. “We do not need this plant.  Cuomo doesn’t allow fracking  but he allows fracked gas?”
The Tin Horn Brass is playing more music. Named after an uprising of farmers upstate, the band  leads  a call and response with the crowd.
“Kids need –
clear air,
clean water, 
clean skies.”
“Which side are you on, which side are you on?”
“Capitalism is killing  the earth!”
Standing looking at a giant puppet of the earth, a woman announces:
“Mother  earth gives birth!”
A performer  with a skunk mask and a sign runs out from under the puppet of the Gaia.
“Skunk says this is wrong.”
Another puppet runs out,
“People are dying.”
Another runs out:
“Entire eco systems are dying.”
“People are suffering.”
Another runs out:
“Fox says we are at the beginning of a mass extinction.”
Another runs out:
“All you talk about is money.”
The puppet theater reminds me of Bread and Puppet.
“We’re part of their lineage,” says Kathleen Nibius, a student at Vassar with pink hair, supporting the puppets. “Mother Earth needs us.  But we’re failing her.  So its up to us to tell these corrupt businesses its not ok.”
“I can’t believe we have to fight this,” says Fred Gillen Jr, an activist from Croton who has been fighting the Spectra Pipeline. “This is part of the problem.”
“We’re  here to stop Cricket Valley Energy,” says Katrina Stuart, another of the  organizers with the Redwing Blackbird Theater,  a community driven, puppet theater & workshop located in Rosendale, NY.  “We try to spread the  message through puppets.  Fun and playful, sometimes its easier  to digest  the message  with theater,” she tells me. “We use quotes from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist from Sweden.  All our puppets are made by hand with materials we recovered from  the trash, stuff we recycled, from clay and paper mache,  with animals that represent the earth reborn with a newfound awareness, a new truth. The  group got its start from Bread and Puppet Theater.”
“Well this is great theater,” I reply, like most good activism.
“Well its as real as it gets.  Sometimes it takes a little fantasy to make it real,” says Katrina.
“Life is too odd to take seriously right now,” I reply. I guess that’s why the play works.
God knows  we need it.
But we also need the direct action and the organizing.
All of it.
By the end of the day, 29 activists have been arrested.
Resist Cricket Valley writes:
“Yesterday, impacted residents and supporters from across the Northeast, including local farmers, used a tractor blockade and climbed a 275ft tall smokestack to halt construction of the Cricket Valley fracked gas power plant. New York State banned hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or fracking, in 2014 because of health risks associated with drilling, but Governor Andrew Cuomo has continued to approve gas infrastructure like the Cricket Valley plant which poses many of the same risks.  Taking dramatic action, 29 were arrested in an action that included a tractor blockade and four courageous activists scaling the plant's 275 foot smokestacks in a twelve hour occupation.”

Monica Hunken, selfie and caption, 
"After a night of last minute preparations and not a wink of sleep, we loaded ourselves up with backpacks full of rope, zip ties, banners and hand warmers and walked silently under the moonlight into enemy territory; Cricket Valley Energy power plant in Dover, NY.
Meanwhile, our friends were deploying at the entrance, a vintage tractor spray painted neon green and yellow that ten people locked themselves to with chains and steel lock boxes, and radiating out from that; a team of soft blockers, whirling around and stretching out to halt the next barrage of workers lining up along Route 22 at 6am. After a few unsuccessful attempts, we finally discovered the path to the ladder on the stacks, squeezing our packs into the caged cover and painstakingly pulling ourselves up rung by rung almost 300 feet up to the top.

The sun began to rise and we could spot our friends below like a radioactive swarm, drums and singing carried across Harlem Valley over the Great Swamp.
We were no longer hidden by the cover of night and workers spotted us- high alert spread across the plant, a flurry of movement with workers running, pointing and shouting, We saw the plant get shut down piece by piece, the hum of the smokestack ceased. We watched a stream of cars exit as 600 workers were sent home for the day.
But there was still shouting below us, three workers were chasing us up the stacks, yelling at us to come down. I heard them calling to each other- “There’s four men going up!”
At first I panicked and kept climbing and then Creek, a farmer from Seed Song, and I decided to stop and greet them. What did they really think they were going to do? Drag us down? I didnt know.
But they paused on the platform below us. I smiled down at them. I saw his name on his hard hat, Tony, “Hi Tony, how you doing?” and I explained the situation, that we weren’t going to damage any property and would come down when we were ready. They told us they could not run tests or carry on construction of the plant with us being up there for safety reasons. I felt my spine rattle with excitement. The workers were disappointed we weren’t coming down but explained the dangers to look out for up there and headed back, but not without confiscating our toilet bucket first.
At the top, Ben, a farmer from White Pine, 2 miles from the plant, was ecstatic, dancing, hooting and hollering. We began tying up yellow and purple flags along the edge of the platform, a crown of flare, and set to deploy a banner but, having organized this whole thing with practically no budget, the material we got was inadequate for the strong winds up on the smokestacks. We set up a sort of workshop up there in the space between the three stacks, trying out different methods for hanging the banner as safely as we could. In the end, after maybe eight hours of brainstorming and attempts, we decided against it. Workers and police were below us tracking our every move, probably dumbfounded by all our activity. We were delirious from exhaustion and were holding off on drinking much water or food so we could maintain our presence as long as possible, but happy as hell that we made it up and our friends were down below making a ruckus.
The plant, furiously trying to get back on construction deadlines, seems to be working 24 hours a day now in order to be in operation by 2020.
We watched the rally build in ferocity down below, The Stop Shopping Choir arrived in prom dresses like a thread of flowers shaking and swirling their skirts, the Tin Horn Brass Band showed up blasting trumpets with choruses of Bella Ciao. The police were overwhelmed and it took hours for them to call in State police from as far as Albany to arrive on the scene.
From our birds eye view, only being able to see shapes and color, the shift in power was clear. The police moved in militant stiff lines, controlled and sparce. The tractor blockade moved like the earth, flowing rivers, sun rays stretching out in circles and spores, undefinable, mysterious and radiant, sometimes quiet and reverent, sometimes bursting in song and chant.
We witnessed the land around the plant, the winding Great Swamp that Cricket Valley is siphoning for cooling treatments, every now and again a train would pass, directly behind the plant, nothing but a line of trees in between, nothing to protect the land or people from this monolith, this ticking time bomb.
The last of our friends were being ripped out of the lockboxes, the sun rays laid out around the little tractor, defiant and delightful. I could hear echoes of their names- Jeanne! Jeanne! Jim! Jim! Margaret! Iris! as the crowd erupted into cheers while the heroes were being taken away. And then they were all gone off to be processed and we were left alone with the setting sun, the cold getting sharper. We managed to rest for a moment, Creek even fell dead asleep on the platform. George watched in wonder as he was able to move the stack across from us with a gentle push of his foot, it swayed in the wind and we tried not to worry. Sitting on top of a dying industry that is spitting and clawing to stay alive to profit the few. So proud to be there with some of the most humble, non-patriarchical, committed and gentle men I’ve ever known.
We reassessed our situation. We had planned to stay until 6pm but by 4:30pm, people needed to pee and eat something warm. Temperatures were dropping and we had successfully shut down the plant. We began to dismantle and prep to leave.
Just then a helicopter began to fly circles around us. The smokestack started revving up again and they were banging on it down below yelling garbled rants at us, waves of reverberation shooting up the stacks. The cavalcade arrived, about 15 SUV cop cars, a cherry picker, a group of men in army fatigues and climbing gear. One man on a loud speaker began calling up to us. “You’ve made your point. The protest is over. Come down now!”
We slowly began our dissent with the officer on the loud speaker continually demanding- be careful!. and a drone camera taking video of us.
When we got to the cat walk, they took our belongings and brought us all the way down the ground. The military crew went racing up scouting around the top platform to see if we had left anything dangerous I suppose. The zip tie cuffs were cutting off my circulation in the van as I waited for the all the vehicles to clear out and take us to the precinct.
Now it begins, I thought. We’ll be here til Monday at least. I prepared myself for the long weekend alone. But when we pulled into the cutest little precinct I’d ever seen, the arresting officers were complaining about their Saturday night dinner plans and were trying to get us out as quickly as possible. It dawned on me that we were getting DATs- Desk Appearance Tickets and would be released that night. I had never fathomed this outcome. I would see my friends tonight, I would sleep in a bed, I would see the stars that we had grown so close to in our brief stay in the sky. I was the first of the four to be released. Kim leapt out of a car, bright and electric as always and embraced me, followed by a crew of beautiful organizers who had been caring for each other, tending to the action and the post-action driving people out of jail to trains and homes all day long. And still they came to pick us up with love and spirit to share.
It wasnt until I was driving back to Brooklyn the next night, after a day of cleaning up our safe house, I pulled over at a rest stop and hung my head and sobbed in relief and tiredness. We kept our people safe. No one died. We shut down the plant with a rowdy neon burst of life. Power to the people.

Please call Cuomo and tell him to shut down Cricket Valley Energy Power Plant: Call Cuomo @ 877-235-6537
Please contribute to our fundraiser so we can deal with legal fees and cover our costs and be able to keep fighting.


  1. Thank you so much for this sweet sister. We think of you guys often.

    On Mon, Nov 18, 2019 at 11:24 AM Savitri D wrote:
    Wingdale, New York - On Saturday we rose before the sun and streamed across the Harlem Valley to escort a neon green tractor to its position blocking the entrance of the Cricket Valley Energy Center while our friends climbed under darkness, rung by rung up the smokestacks. One by one people locked themselves to the tractor while others arrayed the road with banners and colorful flags. Traffic built up at the entrance as workers arrived for their shift. The singing and chanting began. Police were called, the sun came up.

    We occupied the plant from dawn to dusk. Birds flew over. Shadows came and went. I was struck by the clearness of the air, the brightness of the day, the heightened pleasure we all felt standing for the Earth. Saying NO to more of the same. Watching the gears grind to a halt, however briefly.

    Every time we resist the monoculture, the pollution and the destruction we feel the power of the alternatives-- community, collaboration, complexity, integrity. It is very moving to engage in direct resistance and feel liberated, even temporarily, from the constant compromise of our way of life. It gives us a glimpse of the world we can create.

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