In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

Progressive Christian Social Action

In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

For the past several weeks, I have been going to Sacramento on Mondays to join in the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrations at the California State Capitol. Similar demonstrations are taking place across the country at over thirty state capitols and in Washington, D.C. The campaign’s website summarizes its goal and purpose: “The Poor People’s Campaign:  A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.” By uniting these interrelated issues, this campaign is helping to create the diverse and broad coalition that we will need to transform the system that underlies them all.

Last Monday’s action at the California State Capitol with the Poor People’s Campaign was about human health (including a call for health care for all) and the health of the environment (including air, land, water, climate justice). It included strong leadership from Indigenous brothers and sisters, some from Standing Rock. They covered the statue in the capitol rotunda (of Queen Isabella giving Columbus the world) with a parachute that said, “All Nations, One Fight.” After the police took the parachute, thirteen people surrounded the statue and were finally arrested and taken to Sacramento County Jail. There was lots of singing, a strong spirit of unity and people power, and great diversity. Next Monday the focus will be on economic justice.  I will be there.

During this forty-day kick-off, hundreds have already been arrested for nonviolent direct action, including in Sacramento.  These “moral witnesses” have been willing to put their bodies on the line to call attention to the violence and injustice of today’s Domination System, the interlocking network of political, economic, military, police, and ideological institutional “Powers” that rule the world today.   This coming Monday it will be my turn.  Some of my grandchildren will be with me.  I want them to know in their bones that their grandmother loved them enough to take whatever (nonviolent) action that might be necessary to bring about systemic change and to secure their future.

I have been preaching, speaking, writing, organizing, and taking action for peace, justice, and environmental sanity for years.  I have been arrested many times.  I practice prayer and other spiritual disciplines to stay physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually fit so that I will be ready and “awake” when the time comes for me to act.  I seek the Spirit’s guidance in discerning not just what needs to be done but what I am called to do.  I especially look for those instances where there is an outbreak of Spirit, those times when there is an uprising of people power, those historical moments “when the impossible becomes possible.”  Now is such a time.

 

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Standing Rock Trial Update: Court Solidarity Success

Progressive Christian Social Action

Arrested at Standing Rock on Nov. 11, 2016

Standing Rock Trial Update:  Court Solidarity Success

One year ago today, I was arrested at Standing Rock Reservation with three local friends–Janie Kesselman, Shirley Osgood, and Christy Hanson–and over twenty-five other people at a Water Protectors’ action.  We were taken to several different North Dakota jails, then released on bail.  We all went back to our homes, dispersed around the country, and awaited our trials.  Mine was scheduled for December 8, 2017.

Most of us pleaded “not guilty” to the misdemeanor charge of “obstructing a government function.” We hired our own lawyers or were assigned public defenders, who worked closely with the Water Protectors Legal Collective, the group that had given us legal training and paid our bail.  The Freshet Collective also gave us support.  They looked us up and put us in touch so that we could communicate with each other directly.

We refused to consider any offers from the prosecution that did not include us all, and held fast to our right to a jury trial.  By doing so, we were engaging in “court solidarity,” a tried and true legal tactic for practitioners of active nonviolence.  The purpose is to take the struggle for justice to the courts and to act in solidarity with each other to protect the most vulnerable among us from being targeted with disproportionate fines or jail time.  In this case, Indigenous people would have been the most likely to be targeted, but court solidarity also gives a degree of protection to anyone who might be targeted on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, class, age, gender identity, sexual preference, disability, etc.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, as we were beginning to make travel arrangements to return to North Dakota for our trials, we were offered a settlement that looked pretty good.  Many of us who were arrested together consulted together online, and when we were all agreed, we accepted the offer.  It’s called a “pre-trial diversion,” which means that we don’t have to travel back to North Dakota, plead guilty, or pay fines.  We do have to pay the standard court fees of $350, but that mostly means forfeiting the bail that was already paid.  And we each have to donate $100 to a North Dakota Charity.  I sent my donation to the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo, North Dakota.

We also had to agree to six months of unsupervised probation, with the only stipulation being that we avoid any other criminal charges.  This part of the agreement concerned some of us, who feel it is important to maintain our flexibility, because you never know when strong and courageous nonviolent direct action might be necessary.  But according to my lawyer, it is unlikely that arrests in another state for nonviolent action would be reported to Burleigh County, North Dakota.  Regardless, he said, “You could probably go back to North Dakota and rob a bank and they’d still not renew this case,” because the courts are so ready to be done with the backlog of these cases.  After the six months, our cases will be closed and we won’t have a conviction on our records.

This was a court solidarity success.  But now we all must stand in solidarity with anyone else who faces charges related to Standing Rock.  The authorities can’t deal with all these cases, but they would like to make an example of someone.  Judge Merrick, who was scheduled to be my trial judge, threw a 27-year old man and a 64-year old woman in jail a couple of weeks ago. They weren’t even given time to get their affairs in order, but were remanded to jail immediately.  See more about these cases here.

Meanwhile, Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota who grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation, is being charged with inciting a riot, and he faces five years in jail, despite the fact that Standing Rock was a strictly peaceful and prayerful encampment.  See a short film about his case and sign the petition to drop his charges here.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline was constructed illegally and is pumping oil illegally.  The fight is not over yet.

Thanks to all who gave so generously to my three local friends and I to help us raise money for our legal fees.  Because we don’t have to go back to North Dakota for trials, we have extra money left over, which we will split between the Water Protectors Legal Collective and the Freshet Collective.  If you donate to these organizations, you support other people facing trials for charges related to Standing Rock as well.

As I wrote in Love in a Time of Climate Change:

“Regardless of the outcome of the struggle, Standing Rock has become a symbol of Indigenous resistance to the degradation of creation for the sake of profit. It is also a model that will be replicated as people seek to protect the rights of Native people and the gifts of creation in this critical time. Standing Rock represents the much larger struggle of bringing peace, justice, and healing to the earth. It demonstrates that when people come together in peace and in prayer, there is hope that creation may be protected and justice may prevail against the principalities and powers of this and any age.”

See Sharon’s previous blog posts about Standing Rock and resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

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Standing Rock Victory and Trial Updates

Progressive Christian Action Blog

Standing Rock Victory and Trial Updates

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People who have supported the Standing Rock Sioux in their struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline are celebrating a victory, as we hear the news that a federal judge ruled on June 14 that the Army Corps of Engineers must review the permits that allowed the pipeline to go through.  President Donald Trump had signed executive orders speeding up the approval process of both the DAPL and the Keystone XL pipelines, but this ruling is yet another example of Trump Administration policies that do not stand up under scrutiny by the courts.  Fortunately, there are still judges who rule based on laws to protect people’s rights and the commons, laws that were often put in place through the democratic process fueled by people power.

Trials against water protectors and allies who stood with them are proceeding.  Many have been dismissed.  Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II and Council member Dana Yellow Fat were acquitted by a jury.  The trials of those of us who travelled to Standing Rock from Nevada County have been postponed until November or December.  My trial is now scheduled for December 8.  Our lawyers are still working with the  Water Protectors Legal Collective, the organization that bailed me out after spending four days in Burleigh County Jail.

I join my prayers with the Standing Rock Tribe and with people around the world in joy at this partial victory and in hope that justice will prevail.  In words from my new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change,:  “Regardless of the outcome of this struggle, Standing Rock has become a symbol of Indigenous resistance to the degradation of creation for the sake of profit. It is also a model that will be replicated as people seek to protect the rights of Native peoples and the gifts of creation in this critical time. Standing Rock represents the much larger struggle of bringing peace, justice, and healing to the earth. It demonstrates that when people come together in peace and in prayer, there is hope that creation may be protected and justice may prevail against the principalities and powers of this and any age.”

See more of Sharon’s blog posts related to Standing Rock, including posts about her arrest and upcoming trial. 

Read the full excerpt, Indigenous Resistance and Standing Rock here, from Love in a Time of Climate Change.

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Another Dam is Not a Solution to Climate Change

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An area of the Bear River that would be submerged by the Centennial Dam.

The excessive rainfall that we have experienced recently is something that we can expect with climate change.  As average global temperatures rise, weather patterns are thrown off balance. We can’t know whether a particular extreme weather event is caused by such warming, but we do know that it makes such events statistically more likely. In recent years, there have been thousands of record-breaking weather disruptions all over the world.  As air warms, more water evaporates, drying out the land and causing drought, as it has here in California.  Clouds carry this additional moisture, making storms more likely. This results in the excessive rainfall, super storms, typhoons, hurricanes, and floods that are creating disasters on every continent.

Recent storms have stressed the Oroville Dam to a point where 200,000 people had to be evacuated.  I grew up in Oroville while the dam was being built.  My family and I lived just a few blocks from the Feather River.  As kids we spent most of our summer days there. The dam flooded habitat of plant and animal species.  The fish ladder and hatchery were built to counteract its toll on salmon and steelhead.  The dam also flooded our upstream swimming sites and areas where local teenagers used to find arrowheads, that is, the ancient homelands of the Maidu people of the region.  My Maidu step-brother Lee, whose mother was born on at the Moorehouse Rancheria near Oroville, still lives there.  When the dam failed, his grown kids and grandkids evacuated and joined him at his house above the dam.

Nevada County responded to flood evacuees with great generosity.  Now that people are returning to their homes and the immediate danger has been alleviated, we can hope that the damage will be repaired and people will be safe.

Now our community is facing another dam-related challenge: the proposal to build the Centennial Dam near Colfax and create another reservoir on the Bear River. This project is being billed as a response to ongoing climate change. We can expect many more such proposed solutions as the planet continues to warm.

Recently my husband and I spent time with our daughter and several grandchildren at a nearby campground on the banks of the Bear River, in an area that will be submerged if the project goes forward. Concerned people opposing the dam displayed maps and charts showing the areas that would be taken by eminent domain, destroyed, and submerged: 125 existing homes, trees and native plants, downstream waterways, ecosystems and various species that thrive here. Members of the local Indigenous community told the children stories and demonstrated traditional uses of particular stones found on the river bank, then invited everyone into a circle for a ritual of protection for all the beings who inhabit this place, and for our descendants who will come after.

Whether or not to build this dam is a climate justice issue. From one perspective, another reservoir makes sense, since precipitation is less dependable and the snowpack no longer ensures a continuous supply of water. But there would be great social and environmental costs, including the loss of people’s homes, destruction of Native cultural sites, loss of habitat for many plant and animal species, damage downstream to fish and other wildlife, and the forfeiture of people’s ability to enjoy this unique part of the natural world. Furthermore, logging the trees, bulldozing the plants, scraping the soil, building the dam, and flooding the region would release stored carbon into the atmosphere and eliminate the carbon sequestration function that the living trees, plants, and soil provide. There are alternatives that would avoid these social and environmental costs, including recharging groundwater that has been depleted by over-pumping. This dam is an example of a so-called solution that exacerbates the problem of climate change.

This proposal to respond to climate change by building a dam, along with the controversy it is generating, is an example of difficult policy decisions that will face us for the foreseeable future. It is also an example of a regional struggle to prevent ecosystem destruction, block further carbon pollution, and link the rights of Indigenous people with the rights of the earth. For people who live nearby, go to the SYRCL website at yubariver.org/ to find out more and send your comments.  This struggle may yet become another example of people around the world doing what we can to preserve the integrity of the places we call home.

Preparing for Trial in North Dakota

58408707190cf_800x686-56195462478UPDATE:  My trial has been postponed until February or March, because there are so many court cases.  Shirley’s trial is now scheduled for Jan. 31, together with Janie and Christy’s.  Their trials could be postponed as well.

 

As the New Year approaches, four of us from Nevada County who were arrested in November during a nonviolent action near Standing Rock are preparing to return to North Dakota in January for trial.   The lawyers we have retained are in touch with the Water Protectors Legal Collective, the legal team that bailed us out of jail and keeps us updated about trials related to Standing Rock.

My trial is scheduled for January 13, so it’s coming up soon.  My lawyer is trying to have it rescheduled to January 31, so I can travel and go to court with Janie and Christy, whose trials are scheduled for that date.  Shirley’s trial has not yet been scheduled.  Evidently the courts are overwhelmed, so my lawyer says that some of our cases may be postponed or even dropped.

But trials are moving forward.  According to the Water Protectors Legal Collective, “Criminal prosecutions of the over 500 Water Protectors who have been arrested since August are moving forward rapidly, amidst an extremely hostile criminal legal system.  Hundreds of Water Protectors will be in court during the next few weeks.”

The first trials related to Standing Rock were held these last two weeks of December.  The first case was continued because the prosecutor had failed to provide the defense team with evidence that could exonerate the defendants.  Several other cases were continued due to the holidays and the difficulty of getting to court because of the recent blizzard.  On December 20, those who appeared had a jury trial, were found guilty, and were sentenced to 10 days in jail.  All 10 days were suspended for those willing to pay $500 to Morton County and $500 in court costs.  According to the Legal Collective, “Though disappointing, the sentence is much better than the plea bargain the prosecution had offered prior to trial.”

We will see how these cases proceed.  Each case is different, and the charges vary.  I am charged with “obstructing a government function” (I thought I was obstructing a corporate function).  It is a Class A misdemeanor, the most serious, carrying a penalty of up to one year in jail, though I doubt that the sentence will be that harsh.

I welcome the opportunity to “speak truth to power” through the court system in support of the water protectors at Standing Rock.  By standing up for what we believe and refusing to be intimidated, we discover the strength we have.  By acting for justice in solidarity with others, the way forward becomes clear.  Both personal and social transformation become possible and hope becomes a reality.

For those who are able to make a year-end donation:

Donate to the Crowdfunding Site for our Legal Fees.  This is tax-deductible because it is being administered through local nonprofit Earth Justice Ministries.  Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we are close to our goal of raising enough money to pay the up-front fees for our lawyers.  Additional funds will go towards travel and lodging as we return to stand trial.  Funds that we don’t need for our trials will be donated to the Water Protectors Legal Collective.

Donate to the Water Protectors Legal Collective, which paid our bail, are working with our lawyers, and are keeping us updated about trials related to Standing Rock.  They are also raising money to assist people with travel and housing who need to return to stand trial.

Donate to the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the main camp at Standing Rock.  As of today, they are not accepting any physical donations except firewood and cash.

 

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 Find previous blog postings about Standing Rock.