Two weeks ago, I was arrested. What?!
Let me begin with some of the basic facts of the event – the action, as we protesters refer to it. I’ve been a part of the climate disobedience team for several months. For that role, multiple sessions have included non-violence training, attorneys, and experienced protesters. I was one of many who were willing to be arrested. There were no guarantees about possible consequences, which included being bombarded with tear gas or otherwise being roughly handled by the police and being charged and/or convicted of a felony.
After a lifetime of being law-abiding, I became a criminal last summer when I participated in my first ‘action’ as part of a climate protest. I trespassed at a coal-powered energy plant in N.H. and helped to remove, i.e., steal, 500 pounds of coal. At that time, I was one of about 20 protesters. No action was taken against us, because the authorities wanted no press.
So, what’s a protester to do, when YOUR goal is press? We gathered more protesters, hundreds more, set a date (Saturday, September 28, 2019), and contacted the police in advance to let them know we were coming. The result was that by 9:00 am that day, the power plant was surrounded by dozens of uniformed police, both local and state, heavily armed, many in riot gear, plus a police helicopter overhead.
More than a hundred of us were willing to be arrested and dressed in our ‘uniforms,’ white tyvek suits (hazmat), carrying white buckets. We carried the buckets, with which we had removed coal on our prior visit, although we were told it was highly unlikely we would get anywhere near the coal piles.
Another hundred and fifty people who did not want to be arrested were there to support us, marching with us, rallying, giving speeches, singing, cheering with us until we crossed the giant ‘No Trespassing ‘ signs.
I just had an Alice’s Restaurant moment, you know, that old Arlo Guthrie folk song, where Alice’s Restaurant isn’t mentioned until well into the song. So, this paper is about the other person’s perspective, but I haven’t gotten to that part yet. It’s coming.
I’m leaving out a lot now about the hours of protesting in the sun at the front gate while some of us – not me – were being arrested on the other side of the plant. We were facing a huge fence, impossible to climb or trespass. At the back, there was only a short gate to get through. By 3:00 pm, we were hot — those hazmat suits act as personal saunas. I was tired, out of energy. We had a brief conversation among us to decide next steps. I felt ready to call it a day, go home, but somehow realigned, deciding it wasn’t yet time to quit.
Two to three dozen of us in our white suits headed to the road and walked the mile towards the back of the plant. When we arrived at the head of the short street leading to the piles of coal, there were three police cars blocking the entrance, the police officers outside of their cars. Knowing the road was public, we held another brief meeting among us. The No Trespassing signs were another quarter mile up that little street.
We linked arms, walking in groups of 2-3, singing what had become our theme song, 🎼 “Some people say, ‘That’s not my problem. Some folks do what must be done.” 🎼 Clearly, we were doing what must be done.
We arrived at the short gate with the giant No Trespassing sign. In case there was any doubt, the police officers on the other side told us firmly that, if we did cross that gate, we would be arrested. There was a moment’s hesitation, then one woman went over the fence, a man crossed under, and I crossed between the metal bars, followed by dozens more.
Just before I did, the police officer immediately in front of me looked me in the eye and said, “Please don’t do this.” All I could see was his humanity. Too often we are exposed to examples of police brutality, but I didn’t experience that. Then again, we protesters were mostly white. I saw a human being who wanted me to act differently, but respected my right to take this action. Was I a recipient of white privilege? I think so.
I crossed through the gate anyway. As soon as I did, he said, “You’re under arrest.” This became for me a moment frozen in time. I saw that my younger partners-in-crime had been told to sit on the ground with their hands handcuffed behind them. I thought, if he does that to me, I won’t be able to get up. My arresting officer turned my bucket upside down and asked me to sit on it. Before he got out the handcuffs, he asked me if I had any shoulder problems. I said no, but thanks for asking. Then, he gently pulled my hands behind me, asking if the cuffs were too tight. Was I a recipient of age bias, in this case, privilege? I think so and, I’m embarrassed to admit, I was glad to accept it.
We spent about 45 minutes there before being taken to jail. My first court date was November 18, 2019.