Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Imagine: 100 "Ban Fracking Now!" Protesters Inside the Inauguration of Governor Gas Wolf

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

*Update: it has been brought to my attention that Maya van Rossum of the Delaware River Keepers does mention the word "ban" in her press conference presentation at the inauguration of Governor Wolf. I am happy to make that correction; thank you to David Wood. Here then are my questions for the august Delaware River Keepers:

1. Why--as DRK does not need Pennsylvanians Against Fracking, Food and Water Watch, and Clean Water Action--to advance their legal strategies for reaching a ban on fracking--are they on the PAF board of directors? This can only muddy the DRK message, and it cannot advance their mission. 

2. Will DRK--now that it's clear the pipeline industry will use the legal decision against them with respect to compounding potential impacts across a pipeline corridor to law-suit proof their applications to FERC--alter its strategy consistent with its mission?
Among the best moments of Tom Wolf's inauguration was being able to get up in the middle of his first speech as Pennsylvania governor and shoot a dozen pictures of history when a friend and ally--who has worked tirelessly for his fellows to end the catastrophe that is fracking--stood up for us all to demand it be banned. For that act of courage, he was arrested while Governor Gas Wolf looked smugly on.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

This act of nonviolent civil disobedience is made all the more striking by comparison to the fact that the main organizers of the protest going on outside the inaugural venue cannot even bring themselves to whisper the word "ban," let alone call for one--although they affect a pretense to being serious about doing something about fracking--using words like "halt" or "moratorium" just well enough that many well-intended folks are bamboozled.

Don't get me wrong.

There were a couple of hundred of committed, well-meaning people just outside in the designated "free speech zone" assigned to protest. They were loud. They were awesome. And even though news station WBRE completely ignored them, you could not fail to hear folks chanting "Ban Fracking Now!" in the background of the governor's address.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

These are good folks who spent their own time and money thinking that they're doing something right.

It's the organizers of that "action" who must be called out--for the sake of the folks above

I have thought long and hard about this, and I think the only conclusions that can be drawn about:
1. why the word "ban" has been effectively "banned" 
2. why these so-called leaders weren't inside risking arrest with the rest of us

are that while the leaders of Pennsylvanians Against Fracking (PAF), Food and Water Watch (FWW), Clean Water Action (CWA)--and even the august Delaware River Keepers (DRK) are happy to see other people do the hard work and absorb the hard consequences entailed by acts of civil disobedience, they have

 1. Neither the stomach for what they know must be undertaken as nonviolent civil disobedience to end the conversion of the state into an industrialized gas factory, 

2. Nor the guts to see that the harms perpetrated by this industry are part and parcel of a system that advantages them

3. Nor the foresight to see that legal victories--like those of the DRK concerning cumulative impacts ignored by the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC)--are pyrrhic. Their ultimate effect is instruction to the gas companies about how to draft an airtight application next time.

4. Nor the conviction that fracking really could be ended.

If they held any or all of 1-4, they'd have been inside the inaugural venue getting ready to call out the words "BAN FRACKING NOW!" instead of speechifying, jostling for mic time, or schmoozing it up with Josh Fox. 

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
Imagine what could have been accomplished had 100 people been inside that venue demanding a ban at the top of their lungs. Imagine that news story. 

Why don't we make national news headlines? Because not enough of us do anything to make national news headlines.

This is not to say that everyone should have been inside. There are good reasons for avoiding that risk--for some folks. I get that.

But then there are lame-ass excuses. 

And for pretty much anyone who wants to be in front of a microphone decrying the evils of fracking, avoiding that risk is nothing but excuse.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
Truth is, these would-be leaders simply cannot bring themselves to forfeit the benefits of playing a game that derives its own legitimacy from party politics, the legal system, the economic system. 

Moreover, they're positively advantaged by the "fractivist game" getting to appear like the "rational folks"  compared to the "radicals." This advances their status, allows them to take credit for the pretense of a movement as if sign-ons were members, as if "halt" meant "ban," and as if anything short of a siege of every site relevant to the ongoing destruction of this industry will really make a difference to a governor whose spending agenda depends on gas revenues.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
I am sick to death of this charade

This is wrong, and it must be called out as wrong. 

It's misleading when folks living in the shale fields don't have this kind of time.

It exhausts vital energy we manifestly cannot afford to waste. 

It's dishonest--especially to those folks who made the trip to Harrisburg to stand in the cold, hold signs, and make a din just behind the inaugural speeches.  

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
It's wrong because while we among the "radicals" are doing the real work of what could be a movement but isn't, these "fractivist leaders" effectively reinforce a system that advantages the gas-government-law enforcement-private security firm network that criminalizes the "radicals." 

How do they do that? Through the careful crafting of actions that insulate themselves at press conferences and protests, through the use of all the impotent avenues of petitions, comment periods, and speeches at hearings--and through draping themselves in well-meaning folks who are suckered into believing that the system will work.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

The new governor then gets to maintain the illusion that he's dealing with real grassroots environmental organizations, and is thereby legitimated in not only ignoring the "radicals," but consigning us to "justifiable" arrests for disruption.

By orchestrated contrast, in other words, PAF and company make sure the authorities know they're not us.

And the gas industry laughs at how fractured the movement is, and carries on. 

All of this was driven home for me by a Op-Ed written for Governor Wolf's inauguration by FWW's Senior Political Organizer, Sam Bernhardt deceptively titled " Governor Wolf, ban fracking."

Bernhardt decisively ends any speculation about whether FWW stands for a ban in the very first sentence:

If Gov-elect Tom Wolf is serious about giving our state a fresh start, he needs to make a moratorium on fracking a top priority for his new administration.
A moratorium is not a ban. It's not another name for a ban. It's not like a ban. It's not on its way to a ban.

First, a moratorium exists for the sake of studying the effects of something--and then deciding whether to continue it. New York had a moratorium. They surveyed all the extant health studies. They determined that these were sufficient to make their moratorium permanent. Unless Pennsylvanians are a different species of animal from New Yorkers, the health studies that applied to them apply to us. A moratorium is thus redundant. 

Second, the only reason, therefore, to cling to moratorium language is because somehow the word "ban" is just too hot.

If Bernhardt meant "ban," he'd have said "ban." 

"Moratorium" is a weasel word the intention of which is to soften the message for a recalcitrant governor and thereby retain political access.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
Notably, none of the speakers I heard at the press conference prior to the inauguration--Karen Feridun (PAF), Maya van Rossum (DRK), and Sam Bernhardt (FWW)--used the word "ban." It was as if they all had exchanged reassurances before the event that they were going to use the word "halt" or "moratorium"--and they stuck to their script.

Bernhardt actually weasels even more a few lines later when he claims that "Wolf is stepping into a landscape where he would be hard-pressed to justify not placing a moratorium on new fracking" (my emphasis). So--FWW's position is apparently not to do anything about the fracking already going on--its infrastructure--the pipelines, the compressors, etc. All the moratorium aims at are new permits--leaving the industry in tact--and in your yard. Combine this with--as Bernhardt mentions in passing--Wolf's 5% extraction tax, and what you get is an industry more determined than ever to make those wells produce--at the cost of your health.

Fourth, Bernhardt insists that "[o]ne of the biggest challenges  [Wolf] faces is maintaining the support of an emboldened Progressive movement in Pennsylvania," and that "nothing short of a moratorium will keep that base together for four years." We have no reason to believe that. After all, even those strongly opposed to fracking voted for Governor Gas Wolf--and even after they knew he'd taken money from the gas industry. Many issues may keep or break the Progressive movement, but the fact is that folks voted for Wolf because he wasn't the other "Tom," and being a "progressive had little to do with it. 

The crazy thing is that Bernhardt acknowledges precisely this point earlier in the Op-Ed: "being the guy whose last name was not Corbett turned out to be a big help [to Wolf's election]." So--which is it Mr. Bernhardt? That Progressives actually care about getting a moratorium--or that Wolf can look forward to being re-elected so long as he's not more disastrous than Corbett? Given the modest protest turnout at this inaugural event, we have no reason to think fracking really matters to "progressives."

Fifth, turning to propaganda, Bernhardt claims that "the statewide anti-fracking movement is growing," and that "last year, dozens of Pennsylvania environmental, health, faith, and community groups came together to form Pennsylvanians Against Fracking."

So, where were they Mr. Bernhardt?

Signing a "Wanna be a member?" sign-on page is not "coming together" any more than "moratorium" means "ban." If "coming together" means nothing more than more protests with all the same people, more petitions, more OP-Eds like Mr. Bernhardt's, then what we can expect is that we'll see more fracking--as soon as the price of gas goes back up. 

Lastly, Bernhardt claims--rightly--that the "real game changer" was Cuomo's decision to ban fracking in New York. Bernhardt asks: "Are New Yorker's health and safety more valuable than our own?"

If you didn't effectively think so, Mr. Bernhardt, you'd have been inside Wolf's inaugural festivities calling out at the top of your lungs for a ban.

Fact is, Governor Gas Wolf has about a zero chance of getting anything even connected to fracking passed through a solid Republican State House. So while we're dithering about asking for "moratoriums," the state will continue to be raped, our kid's futures despoiled by Republicans who drink LNG for breakfast.

We have, in other words, 
nothing to lose by going 
damn the torpedoes, 
all out, 
hell bent for leather 
for a ban.

So why aren't we? Is the menu at the governor's luncheon for environmentalists really that good?

For photographs of some of the inaugural events, please go here:

For more of Food and Water Watch, go here:


Anonymous said...

people just sit by,while their state becomes a toxic dump,wake up people,do your part,your children life depend on it,the benzene alone in your drinking water cause leukemia and childhood leukemia,do something,protest,use your media,make others aware!!!liljon

Tom Frost said...

"2. why these so-called leaders weren't inside risking arrest with the rest of us"

TF: The rest of "us"? You mean you did some iota to "risk arrest" that I somehow failed to observe while having a bird's eye view of you from within 20 feet the whole time?

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Dear Mr. Frost:

I can hardly be faulted for your poor vision and your poor hearing.

As is plain from the photographs, I was busy shooting pictures. But what you obviously didn't see was that I was also yelling "Ban Fracking Now" behind Maggie Henry.

And I followed the police out behind Maggie all the way to the barricade outside the venue where I was promptly told by an officer that if stepped to the other side of the barricade, I would be arrested. As this was outside the venue, there was no point in allowing that.

I then shot pictures of the excellent protesters, high-tailed it home, and got up a pretty decent set of photographs that have now seen 33,952 hits.

I'm sure your day was as productive.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

As a side note: the only reason Mr. Frost tries to make my pieces about me is because Mr. Frost has developed an irrational antipathy with respect to me--for reasons I have no idea, but they are weirdly long-standing.

I welcome counterarguments that show me where my reasoning is mistaken.

You bet. Bring it on.

Unable or unwilling to produce these, Mr. Frost has only personal attack as his rather sorry resort.

It's also my policy to publish all comments other that spam-bot.

So, Mr. Frost is a lucky man.

Tom Frost said...

It is your lucky day that I'm not sufficiently interested in what exactly you mean by having "high-tailed" it home, to have bothered setting up any cameras on the bridges between Harrisburg and Bloomsburg.

Maura Stephens said...


You are as usual spot on. And you will as usual be vilified by both "sides": the frackers, lobbyists, and government cronies on the one hand, and on the other, obstructive Big Green groups. Those groups can only ensure their own survival in perpetuity by never winning the fight; instead they arrange, with their corporate-state cronies, for the occasional phony "minivictory" (say, a moratorium). This allows them to then point to their "success" and pull more funders aboard for the "next step." (Essentially this gives them cover for extorting, um, extracting more funding, and more grassroots participation, for their ongoing fruitless activities.

OK, maybe that's too cynical? Maybe they are just so accustomed to doing things "by the book" -- being herded like cattle into the slaughterhouse chute (forgive the horrible image) -- that their brains can't compute the definition of stupidity/futility/insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Stupid and insane, or smart and devious?

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Dear Mr. Frost,

You obviously are as interested as I claim--or you would not bother to risk posting a remark so insipid.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Dear Maura,

Thank you for putting the point so succinctly and articulately.

You are exactly right. As I said, I am sick to death of this game called "the anti-fracking movement."

These groups--and their aspirant wanna-be's--work tirelessly to insure their own donor base--their "sign-ons," and their photo-opportunities.

But in the mean time, REAL people, who are suckered by them get REALLY hurt.

I will have nothing to do with that--this charlatan fakery is as hazardous to people damaged by the gas industry as is the gas industry itself. And the people who turned out last Tuesday in good faith deserve to know that their being sold a bill of goods that is not consistent with their demand to ban fracking.

That bill of goods is made quite clear in Bernhardt's Op-Ed--the inconsistencies of which I hope I have made starkly clear.

Indeed, who performs the most extraction? The gas industry--or those who'd extract our trust and then betray it to garner more donors, and more political favor?

it was clear at the event that I was a pariah.

People who used to greet me do so no longer--and some of these affect a kind of smugness that confirms for me that there is a truth here that needs to be told. And people--like yourself--who can see through this facade shook my hand warmly. I am grateful for them.

A charade of unity is not unity; it is an abuse of trust, and a prescription for enduring harm.

Several asked me why "i just couldn't get along." But this isn't about me at all; it's about a system to which we continue to appeal as if it weren't rigged against us--as if the next hand will somehow includes cards we can actually play. It will not--and there will be no movement until we see this fact.

So, thanks.

Thanks very much.


David Walczak said...

Wendy & Maura, You add a much needed perspective and I thank you for doing so. This article brings to light a much needed introspection of the movement. What are we doing vs. what are we saying. Rhetoric has no weight compared to action. There is much difference between actions and mere words. Words that move us to action are meaningful. Words that just appease a sense of accomplishment will never equal doing something to end to the abominations of fracking. Until people who claim to be in the forefront start walking the walk instead of talking the talk, little will be accomplished to end the harms of a malignant industry.

Anyone who chooses to keep a fools view and misplaced politeness with a softened strategy is aiding and abetting the enemy. By doing so, we are forced to ask whose side are they on? Clearly you can't win a war by pandering and this is a real war. Bernhardt and others like him need to be called out. I will stand and fight with those who are not fakers.

This fight needs to be fought in the front lines, not the sidelines.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

HI Dave Walczak--and thank you for your comments. Like Maura's, they are very well put and I think right on the dollar.

Part of what I find so disturbing here is the arrogance. It is arrogant to claim to be representing people harmed by the gas industry and then represent not their interests other than as an avenue to get attention--and then to deploy that to playing the system for advantage. PAF is not a coalition at all--it asks virtually nothing of its "member" groups and organization (virtually none of whom were at the inauguration)--but promises them "progressive" credibility.

The strategies they employ are really from the playbook of the gas industry itself--a promise to be in your corner, but acting only in the corner of their own political advantage. Wolf's election and inauguration are not a cause of this widening abyss between what is said and what is actually done--it is merely a symptom. Why should Wolf pay the least bit of attention when he knows the folks who "lead" this "movement" will vote for him again in 2016?

"Anyone who chooses to keep a fools view and misplaced politeness with a softened strategy is aiding and abetting the enemy." Yes--I think that's exactly right.

And whatever denial, whatever willful ignorance, whatever smug feigning that they've been insulted--they CANNOT not know this.

Thanks again.