Friday, August 02, 2013


Grandchildren's Walk: Our Action at ERM

Environmental Resources Management was a good target, and the secret was well-guarded by the walk organizers. On Wednesday evening they gave a detailed briefing on the action, it's general location, and the form it would take (some locking themselves together in the corporate offices while others distracted the guard, still others outside raising a ruckus). I was intrigued, but Geeta and I decided to stick with our original intention to complete the walk. The traveling community, erecting our tent city each evening in a new site, was really growing on me. But I would miss the fellow walkers, some now friends, who were leaving us for the training and action.

The action at ERM was scheduled for noon. The day of the action, a few walkers left at dawn to be able to join it, 13.5 miles distant. Others took rides to the metro with the same intention. The rest of us waited for the day walkers, who had been instructed to join us at nine. About a half dozen did so, with others swelling our ranks as we neared the capital. One cheery young woman calmly emerged from the forested banks of the Potomac, a lovely woodsprite affirming our purpose. As was the case all along the walk, I had probing talks with other walkers, this day with a man who had just joined the movement last fall. When we reached Georgetown, he unfurled his banner, proclaiming the Great Turning and the end of Fossil Folly. On it was written the names of his grandchildren, one just adopted the week before after a long struggle (thus “Hope” was crossed out, replaced by Bryan). More and more of the folks I meet in these actions have never done any kind of activism before. Many spoke of their awakening, and the tempo is accelerating.

Though the company was surprised they were the target, the police arrived swiftly, and it was all over in fifteen minutes or so. They arrived with wire-cutters, paddy wagons, and plenty of plastic handcuffs. As the 54 who were arrested left in their custody, there were huge smiles, cuffed hands raised overhead, and frequent applause. This was a celebration, though at least some would need to return for a court date in mid-August, which could be a problem for my new friend Deborah from Seattle, at her first action. But as my brother-in-law the police dispatcher says, “That's a first-world problem.” This is not Syria, nor Russia, nor Turkey.

We arrived at the site of the civil disobedience around three pm, well after it ended. The police returned from lunch to face a second wave of protesters. We did not see them as the enemy, and when I saw the video footage recording the warning from a company employee that he would call the police if the intruders didn't leave, I heard one woman say “Thank you.” Unlike previous civil disobedience actions, this one was not scripted, since the target remained secret. But each side still knew what to expect from the other. This is a dance we do in our democracy, and without the police doing their part, it would be incomplete, and our message would be lost. As the commander said to Geeta (he looked like a glamorous politician, an impeccable diplomat), “This is not Syria. We are here to protect your right of grievance to your government .” We are blessed to be able to dance our protest and sing out our grievances.

One thing that disturbed me about the action was the rowdy chanting of slogans, both on the street and inside the building. I would prefer dignified silence, punctuated by eloquent signage. Even a clever chant sounds adolescent when amplified by a crowd. I have been part of three acts of civil disobedience, and though we sang, and even chanted some, there was a more dignified tone. The chanting at ERM did not reach the strident pitch which so put me off during the Vietnam War protests, but the more I do activist work, the more I yearn for dignity throughout. That was what I experienced at the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, IMAC, in January. I am sure the training was thorough, undertaken by some of the same trainers at the same church, St Stephens Episcopal, where we trained for the August 2011 Keystone action at the White House. But I miss the silent witness, the meditative prayer, inviting everyone on all sides to plumb their depths.

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]