January 14 – May 31, 2019
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is about to begin construction and may soon carry West Virginia fracked gas to Virginia, North Carolina, and points beyond. Like a deadly vine bearing poison fruit, the pipeline will also sprout a dozen or so new gas plants in North Carolina and thereby lock the state into decades of dependence upon methane, a soon-to-be costly, price-volatile fuel whose extraction, transport, and burning guarantee maximum damage from climate impacts.
Here in the Tar Heel State we submitted online comments, packed public hearings, talked to state and local leaders, wrote letters to the editor, organized the neighbors, all the usual stuff. We even did unusual stuff like walking the entire proposed route of the pipeline and fasting in front of the Department of Environmental Quality. But in the end the regulatory process worked as designed, reliably pushing out permits for industry. On January 26, Governor Roy Cooper’s DEQ removed the last major hurdle for Duke Energy and its partners when it issued a critical state water permit. It was like a basketball headline North Carolinians have grown accustomed to seeing: “Duke Overpowers Tar Heel Defenses”.
Only this game isn’t over. Early in the morning of February 2 we started the overtime period by walking into the Governor’s office unannounced to begin a nonviolent sit in occupation. As capital police swarmed the room and readied zip ties to make arrests, I explained to the secretary that we would not be leaving. This was an escalation, the first of many unless Governor Cooper acts to undo the damage he has done through his administration’s endorsement of the pipeline.
We seated ourselves on the floor. Soon someone began a song. Out of our sight and hearing, a decision was made to put away the zip ties and attempt to wait us out. It was to be a long wait—and an extraordinary day. First we were offered a meeting with administration staff in a separate conference room if we would agree to move our protest outside to a sidewalk. No, we replied. We’ve had many meetings with you already. Today is different.
Eventually the Governor’s Chief of Staff and his energy policy director came to us. For ninety minutes, they listened intently as their occupiers spoke, asked questions, and demanded answers. The tone was respectful, but the conversation was about as comfortable as it ever is when a prophet goes before the king. In addition to the North Carolinians, our group of twenty-five included experienced activists and peacemakers from around the country, all of them veterans of similar struggles at home.
My friend, Lib Hutchby and I gave testimony as North Carolina baptists. Our tradition, we said, emphasizes repentance, a word whose literal root meaning refers to turning around. And turning around, walking away from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, is what Governor Cooper must do now. Anything less will not suffice.
Other voices were heard. A Methodist minister, a Quaker, a Church of the Brethren member active with Christian Peacemaker Teams, and more spoke from their own faith traditions, sometimes slashing their way toward the truth. “Why?” was the repeated refrain. “Whom do you serve?” “Who deserves your loyalty, a corporation or this state’s children and young people?”
Tim DeChristopher of Rhode Island was one of these. “We have a responsibility to step outside of the rules written by those who profit from destruction, and play by rules that respect our shared values and that defend our communities. And that’s what we’re here today to do.”
Our numbers grew as the day went by. By noon our original twenty-five had grown to more than seventy, overflowing the Governor’s office and stretching nearly out of the building. We held a prayer service on site for an hour in which the Rev. Matthew Locklear, a United Methodist minister and Lumbee Indian Tribe member from Robeson County preached from the Psalms and told us how the pipeline would impact the community where he pastors. And we referenced a resolution adopted by the NC Council of Churches’ governing board last September which reads in part, “We resolve that any new investment in energy infrastructure based on the extraction of fossil fuels is morally reprehensible and, as people of faith, we believe it is an abuse of the God-given gift of creation for which we are charged to care.”
Time continued to pass. Would our sit in last into the weekend? We were prepared, and hopeful, were that to happen. But no, at 5pm the building was declared closed and the chief of the capital police announced that anyone remaining would be arrested. For some reason they delayed arresting us until 6:30pm, perhaps to avoid the spectacle of tv cameras carrying images live to local news stations. In the end, fifteen were arrested and given court dates.
For more information, please visit apppl.org, the website of the Alliance To Protect Our People and the Places We Live.
The struggle to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline—and so many other pipelines like it around the country—continues.
Fossil fuel corporations, though mighty, do not possess anything like ultimate power. Hope still lives when together we take action courageously, motivated by love.
Here's a News and Observer article for some context around the issue.
Here's a video about the protest.