Resisting the Pipeline … On Site and Behind Bars!
By Clark Taylor, Published on June 29, 2016
Last Thursday, seven of us from First Parish headed for a gathering of people ready to protest the construction of the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline which, if completed, will carry a huge amount of highly explosive natural gas through residential neighborhoods in Dedham and West Roxbury at extremely high pressure. The FP group included Carolyn Lynes, Eleanor Rosselini, Becky Siebens, Dick Anthony, Ellen Fine, Zack Packard, and me. We were going to join upwards of a hundred people, mostly from the Boston area, but with a couple of folks who came from out-of-state to join us. We were in three equally important categories: 27 people, including me, were prepared to engage in civil disobedience (CD), risking arrest for entering the hard-hat work site. The second group included those who came in direct support of those of us willing to engage in CD who would transport us to the site and keep track of what jail the CD person was in, with a commitment to bring us home when we were released. Carolyn Lynes was that person for me. The third group was those who swelled the crowd to give the critically important emphasis to the broader numbers of people who are against the construction of the pipeline.
Because so many have asked about how it went for me, I will speak here to my direct experience in the events of the protest and what followed. At the work site I was paired with a West Roxbury resident, Scott Wilson. We went on the construction site together and hung our legs over the pipeline trench.
In that act we were illegally trespassing on a privately controlled hard-hat work site, which, by law, required the workers to stop working as long as we were there. That fit the goal of the protest, to stop the work for as long as possible and, in so doing, to build public awareness of the dangers of a high-pressure gas pipeline passing through neighborhoods. In the larger framework, the action was to stop the building of fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when people must dramatically scale back the burning of fossil fuel in order to keep the planet habitable for humans.
As the photos show, we were handcuffed and carried by police transport vehicle to the Jamaica Plain District 13 police station and jail. The cuffs were tight and painful, but not unbearably so. The four of us in the vehicle were first taken to the West Roxbury District 5 station, which was already at capacity for protesters, so we were taken to the Jamaica Plain District 13 station and jail. After arrival there we were booked and locked up in single person cells—for what would turn out to be nearly nine hours. We had had everything taken from our pockets, along with our belts and even shoelaces, so there was nothing even to read. I meditated, paced the small space, and did some exercises, but the time became long. Having had nothing to eat since breakfast, I asked for water and perhaps a granola bar if they happened to have an extra.
To my surprise they brought me a granola bar and a bottle of water, which were dropped through a hole in the bottom of the tightly locked door. A bit later I noticed a crumpled up thing on the floor near the small opening where the granola and water had been delivered. I recognized it as my shirt, which let me know that Carolyn had been there with my backpack, which included water and five granola bars. Ellen Fine, I learned, had been with her. My angels, unannounced by name.
As the day dragged along into night, the time passed more slowly. About 6:30 a wrapped sandwich and a small carton of milk were tossed into the cell through the hole in the door used for that kind of delivery. But I was mystified as to why we were being held so long. We prisoners knew we would have to pay a bail bondsman $40 before we would be released. Turns out that the bondsman had to make the rounds of three jails where the people arrested at the pipeline protest were being held and ours was his third stop. We later learned that he had also attended to a personal family emergency before he reached our location. He finally arrived about 9:15 and by the time they were done processing all of us it was nearly 10:00.
Phil Lynes was to have come to pick me up because Carolyn had a conflict that evening. But my wife, Kay, talked him out of that role and was there to pick me up. As each of us appeared from our time with the bondsman, the waiting crowd cheered for us. It was a delight to have Kay there waiting for me.
We had to appear in the West Roxbury District Court the next morning at 8:30. After signing in we had to wait most of the morning while the papers of the 27 of us were processed. During the wait we witnessed many other cases being dealt with by the judge. We learned that the charges against us, trespassing and disturbing the peace, had been reduced from criminal to civil status; if we didn’t get arrested in the next six months, the charges would be dropped entirely. That was good news. Kay picked me up from the courthouse and it was a great relief to get home.
Taken as a whole, this was an experience I am very glad I went through. It gave me the smallest taste of what it is like to be arrested, booked into jail, and spend the rest of the day into the night in a cell with no one to talk with and then to be in a courtroom as a defendant. That was my experience.
But the more important reality was that the whole of First Parish was represented there in the eight of us, including Kay, who were there participating in a climate justice struggle in alliance with many others. We were acting as the church in the world in our different roles in the protest.