The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 18, 2001

Features


Religious Witness for the Earth goes to Washington to protest drilling for oil in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Marching from the Mall to the Department of Energy (Photo: Ellen Huber)


 

It is 4:15 a.m., Friday, May 4. The orange moon has set over the city's buildings, the birds are twittering and Carlisle resident Bob Luoma has just gotten out of jail. Bob, Rev. Fred, Rabbi Fred, my husband Ernie and I hold hands in a circle as the two Freds pray in front of the Washington, D.C. jail at 300 Indiana Avenue. It is a prayer of gratitude for the release and safety of the 22 people who had been in custody since 11 a.m. the previous morning. It is also a prayer of hope that the spirit of enthusiasm, camaraderie and action that had existed over the previous three days would continue.

For those of us from Carlisle who had travelled to Washington to protest drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the trip really began when Bill McKibben, author and environmental activist, spoke at the First Religious Society on March 18. At coffee hour following the service Bill and Jan Duston from First Church Unitarian in Littleton told interested church people about a new interfaith organization, Religious Witness for the Earth (RWE), that was planning a three-day

Ernie Huber, Bob Luoma and Sarah Huber with her son Isaac Wilde are set to go off on a day of prayer, protest and civil disobedience. (Photo: Ellen Huber)

event in Washington to protest the drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The culmination of the three days was to be a service of prayer and witness at the Department of Energy (DOE) followed by a civil disobedience action.

On a broader, long-range scale the group's mission is to address global climate change as a moral, religious issue. Rev. Fred Small of the Littleton church; Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, leader of a Bethesda, Maryland congregation; and Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, from the United Church of Christ and Dean of Religious Life at Mt. Holyoke College, are co-chairs of the organization.

Over the weeks following McKibben's talk, the local branch of RWE (www.religiouswitness.org) met several times at the Littleton church to plan the trip. Lots of e-mails were sent to encourage people to sign the "Call to Religious Witness for the Arctic Refuge." Over 800 people, including 150 clergy, ultimately signed. One paid person was hired to handle the arrangements in D.C. People of all ages from around the country arrived in the city for the event, not in huge numbers but from a variety of denominations and backgrounds: an Episcopalian priest from San Francisco (with a windmill embroidered on her clerical stole), an administrator from Physicians for Social Responsibility from Atlanta, a member of the Mother Earth Team at Unity Church of Chicago, and the chair of the Gwich'in Tribe Steering Committee of Alaska.

"A sacred undertaking"

On Tuesday, May 1, about 50 people gathered in a meeting room of a D.C. publications building to spend the afternoon listening to speakers from the Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League and the Wilderness Society discuss the issue of drilling in ANWR. Rabbi Fred saw the afternoon as a "sacred undertaking to learn secular information." A May 2001 Scientific American article states that 30 years from the start of development at ANWR, the estimated production would peak at 1,000,000 barrels a day. Alex Veitch of the Sierra Club told us that if the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard for SUVs were raised to equal that of cars, 1,000,000 barrels of gasoline would be saved each day.

At the end of the afternoon the group heard the do's and don'ts of congressional lobbying. DO: be on time, dress nicely (a quick trip to the store was required to do a little wardrobe sprucing up), be brief and concise, lobby on concept, not a specific bill, etc. DON'T: be intimidated (no one in our group seemed to be), lie or exaggerate, let them sidetrack you, criticize another member of Congress (he/she may be a political opponent but a social buddy), give a speech, name-drop, try to convert a lost cause, etc.

We then all walked to the Wilderness Society for a reception and speeches by the three co-chairs, other clergy and Bill McKibben. Jonathan Solomon, the Gwich'in leader, spoke movingly about his tribe's relation to ANWR, a sacred place that they won't enter.

Bob, Ernie and I stayed in the District at the home of our daughter Sarah and her family. Many of the group were bunked at Central Presbyterian Church, conveniently located in back of Capitol Hill. It became our headquarters.

A day of lobbying

Twenty-two protesters sing and pray in front of the DOE priorh to their arrest. None were clergy and clerical garb. (Photo: Barbara Braden)


Wednesday was a day of lobbying. The contingent from eastern Massachusetts had appointments with the environmental legislative aides of Sen. Kennedy, Sen. Kerry and Rep. Marty Meehan. Since the members of the Massachusetts Congressional contingent all back bills making ANWR a wilderness area, thus precluding drilling, the aides all suggested other actions that might be helpful. Enlist friends from other states to write their representatives. Keep in touch with our legislative aides and give them ideas for new legislative actions. Write letters to Vice President Cheney, President Bush, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, Secretary of the DOE Spencer Abraham, and Secretary of the Dept. of the Interior Gail Norton. DO NOT send e-mails, especially form letters with many names attached. Send a good old hand-written snail-mail letter and short is okay.

An added bit of excitement and interest was hearing Sen. Kennedy deliver an impassioned speech on education on the Senate floor (to an empty chamber). I have since heard excerpts from the speech on National Public Radio.


A few weeks before going to Washington we had heard that the Bush Administration proposed to link funding for alternative energy research to income from ANWR drilling. It sounded like such an in-your-face-Catch-22 idea that I couldn't quite believe it. Sen. Kerry's aide George Abar said that yes, it was true. I am pleased to report, however, that on May 16 Abar reported to us that both the house and the senate had removed the linkage from the budget proposal.

Nonviolent civil disobedience

That night Rev. Andrea, who has taken part in other such actions, gave a three-hour lesson on non-violent civil disobedience back at the church. Every thing she had to say was valuable and interesting even to those of us who did not plan to be jailed. The entire violation and arresting procedures were scripted. Andrea had spoken to the security people at DOE about it. She also told us what was apt to happen once the arrests took place. The jail time was expected to be four to six hours. At the end of the evening there was a dry run of what would happen.

Thursday morning the weather was beautiful. Over 100 people gathered outside the Mall Metro. Joining us were our daughter Sarah with her nine-month-old son Isaac in a backpack decorated with a Go Solar-Stop Drilling poster. We all proceeded with protest signs and singing to the DOE building. Several clergy led the way carrying a large banner with the RWE logo. Bob had created the logo that was also used on T-shirts that many of us wore.

The 30-minute service of prayer and witness was inspiring. It was held (legally) in a corner of the plaza in front of the DOE. Rev. Fred Small is known to many in the Boston area as a folk singer (Ernie and I enjoyed hearing him at Passim's close to 20 years ago). He and Rev. Andrea, both of whom have wonderful, strong voices, led our singing. Rabbi Fred, in a passionate, booming voice asked, "God, help us bring our energy policy in line with your truth."

Here is an excerpt of Rev. Fred's homily:

"It is a religious issue because the Earth is the Lord's, loaned to us in trust, and we have betrayed that trust. It is a moral issue because the first victims of pollution time and again are the poor and the powerless and too often people of color, and because we are stealing the earth's inheritance from our own children and grandchildren.

"And it is a spiritual issue because our addictions to material excess and cheap gasoline are symptoms of our inner poverty, an aching hunger in the heart for communion with the divine and community with each other."

Men in business suits watched from a DOE balcony. After the service two women who had been watching from the plaza confessed that they had stuffed their DOE badges down their dress fronts and said that they were interested in our cause.

Arrests begin

The service ended with Rev. Andrea leading us in the singing of "Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary." On the third time through the 22 people who planned to be jailed formed two rows, kneeling or standing in front of, but not blocking access to, the main door of the DOE. They took turns praying or singing. Two of the grandmothers in the group expressed regret about the world they might pass on to their children and grandchildren.

Protesters sing during a service at DOE plaze. Bob Luoma is just left of center carrying light and loar sign. Note DOE security person in back filming. Several filmed throughout the event. (Photo: Barbara Braden)


Sternly but politely the group was warned three times by the federal police that if they did not leave the property they would be arrested. The warnings were ignored and after the third time the arrests began. One by one the protesters were put in plastic handcuffs and walked to the waiting police wagons. Each was photographed before entering the vehicle. The policeman who arrested Ernie made certain the handcuffs weren't too tight. One arresting officer said, "My wife is going to be mad that I arrested a minister in a robe." Enthusiastic singing by the remainder of the crowd accompanied the prisoners. By 11 a.m. the police wagons with police cars leading and following were on their way.

All went well at the federal facility at the Navy Yard. The police were polite. They said they went through civility training each year. The processing went smoothly. The prisoners' shoelaces, belts and eye glasses were removed, the first of their belongings turned over to the police (everything was returned on their release).

Things then became a little disorganized. The next stop, after some dithering about which district would handle them, was at the D.C. District One station. The men were in one room and the women in another, just barely visible to each other. The two groups engaged in some rousing back and forth singing. Bob recalls that Rabbi Fred taught everyone Hebrew religious words put to an "Iranian Sufi pop tune." The Jewish group also led the singing of "Dona Nobis Pacem." A Zulu song and Rev. Fred's peace song were sung. Bob says it was "the most spiritually uplifting time" of the whole arrest experience. Finally they were told to, "Keep it down."

Sometime in the late afternoon the prisoners went back into the wagons and were taken to the D.C. holding facility at 300 Indiana Avenue. The federal officer who had been in charge of the arrest proceedings and had stayed with them until this point left. She had been pleasant and seemed to respect what the group was doing. Her departure marked a radical change in how things proceeded. Conditions at this final jail were awful. People were put in two-person cells that stank of urine, had two metal platforms and graffiti-covered walls.

Handcuffed Ernie Huber getting into the police wagon being filmed by Alaskan TVC (Photo: Sarah Huber)


Throughout the day a support team of about four RWE members had tracked the prisoners. They also received everything taken from the prisoners. At 3 p.m. they were notified that each prisoner had been fined $50. They paid the fines from funds put aside the previous night. The prisoners themselves did not know until they were released where they had been, were not sure of timing (none of them wore a watch), and were unaware of the fine.

I had gone home with Sarah and Isaac and periodically called the support team cell phone for updates. The last one said the prisoners were due to be released at 8 p.m. Just as I got to the jail the support people were notified that it would probably be another three hours before the women got out and the men would be even later. The delay seemed to be caused by fingerprint scanning and nationwide records search. We were told that only one officer was available to do the work. We wandered around, sat on the wall socializing, had a good time talking with the entrance guards who were clueless about what was happening in the cells and made periodic calls to a lawyer helping RWE. He was able to get updates.

As predicted the women were released at 11 p.m. They brought with them news of great concern about Rev. Bob Massie, a minister from Somerville, who has written and spoken much on environmental issues (he has also run for lieutenant-governor of the Commonwealth). He is a hemophiliac and after all the hours of incarceration was beginning to have pain that he knew would escalate if he was unable to get his medicines. The federal authorities had taken his medicines, given them to the support team and assured him that he would be able to get them when needed. The D.C. police told him, "No, you can go to a hospital jail cell." Rev. Andrea was fierce in demanding that he receive his medicines, saying that she would defy anyone who would try to stop her from taking them in. The authorities backed down and Bob got his medicines.

The prisoners had received water nd "bug juice" through the day. At 9 p.m. they each received two sandwiches"baloney slices between moldy white bread," says Rev. Fred. They were hungry but since most of them weren't that hungry they found a good use for themthey served as pillows!

About 11:30 p.m. it became obvious that transportation was going to be a problem. The Metro stopped running at midnight and there were few taxis. At 1:15 a.m. eight of the eleven men were released. There were three of us with cars and we started to ferry people back to their accommodations. At 2:45 a.m. Bob Massie and the tenth man were released. Finally, at 4:15 a.m. Bob got out. It had been a very lonely time for him. There was no explanation for the delay.

"I'm an activist!"

The coverage of the service and the arrests was not extensive. The local ABC station, Alaska Public Radio and TV and a variety of religious media reported on the event, but everyone who took part, and most especially those who went to jail, have been inspired and energized by the experience. They are looking forward to the future role that Religious Witness for the Earth can play. Bob, who had never done anything like this before says, "I'm an activist!" He's already moving ahead. Last week he attended a meeting with Bill McKibben to fight for higher CAFE standards for SUVs.


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