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Updated: 1 day 12 hours ago

Breaking: Lockdown at Spectra AIM Construction Site at Hudson River Crossing

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 21:59
Twelve people arrested blocking the controversial gas pipeline slated to pass near nuclear power plant

Update December 10

All twelve activists who stopped work at a Spectra AIM pipeline construction site on Thursday evening were released on bail early Saturday morning. They will appear in court on Monday, December 12 in Cortlandt Manor, NY on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest.

Update December 9, 6:30am

The twelve people arrested at the Verplanck, NY Spectra construction site were arraigned overnight in Cortlandt, NY. The District Attorney asked for $50,000 bail each.

Defendants’ attorney got bail reduced, according to Kim Fraczek of Sane Energy Project, who posted the following on Facebook:

Dave Dorfman, our attorney, met with Judge McCarthy in the wee hours, and got the judge to reduce bail from $50,000 to $5,000 for 11 of them and $1,500 for one of them. They have been sent to Valhalla Correctional Facility at 10 Woods Rd. in Valhalla, NY.

The individual with bail reduced to $1,500 is a New York resident, while the other 11 are from out of state. All have prior experience protesting fossil fuel infrastructure, according to Fraczek.

To assist with $500 bond for the eleven out-of-state arrestees, you can donate to Mississippi Stand.

To assist with $150 bond for the New York resident, you can donate to ResistSpectra.

Twelve people were arrested at the Spectra Energy construction site late Thursday evening./Screenshot, Resist Spectra live stream

Update, 11:30pm

Twelve people were arrested at a construction site in Verplanck, NY where Spectra Energy is “pulling pipe” under the Hudson River to complete its AIM pipeline project.

The twelve “stormed inside” the site, according to Kim Fraczek, director of Sane Energy Project. Six of the activists then locked themselves to construction equipment, disrupting nighttime work on the pipeline.

Supporters off the property cheered as police pulled out with the twelve arrestees.

Supporters gathered outside the construction site./Screenshot, Resist Spectra live stream

December 8, 10pm:

Six activists have locked themselves to equipment at a Spectra construction site where the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline project crosses the Hudson River. At about 8:30pm, activists swarmed the site where Spectra is now pulling pipeline under the river, according to Kim Fraczek of Sane Energy Project. Spectra security, state police and local police officers are on the scene.

Objections to the Spectra AIM gas pipeline have largely focused on its route, which passes only 105 feet from the Indian Point Energy Center. The river crossing in Verplanck, NY which the activists have locked down is less than a mile from the nuclear power plant.

The aging nuclear power plant has a long history of emergency shutdowns and leakage into the Hudson River. People opposing the project contend that with the additional of a 42″ diameter gas pipeline, an accident is likely and would have catastrophic consequences.

Spectra AIM was supposed to go into service on November 1, transporting fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New England, but there were difficulties with test drilling under the Hudson River over the summer caused delays. Clay in the river bed collapsed during test drilling, and a drill bit broke and was lost in the river. The drill method is the controversial Horizontal Directional Drill (HDD) technique. Over project opponents objections, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave permission for the company to continue with the project.

In October, construction was also delayed when four activists crawled into pipeline intended to be pulled under the Hudson River and occupied it for 16 hours.

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‘People’s Hearing’ Convened to Reform FERC

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 19:22

Panel of ‘judges’ hears testimony from residents opposed to FERC’s close relationship with the natural gas industry./Photo by Mark Hand

Described as the first-ever “People’s Hearing” challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), more than 60 speakers presented testimony on why they believe the agency systematically fails to listen to the concerns of the general public.

A panel of “judges,” fashioned similar to the monthly FERC open meetings, presided over the Dec. 2 hearing, held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Unlike the real FERC meetings, speakers did not run the risk of getting escorted out by security guards for standing up and expressing dissent with the agency’s decisions.

Many speakers at the standing room-only event described FERC as a “rubber stamp” machine. They urged Congress to grant FERC more leeway to reject a company’s application if the agency determines the project would harm local communities and the environment. Relying on “the market” to decide whether a project should be approved is a flawed regulatory practice that should be replaced by a system that examines the actual need for the infrastructure and whether other options exist to meet the energy needs of the public, speakers said.

The roster of speakers served to illustrate the impressive scope of infrastructure build-out — from pipelines to compressor stations to liquefied natural gas export terminals — occurring in the eastern U.S. Speakers expressed frustration with how FERC appears to operate as an industry partner rather than an honest broker in natural gas infrastructure proceedings.

Russell Chisholm of the group Preserve Giles County contended that the voices of local residents were “stripped” from the public scoping meetings held for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a project proposed by EQT Midstream Partners LP and four corporate partners. According to Chisholm, FERC project manager Paul Friedman facilitated two public scoping meetings in southwestern Virginia: one in May 2015 and the other in November 2016.

“In both sessions, there was a common pattern in Friedman’s behavior of circumventing and converting so-called public hearings for the purpose of collecting citizens concerns and information into a systematic effort by Friedman to manipulate public opinion, dissuade opposition to the MVP and cloud any public record of that opposition,” said Chisholm, a U.S. Army veteran, who told the audience he planned to head to North Dakota after the public hearing to join other veterans in a show of solidarity with Native Americans opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline project.

Activists Seek to Fix ‘Corrupt’ Agency

The hearing’s organizers — Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Berks Gas Truth, Food & Water Watch, Clean Water Action, Beyond Extreme Energy, EarthWorks and Catskill Mountainkeeper — said they support a request signed by more than 180 organizations calling on Congress to reform the Natural Gas Act and investigate how FERC reviews natural gas infrastructure projects.

Throughout its nearly 40-year history, FERC has generally kept a low profile. With the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the start of the shale gas boom, though, FERC’s stature grew as residents started doing their homework on how natural gas projects were getting proposed and approved in their communities. For the past two years, activists have attended every monthly FERC meeting to protest the way the agency reviews natural gas infrastructure applications.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network and other groups hold a “people’s hearing” in Washington, DC, to discuss FERC’s review and approval process./Photo by Mark Hand

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, FERC became the lead agency for purposes of complying with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). With this newly assumed power, FERC has refused to heed the advice of experts at other federal agencies, said David Sligh, conservation director for Wild Virginia, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the state’s national forests. The group opposes the MVP and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a natural gas project proposed by Dominion Resources.

FERC often ignores or downplays the importance of concerns raised by the U.S. Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said Sligh. Wild Virginia reviewed 18 cases across the U.S. in which various EPA regional offices commented on a FERC draft environmental impact statement (EIS). In every case, Sligh said, the EPA deemed the information in the draft EIS to be “insufficient,” whether it was a flawed analyses of route alternatives and cumulative impacts, a failure to address long-term damages to waterbodies and mature forests, or a refusal to follow NEPA regulations in regard to needs analyses, greenhouse gases and environmental justice.

“FERC must not have the option of ignoring the opinions and judgments of environmental agencies that have greater expertise and credibility. Congress must see to it,” Sligh said.

Megan Holleran, who has been fighting construction of Constitution Pipeline Co. LLC’s natural gas pipeline on her family’s property in Susquehanna County, Pa., said the people’s hearing successfully provided attendees with a look at the many areas of FERC’s regulatory review process that need to be fixed.

“Even the people who are trying to work within the system are finding that it is broken. There is a sense from people outside of the activism community that we ignore the official process and then just stand out there and tie ourselves to a tree,” Holleran said in an interview. “The people’s hearing is a really good way to send out the message that everyone does try to follow the official process. The reason we end up tied to a tree is because the official process is corrupt.”

Belinda Blazic, a New Jersey resident fighting Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line’s proposed Garden State Expansion Project, questioned why FERC lets pipeline companies build their projects in segments, a common complaint heard at the hearing. Pipeline segmentation, according to Blazic, makes it easier for companies to overcome regulatory requirements at both the federal and state levels. “The impacts of these projects in our communities raise serious questions of FERC’s review process. Congressional investigation and legislative remedy are needed,” she said. “The ‘R’ in FERC stands for ‘Regulatory’ not ‘rubber stamp.’”

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Stops Dakota Access Pipeline—For Now

Sun, 12/04/2016 - 19:08

At a march in solidarity with Dakota Access Pipeline protesters in Washington, DC/Photo by Ted Majdosz

Against all odds, the Standing Rock Sioux have prevailed in stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline at Lake Oahe. On Sunday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied–for the time being–the easement which would have given Energy Transfer Partners permission to build the final segment of the project under the Missouri River.

Occupants of the Oceti Sakowin camp erupted in joy and celebration at the announcement.

“We will not fight tonight, we will dance,” said Rami Bald Eagle, Cheyenne River Lakota Tribal Leader, when he received the news.

The Standing Rock Sioux released a statement of thanks to Water Protectors and allies who had taken part in the standoff: “Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not be granting the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead, the Corps will be undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes. We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing.”

Jo-Ellen Darcy, Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, issued the announcement. “Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” she said. The ACE will explore “alternatives” to the pipeline crossing.

The ACE statement came as thousands of U.S. veterans had been arriving by car all day Sunday, adding to the existing thousands already at four camps who have opposed the project since April.

The group of at least 2,000 veterans had mobilized in response to a violent attack on Water Protectors by Morton County police on November 20. They came to form a buffer between Morton County police and Water Protectors. Over 300 had been injured, including shootings with rubber bullets and water cannons. On that night, over 26 were shot with projectiles thought to be rubber bullets. An activist lost use of her arm from what is thought to be a concussion grenade.

Hundreds of cars with veterans stream into Oceti Sakowin camp/Photo by Dennis Trainor

The Army Corps decision is not final but will probably lead to an analysis for a formal Environment Impact Statement, long sought by the tribes, which could take months to complete.

It’s unclear how the transition to the Trump administration will ultimately affect the Dakota Access Pipeline’s route.

“We don’t know what the next administration is going to do, but at least if we get an Environmental Impact Statement process in place that will delay this for months,” Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a video posted on Facebook.

Gail Small, a Native American Studies professor at Montana State University, told Inforum that presidential power is constrained by federal agencies such the Army Corps, which have broad discretion in making regulatory decisions such as easements.

Energy Transfer Partners can also appeal the decision. While any scenario will push the pipeline’s in-service date long past January 1, whether the pipeline will be re-routed, or stopped entirely, is up in the air.

Goldtooth thanked the Water Protectors and allies for their hard work fighting the Dakota Access project and asked them to continue supporting those everywhere trying to keep fossil fuels in the ground. “Thank you so much for this moment,” he said.

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Anti-DAPL Protesters March to Elaine Chao’s Capitol Hill House

Sun, 12/04/2016 - 12:40

Protesters gather outside the Capitol Hill home of Elaine Chao/Photo by Collin Rees

Dozens of people marched from Columbus Circle to the Capitol Hill house of Elaine Chao, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and a board member of Wells Fargo & Co., an investor in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Dec. 3 action was organized by the Washington, DC, chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) to demonstrate solidarity with Native Americans who have been fighting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline since last spring. As part of the months-long anti-DAPL campaign, activists have urged Wells Fargo and other investment banks providing loans to DAPL developer Energy Transfer Partners to end their financial support of the oil pipeline project.

“In responding to peaceful protection of tribal lands and resources with militarized violence, federal, state and local governments, as well as the shadowy web of corporations funding and construction the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), are perpetuating a long history of white imperialist violence against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other native peoples,” SURJ said in a Dec. 3 press release.

Organizers from SURJ chose Columbus Circle, just south of Union Station, as the starting point for the march to symbolize the brutality faced by indigenous people in the Americas at the hands of white settlers for more than 500 years. Along with showing solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota, organizers recognized that the District of Columbia is situated on the land of the Powhatan chiefdom, a tribal body that encompassed nearly 30 tribes and 6,000 square miles.

Activists Escalate Campaign against DAPL Banks

The protesters walked several blocks from Columbus Circle, halting traffic along the way, to Chao’s house where they intended to urge the incoming DOT secretary to convince Wells Fargo to end its financing of the Dakota Access project. The former Labor secretary in the George W. Bush administration appeared not to be home. Wells Fargo reportedly said it would “be pleased” to meet with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe this month to discuss its investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Protesters march from Columbus Circle to home of Wells Fargo board member Elaine Chao to demonstrate solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux trible./Photo by Mark Hand.

Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky. The protesters quietly sang outside the house and then passed out leaflets about the Dakota Access Pipeline in the neighborhood. About a half-dozen police arrived on the scene, but no one was arrested.

“We join the thousands of American Indians from hundreds of tribes and millions of people of conscience from around the world in demanding the immediate withdrawal of police/military and construction forces from Standing Rock, as well as reparations for the recent and historical harms perpetrated by the U.S. government,” the SURJ press release said.

Along with serving as a board member of Wells Fargo, Chao also sits on the board of directors of News Corp., the Rupert Murdoch-founded media conglomerate that owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and dozens of other media companies.

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#NoDAPL DC Solidarity March Resounds with ‘Water Is Life’ Battle Cry

Sun, 11/27/2016 - 19:13

Washington, DC — Several hundred people, led by Native Americans in ceremonial dress, marched from the Department of Justice to the Washington Monument on Sunday in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is under construction on land belonging to Sioux Nations according to an 1851 treaty. This event was one of many solidarity actions supporting the North Dakota resistance camps fighting the pipeline, which if completed would run 1,168 miles from North Dakota Bakken shale fields to Illinois.

The march, organized by Last Real Indians, was accompanied by a drum circle and singers in a pick-up truck preceding the marchers. Three girls in “jingle dress” and five Native Americans in ceremonial dress danced and marched proudly up Pennsylvania Ave. in front of hundreds with banners and signs.

Marchers chanted, “Can’t drink oil, keep it in the soil,” “Who do we stand with? Standing Rock,” and “Mni wconi, water is life!” Among the signs, some read, “Honor the treaties,” referring to the U.S. government’s treaties with the sovereign American Indian nations governing the land appropriated by Dakota Access LLC for its pipeline. Other signs read,”Defend the Sacred: We Are Still Here” and “Respect Existence, Expect Resistance.”

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department and several police departments and agencies from other states have made an all-out effort to defend the Dakota Access Pipeline from massive camps of protesters, or “Water Protectors,” as they prefer to be called. Thousands have flocked to the remote North Dakota region in an effort to stop the pipeline or delay its completion beyond January 1, when some of Dakota Access’ contracts expire. Law enforcement, outfitted with militarized gear and vehicles, have used full force on Water Protectors, including so-called “less-lethal” weapons such as rubber bullets, concussion grenades, tasers, tear gas, water cannons and LRADs, a sound cannon which can cause permanent hearing damage.

On Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent a letter to the Standing Rock Sioux saying that it would eject all protesters north of the Cannonball River on December 5. At the march’s destination at the Washington Monument, Last Real Indians founder Chase Alone Iron Eyes addressed the crowd regarding ACE’s letter.

“The Army Corps of Engineers seeks to declare Native American peoples trespassers on their own land. In 1875, they sent the same letter,” he said. “The more things change, the more they stay the same. But things are different now.”

He said that his people had been “a warrior people” who had defended themselves “to the death.” But now, he said, “we are living in a different time, with different gifts and technologies.” While the Morton County Sheriff’s Department had tried to paint them as violent, they would not “fall into that trap.”

“All we need is the power of our peace,” he said. “Peace is not passive. Peace is standing in your own dignity. We are the moral compass of this country.” He was grateful for having allies, he said. “This is not only a Native American fight. This is so much more explosive than that. They’re coming for your constitutional rights [too].”

A group of U.S military veterans have said that they will “deploy” to Standing Rock Dec. 4-7 to defend Water Protectors and sabotage Dakota Access Pipeline construction.

Click to view slideshow.

 

 

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Fidel Castro Mourned at Cuban Embassy

Sat, 11/26/2016 - 22:52

Washington, DC — They came to the Cuban Embassy to say goodbye to a revolutionary and long time leader who guided Cuba through six decades as the President.

Fidel Castro died yesterday at 90 after a long illness. He was remembered by admirers as a revolutionary more than a president, who led his island nation through turbulent times, surviving nine U.S. presidencies and a nearly six decades of an embargo. Critics however curse him as a politically repressive dictator who did not tolerate dissent.

The embargo was established after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1959, after Castro came to power during the Kennedy administration. It denied his country trade with much of the West, reducing its economy to an austere remnant of its 1950s heyday when it was regarded as a getaway playground for Hollywood socialites.

President Obama reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba last year, ending the embargo and ushering in conditions for future market access. The Embassy of Cuba was reopened in July 2015, and direct travel was allowed to the island for the first time since 1959.

Many who stopped by the embassy left flowers and traded stories about Castro’s life and what he did for his country, including James Ploeser, a member of the Latin America and Caribbean Network. “He stood up to the powers that be in the most powerful country in the world and dedicated his life to benefiting poor and working people,” said Ploeser.

Ploeser spoke about access to healthcare for everyone in Cuba, something not seen in the U.S. “The Cuban example shows that providing healthcare to everyone is a very important and possible thing to do for a fairly poor country,” he said.

Musician Carlos Alfredo-Castro, who wrote a song for Castro, spoke about the free education system in Cuba, and said that Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. “It’s very impressive how one person can change a whole nation,” said Alfredo-Carlos.

A state funeral is planned in Cuba for Fidel Castro next week. The entire country is expected to take part.

World powers came close to a nuclear exchange during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev deployed nuclear weapons to the island nation. Castro persevered through that crisis and many more, eventually becoming a respected leader in South American countries.

“He was always thinking about the workers and the poor,” said Alfred-Castro.

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On Thanksgiving Day, Immigrants Urge Obama to Undo His Legacy as ‘Deporter-in-Chief’

Fri, 11/25/2016 - 16:24

Cesar Vargas, an attorney with the Dream Action Coalition, speaks at Thanksgiving Day press conference in front of White House./Photo by Kevin Thomas.

Undocumented immigrants and their allies traveled this week from Trump Tower in New York City to the White House in Washington, DC, as part of a movement called “Caravan of Courage” to demand action from President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump.

The Dream Action Coalition, a New York-based advocacy group, organized the march in the wake of Trump’s election and as Obama’s presidency, which has seen a record number of deportations, enters its final weeks. On their trip from Trump Tower to the White House, the group made stops along the route to support other activists, including organizers against a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Philadelphia.

“We have marched to meet with immigrant communities along the way in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey to demonstrate one message very clear: that we are undocumented, unafraid and we are here to stay,” Cesar Vargas, an attorney with the Dream Action Coalition, said at a press conference in front of the White House on Thanksgiving Day. “Today is Thanksgiving. Millions of families are spending the day with their families at the table. But the reality is that millions of other American families have their loved ones in private detention centers where private corporations are profiting at the expense of the taxpayers, at the expense of our immigrant and American families.”

The Obama administration, with the backing of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, has detained and deported a record number of undocumented immigrants. “We had high hopes for President Obama, but he has detained the most immigrants than any president in American history,” Vargas emphasized. “What is his legacy as he leaves office? Will he be the Deporter-in-Chief? Or will he be the champion that keeps families together? That’s his decision.”

Between 2009 and 2014, 2.4 million people were deported from the U.S., according to a Pew Research data analysis released Aug. 31. If 2015 and 2016 keep pace with the first six years,, about 3.2 million people will have been deported under the Obama administration. Under the previous Bush administration, about 2 million people were deported between 2001 and 2008.

The Dream Action Coalition works to establish local, state, and federal policies that secure fairness for the diverse immigrant community without discrimination based on immigration status or national origin. Dream is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant undocumented immigrants residency upon meeting certain qualifications. The legislation, first introduced 15 years ago, has yet to pass Congress. In 2012, Obama announced that his administration would stop deporting young undocumented individuals who meet certain criteria previously proposed under the DREAM Act.

Activists Highlight Immigrant Action Items

At the Nov. 24 press conference, Vargas highlighted four areas where Obama still can help immigrant communities in his final two months in office.

  • Close family detention centers, including those in Pennsylvania and Texas, many of which are private and are profiting from the suffering of immigrant families.
  • Expedite all Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications. DACA is an immigration policy ordered by Obama in 2012 as an executive action that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation.
  • Pardon approximately 42,000 detainees currently in prison for immigration-related charges.
  • Stop preventing entry to asylum seekers who are being persecuted in their countries.

Participants in the Caravan of Courage call on President Barack Obama to end detention and deportation of immigrants./Photo courtesy of Dream Action Coalition.

Sal Montes, an immigrant rights activist from Dutchess County, NY, passionately spoke of the struggle facing immigrant families: “Those who do not know our pain tonight be thankful that you don’t have to be here like we are. Be thankful that you are not in our shoes and that you will never feel the fear or see the fear in your friends and families,” Montes said. “But do not forget that your ancestors were once in our shoes as immigrants felt what we’re feeling right now.”

With the election of Donald Trump as president, the nation has seen an increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric and violence against communities of color. “We’re not going to tolerate that. That’s why we march, to send that strong message. This is the country that we call home and we’re not going to let fear dictate what we’re going to do in the next four years,” Vargas said.

Vargas, who came to the United States when he was five-years-old, graduated from law school and became the first undocumented attorney in New York State.

The Dream Action Coalition has requested a meeting with Trump, according to Vargas, so the president-elect can “see the human side of a broken immigration system than many people don’t see.” Vargas said the group wants the United States to get rid of a “dragnet where innocent, hard-working immigrants are caught up in a system that is broken and outdated.”

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Police Attack Water Protectors at Dakota Access Pipeline Standoff

Tue, 11/22/2016 - 20:45

Morton County sheriff’s department uses water cannon on water protectors in North Dakota./Photo by Dallas Goldtooth

Standing Rock Reservation, ND — In what will go down as one of the most violent chapters of a nine-month standoff against a company building an oil pipeline at the Standing Rock Reservation in Morton County, ND, police launched a full-frontal attack against Water Protectors trying to clear access across a bridge on Highway 1806.

Hundreds were injured, more than two dozen seriously, including an activist from New York who may lose functioning of an arm and is still in the hospital as of publication. An elder suffered a cardiac arrest, and a 13-year-old girl was shot in the head, purportedly by a rubber bullet. Dozens more were shot with what are believed to be rubber bullets.

Police launched the attack Sunday evening as thousands of indigenous people and their allies gathered as night fell and temperatures dropped below freezing. Water Protectors moved onto the bridge to clear burned-out vehicles to access the construction site where crews were beginning final preparations for drilling under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. Police had set up a blockade behind the vehicles, and Water Protectors were able to remove one vehicle before police pinned them down on the bridge.

As of Monday night, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) had still not issued final permits for Dakota Access Pipeline construction crews to proceed when word of drilling preparations began circulating around the camps nearby.

Violent attacks by armed police were live-streamed throughout the night. Subsequent photos confirmed  police fired gas canisters, flashbang grenades, rubber bullets, and water cannons on hundreds who were trapped on the bridge.

Water Protector prays covered with ice from water cannon./Photo by Rob Wilson

The Standing Rock Facebook page issued requests for supporters to call the White House and the ACE to demand President Barack Obama intervene, but it was difficult to get through switchboards. As of Monday, the White House had not signaled that it would intervene.

“They deployed twenty mace canisters in a small area in less than five minutes,” said Angel Bivens, an attorney with the Standing Rock Water Protectors legal collective, who spoke by phone with Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Police Arsenal Includes Concussion Grenades

Bivens reported that a woman had suffered a serious knee injury, and an elder had suffered a cardiac arrest but had been revived by medics on the scene. She also reported that the front-line medical area had come under attack by police with mace canisters and water cannons.

Standing Rock Medical and Healers Council sent a press release reporting over 300 injuries, which they treated on site, and 26 serious injuries, which were sent to several area hospitals. The press release outlined the human carnage from the attack, listing hypothermia as the major injury in most patients treated.

“Police continuously assaulted demonstrators with up to three water cannons for the first 7 hours of this incident in subfreezing temperatures dipping to 22°F, causing hypothermia in the majority of patients treated. Chemical weapons in the form of pepper spray and tear gas were also used extensively, requiring chemical decontamination for nearly all patients treated and severe reactions in many,” the press release said. “Projectiles in the form of tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades led to numerous blunt force traumas including head wounds, lacerations, serious orthopedic injuries, eye trauma, and internal bleeding.”

Sophia Wilansky suffered a direct hit from concussion grenade./Photo by Wayne Wilansky

Sophia Wilansky, 21, an activist from New York who had joined in support of Water Protectors several weeks ago, suffered a direct hit in the arm by a concussion grenade and will lose most functioning in her arm, according to her father. Friends had posted a request to help her family with blood donations and medical expenses. As of Tuesday night, the fund had raised $249,000, but medical expenses are expected to cost several hundred thousand dollars. More surgeries will be required on her arm over the coming days.

Morton County police denied using water cannons at first, and then later admitted using them to mist activists in response to fires that they set to keep warm.  But live stream video showed water cannons being fired directly onto the Water Protectors throughout the night as temperatures dipped below freezing. Water Protectors also reported flashbang grenade fire from police. Flashbang grenades are known to start fires under the right conditions.

A live stream broadcast by Kevin Gilbert from a nearby hill through the night narrated the violent scenes. Reaction to the attack was swift and described as heavy handed and brutal. Both Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders, former presidential candidates, shared the live stream of the attack on their Facebook pages.

Over 400 Water Protectors have been arrested since the uprising began at Standing Rock in April.

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Anti-Fascists Storm National Policy Institute Dinner

Sun, 11/20/2016 - 21:38

Washington, DC — Activists from Smash Racism DC, an anti-fascist group, confronted about 60 members of the National Policy Institute (NPI), a white nationalist think-tank, at a local restaurant where they were holding a dinner meeting Friday night.

They barged into the dining area of Maggiano’s of Little Italy, chasing the self-proclaimed white “identifiers” upstairs. As meeting participants bolted upstairs, protesters chanted, “No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA!”

Maggiano’s staff quickly formed a human barricade on the stairs between protesters and NPI members, blocking access until police arrived. There was a brief pushing match between Maggiano’s staff and protesters but no injuries or arrests. NPI members, including its president Richard Spencer paced on the balcony above and jeered at the protesters.

Several diners not associated with NPI cheered on the protesters, but it was not clear if they were aware of the nature of the dinner meeting going on in the room nearby.

Richard Spencer, President of the National Policy Institute (center)/Photo by John Zangas

Richard Spencer coined the term “Alternative Right,” also known as Alt-Right. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls it “a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization.” Those espousing the Alt-Right ideology made up some of Donald Trump’s most enthusiastic campaign supporters. In addition to Spencer, other well-known nationalists in attendance at Friday’s dinner included Peter Brimelow of Vdare, a white nationalist group, and Nathan Damigo, head of Identity Evropa, a White supremacist group

Earlier that evening, activists held a flash mob at Trump International Hotel to bring attention to President-elect Trump’s recent political appointments, some of whom espouse racial bigotry and sexism. However, a tip-off led the protesters to relocate to the NPI dinner meeting in Friendship Heights.

Lacy MacAuley, a spokesperson associated with Smash Racism DC, said that NPI represents an ideology of hate. “They would like to hide their ideology of hate behind a veneer of suits and they think they look professional, but it’s actually a policy of hate,” she said.

MacAuley believes it is important to stand up against their ideology because of the threat it poses to others not like them. “Their policies would have people who they deem inferior to somehow forced to be sterilized. Their policies would have people who don’t look like them in some sort of slow motion genocide,” she said.

NPI regards the Trump election as a victory because of his racist rhetoric, in line with its white supremacist ideology. “There was an article published by Richard Spencer calling for the genocide of Black people,” said Daryl Jenkins, Executive Director of One Peoples Project, an anti-racist organization.

Anti-fascist protesters rush into the dining room where NPI members are eating./Photo by John Zangas

Jenkins believes it is important to take organizations such as NPI seriously, because they pose both a political and social threat to democratic order, no matter who is president. “Their mission is to create a separate nation for white people,” said Jenkins. “We’ve seen this thing before, and we know what they’re going to do. Everybody is past that, and we’re not going to let it go any further.”

NPI hosted its annual conference Saturday at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. There was a scuffle between protesters and an NPI member outside the building. Police detained several but released them shortly afterwards.

NPI has been meeting twice annually in Washington since 2011, but with Trump’s election is establishing a new foothold of access to power inside the beltway. With the appointment of Steve Bannon as Trump’s Chief Strategist, a known Alt-Right supporter, as well as his cabinet appointments of far right ideologues, they are seeking increased visibility.

Answer Coalition is organizing an anti-racist mobilization during the inauguration weekend to counter the surge of racial incidents against Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and other minorities occurring since the election.

Click to view slideshow.

 

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Obama Can Stop Dakota Access Pipeline Once and for All, Say Standing Rock Supporters

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 12:41

Washington, DC — It was not business as usual when a delegation of indigenous people from Standing Rock Reservation and thousands of allies shut off access to the General Accounting Office (GAO) on Tuesday during a sit-in. They were there to pressure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), whose offices are housed there, to deny the final permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Its parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, needs an easement to finish the pipeline by drilling under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe.

Security guards stood helplessly by on the other side of bolted doors, while well-known environmentalists, including actress Shailene Woodley, spoke out against the pipeline, which, if completed, would send 460,000 gallons of Bakken crude to Chicago for refining. She called on the public to pay attention to the brutal police response to the Standing Rock Sioux. The sit-in was but one action in over 300 actions in cities across the nation.

Actor/activist Shailene Woodley speaks to Standing Rock supporters at the US Army Corps of Engineers office in Washington, DC/Photo by John Zangas

Woodley, who was arrested in September during the standoff and charged with engaging a riot, said Water Protectors were peaceful and that the police were creating a “false narrative” in their violent characterization of Water Protectors.

“I was charged with engaging in a riot. I don’t know what kind of riot the people of North Dakota have been to, but the protest that I participated in was the last thing from a riot,” said Woodley.

Hundreds of indigenous people locked in the tense standoff against militarized police have suffered trauma from brutal arrests and police tactics, yet have persevered. Construction crews have been franticly working to finish the final segment of the controversial pipeline before the January 1 in-service date. The police have used rubber bullets, tear gas, and sound cannons on Water Protectors and those arrested have been strip-searched.

Woodley criticized mainstream media for not even reporting the Dakota Access Pipeline story and the police for painting the Sioux as violent. She asked everyone to reach out to friends on social media who are not aware of the drama playing out at Standing Rock Reservation. “We have to educate those who don’t know because we know the mainstream media is not doing it,” she said.

Woodley also encouraged divestment from the banks financing the project by closing personal accounts.

Environmentalists such as Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, have said that completion of the pipeline would pose great risk to the Missouri and underlying aquifer on which millions depend.

McKibben said that the Standing Rock Sioux are standing up for everybody’s rights, and they should be honored by everyone for that. “People understand that it’s a place of great moral significance where a huge battle for human rights is underway saving not only the water but the climate as well,” he said.

The uprising has touched every corner of the globe as well. Worldwide rallies in support of the Sioux were held in the countries of New Zealand, Lebanon, Fiji, the Philippines, and in Brazil.

Senator Bernie Sanders emphasizes Native American sovereign rights when he speaks to Standing Rock allies at the White House/Photo by John Zangas

If there is a spill, critics of the pipeline say the reservation will lose its only water source for generations. They have also condemned violent police tactics used against peaceful Water Protectors.

LaDonna Allard, who is with Sacred Stone Camp, one of the encampments which is a base for the movement against the pipeline, and Eryn Wise, of the Indigenous Youth Council, led a subsequent march of several thousand from the GAO to the White House.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) met the Sioux delegation as it arrived in Lafayette Park at the White House. “For hundreds of years the Native Americans, the first Americans, have been lied to, cheated, and their sovereign rights have been denied them,” said Sanders to the thousands who had walked from the GAO.

Sanders complemented the Sioux for standing up for water rights and the environment. “We are demanding sovereign rights for Native Americans,” he said.

President Obama’s hesitancy to step in and stop the project, but instead adopting a “wait and see how things play out” posture, has provided an opening for activists to continue building political pressure on the builders of the project.

On Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a statement delaying the final permits for “consultations ” with tribal leaders and to reconsider the environmental impacts, one of their major concerns.

President-elect Trump has investment in the project and is expected to push necessary permits through if it is still not completed after he is sworn in. But Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska said that Obama has a “trump card” he can play that will not only stop the project but kill it forever.

Protesters conducted a sit-in at the Army Corps of Engineer offices in Washington, DC./Photo by John Zangas

Kleeb said Predident Obama has authority to designate the area a national monument. She asked the crowd to call the White House and ask the President to designate the area near Standing Rock as a National Landmark.

“If you declare Standing Rock a national monument,” Kleeb said, addressing Obama, “that means that no oil and gas development can happen on that land.”

President-elect Trump has come out not only as a climate denier, but a strong advocate of the fossil energy industry. Advocating for President Obama to designate the area around Standing Rock Reservation as a national monument may be the last option the Sioux have to stop the project before Trump takes office January 20.

Click to view slideshow.

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‘Jewish Resistance’ Against Trump and Bannon Begins with March on Transition HQ

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 16:48

Protesters gathered at the Washington, DC, headquarters of Donald Trump’s transition team on Nov. 17 to denounce the hatred and anti-Semitism they believe the president-elect and his close adviser Steve Bannon stirred up during the Republican’s presidential campaign.

The protesters, many affiliated with a group called IfNotNow, urged Trump to fire his soon-to-be top strategist Bannon, who also serves as executive chairman of the far right-wing news site Breitbart News. A large group traveled to Washington from Philadelphia to express their opposition to Trump’s policies and the president-elect’s transition team.

IfNotNow was created in 2014 by mostly young Jewish Americans committed to ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. In New York City, IfNotNow is organizing a protest at a Nov. 20 gala of the Zionist Organization of America, where Bannon is scheduled to speak.

“I came down today to be a part of the start to the Jewish resistance,” said Pele IrgangLaden, a Philadelphia resident and organizer with IfNotNow. “Donald Trump ran a campaign based on hatred, misogyny, racism, sexism, and honestly it was the first time in my life that I had seen widespread anti-Semitism. I felt that as a Jewish person, I needed to be on the right side of history and stand with other people together against hate and violence.”

The dozens of protesters marched from Farragut Square in downtown DC to the nearby Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to protest the prominent Jewish group’s unwillingness to denounce Trump. One day after the Nov. 8 election, JFNA sent a letter to Trump that read: “We very much look forward to working closely with you and your administration on uniting our country and on the important challenges ahead of us all.”

Prominent Jewish Groups Remain ‘Deafening Silent’

From the JFNA’s offices, the protesters marched to Trump’s transition headquarters about two blocks from the White House. One of the signs at the rally read: “If you ever thought in 1933 whether or not you would have fought back, now is the time to decide.” Despite the relative silence of many prominent Jewish groups, the resistance is beginning to manifest itself in other parts of the Jewish community, according to IrgangLaden.

“Our community’s leaders at the Jewish Federations and other groups that claim to speak for Jews — AIPAC and others — have been deafening silent and even have been offering their assistance to the Trump transition,” said Ethan Miller, an organizer with IfNotNow. “American Jewish institutions, the ones that claim to support values of social justice, need to speak up against anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred.”

Some Jewish groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and the Anti-Defamation League have denounced Bannon’s appointment, but most groups have remained silent. “Steven Bannon is a strong supporter of the Israeli occupation. These organizations are taking the pro-Israel-at-any-cost way of doing business and taking it to the extreme,” Miller said.

The protesters entered the lobby of the federal government building that houses the Trump transition team and chanted against the policies of the incoming administration. No arrests were made. “This is the greatest increase in anti-Semitism a lot of us have seen in our lifetimes, and we’re really worried,” Miller said. “We’ve seen hate crimes at synagogues and at schools, anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment as well as hate crimes at mosques. There’s a big increase in fear in this country.”

Supporters of the Netanyahu government in Israel and the settler movement in the Occupied Territories favor Trump’s policies of a registry of Muslims and eliminating movement of refugees because “that’s exactly what the Netanyahu government has been doing for years,” Miller said.

Establishment Democrats are not qualified to lead a resistance to Trump because of their institutional cautiousness and ties to many of the same lobbyists that provide support to both Republicans and Democrats, IrgangLaden said. “Obama telling us to wait and people saying to welcome Trump as well as the Jewish Federations’ congratulations of Trump and AIPAC’s silence on Trump and Bannon, we know all of that is not the leadership we need. We’re here to be the leaders that our institutions refuse to be.”

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DNC Headquarters Ambushed by Protesters Claiming Party ‘Sold Out’

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 17:23

Protesters dressed as movers try to push through security at the DNC./Photo by Anne Meador

Washington, DC — Protesters dressed as movers charged the door of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters today, trying to gain entrance to the building. Security fended them off and barricaded the front steps.

Protesters drove up in a U-Haul van wearing blue jumpsuits. They carried cardboard boxes and wheeled a hand truck to the front door, claiming they were hired movers. They unfurled a large banner reading “Betrayal” and recited chants such as, “We want democracy, not corporatocracy!” They alleged that the Democratic Party, headed by the DNC, has “sold out” to corporate interests, and corruption played a part in the Party’s election defeat.

The Democratic Party tried to stay in power by “manipulation and fear,” said Kevin Zeese of Baltimore-based Popular Resistance. “Why did they lose? Because they ignored the people. Obama pushed the TPP [Trans Pacific Partnership] on people. That’s why we’re moving the DNC out of government.”

The demonstrators taped signs to the building reading, “For Sale” and “Evict the DNC.” They arranged cardboard boxes labelled “Lesser Evils,” “Pay to Playbooks,” and “Empty Promises.”

Washington, DC resident Toni Sanders says she believes that the Democratic Party took black people for granted in this election, assuming that they would vote for Hillary Clinton.

“If you really took us seriously as a people you wouldn’t push a candidate who backed [her husband’s] crime bill, who called us superpredators,” she said. She believes that Democrats didn’t respect black people’s intelligence. “They used Obama to guilt us, tiptoed around Black Lives Matter,” she said. She objected to President Obama’s signing of the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, and said that Hillary Clinton didn’t have solutions for police brutality and police shooting of blacks either. She also didn’t address issues like creating jobs and problems in inner cities.

People have been “betrayed” by Democrats who serve corporate interests, protesters say./Photo by Anne Meador

“They didn’t give us a choice. This is supposed to be our party,” she said. “They hurt us so much more” with Hillary Clinton as the candidate. She said she voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary and Jill Stein in the general election.

The DNC’s alleged collusion with the Hillary Clinton campaign to quash Bernie Sanders in the primary concerned the protesters, but it is only a piece of a larger picture of corruption, according to many of the protesters. “The DNC sold us out in the first place when they ran over Bernie,” said Peter Weston of Seattle-based Backbone Campaign. “The DNC is not serving people, it is serving corporatocracy.”

The protesters’ ire was not limited to the DNC. Only two days before, a group organized by Popular Resistance and Backbone Campaign blockaded a busy interstate highway in Washington, DC to bring attention to racism, xenophobia and policies serving the wealthy they believe a Trump administration will embody.

Click to view slideshow.

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Activists Block DC Interstate with ‘Stop Trumpism’ Message

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 21:58

Protesters converged on downtown Washington, DC, again on Nov. 14, but this time it wasn’t all about the election of Donald Trump as president. Many came to the nation’s capital to celebrate the defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), although some fear Trump could backtrack on his campaign promise to oppose the regional trade deal.

As part of the day of action, protesters blocked I-395 in D.C. for more than 30 minutes with an enormous banner which read, “Stop Trumpism.” Later in the day, people marched from Capitol Hill to the new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue with fake torches and pitchforks to bring attention to the nation’s economic inequality and what they see as a Trump administration’s threat to civil liberties and human rights.

Activists blocked I-395 for about a half hour just as Congress convened for lame duck session./Photo by John Zangas

The protesters maintained the protest action was not an endorsement of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton. One of the day’s goals was to empower people disillusioned with the two-party political system, including Bernie Sanders supporters, by providing them with examples of activism beyond the ballot box, said Veronica Murray, a Massachusetts resident, who was one of the activists who blocked the freeway with the “Stop Trumpism” sign.

“Protesting against Trump, as a person, is so limiting. It’s bigger than that,” Murray said. “One of the reasons the sign says ‘Stop Trumpism’ instead of ‘Stop Trump’ is because Trumpism embodies racism, xenophobia, anti-gay. We’re not about stopping Trump himself. We want to stop the things he represents. If you voted for Trump, I’m not saying you’re a racist. But if you voted for Trump, you’re saying, ‘Racism isn’t a deal-breaker for me.’”

Labor Groups Remain Vigilant against TPP

More than 30 people traveled from Chicago for the day’s actions to express their opposition to Trump’s policies as well as to resist any attempt to bring the Trans Pacific Partnership back to life. In recent days, congressional leaders have insisted the Trans Pacific Partnership is dead. The TPP would set new terms for trade and business investment among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

The Chicago participants, most of whom are members of UAW Local 551, view the TPP as a corporate giveaway trade deal that offshores jobs and lowers wages for workers in the U.S. Jena Perry, civil and human rights chairwoman of UAW Local 551, worries Trump could reverse his stance on the TPP, similar to how Democratic Party officials often act in Illinois. “They’ll run on Democratic policies, but when they get into office they’ll flip the script because they have these lobbyists giving money to them,” Perry said.

Activists claim victory after the Trans Pacific Partnership failed to be ratified./Photo by John Zangas

Labor leaders are refusing to let their guard down because the TPP could get heard during the lame-duck congressional session or Trump could decide to work with the new Congress to pass the trade deal. “Once they overturned Citizens United, they had unfettered revenue come through different lobbyists. We don’t have that. All we have is our power as the people to come out here and speak and protest peacefully,” she said.

The TPP would be counterproductive to many United Nations agreements and make it hard to achieve climate accords and goals, said Kevin Zeese, co-director of Popular Resistance, a Baltimore-based activist group. “We can actually design trade so it’s consistent with those goals,” Zeese said. “Trade can be used to improve lives of people and protect the planet. These trade agreements are designed instead to only create massive profits for transnational corporations make them more powerful … and make it impossible to act in the public interest.”

Movement Builds on anti-TPP Success

Unlike other participants in the day’s events, Zeese expressed confidence that the TPP will not get resurrected, especially after the Obama administration conceded Nov. 11 that the multilateral trade deal would not pass Congress. “Now that we’ve succeeded in defeating the TPP, we’re building on that people power. This has turned into the beginning of a new campaign to stop Trumpism and to stop the corporate domination of our election that produced two of the worst candidates in history,” he said.

A nighttime protest at the Capitol building with lighted torches and pitchforks./Photo by John Zangas

Even though Trump ran as an anti-establishment candidate, Zeese believes the Republican will not advocate for economic populism but will instead serve the wealthy. “I don’t like his racism, his bigotry, his misogyny. Those are all very troublesome and they will bring people together. They will unite around them. But a lot of the protests that are making those points are missing the points about the economy,” he said.

With Trump as president, activists will need to make choices in who they hope to include in their campaigns for change, according to Murray. “We made the decision to go with anti-Trumpism because we feel that’s where the mood is right now, especially in this part of the country,” she said. “Other groups may go more anti-establishment and try and pull in Trump people. It’s not the wrong way to go, but then you’re going to have even harder conversations about racism and xenophobia with people who still deny Trump is a racist.”

 

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Anti-Trump March Turns into Pro-Clinton Charade

Sun, 11/13/2016 - 20:55

More reports from post-election anti-Trump protests below.

A protest march that started at the new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, DC, on the night of Saturday, Nov. 12 and snaked its way through several blocks of the city was not a protest against deportations. Nor was it a protest against police violence or a protest against America’s endless wars. It was not a protest against an unfair economic system or a protest against authoritarianism, or even a plea for empathy and compassion.

If the participants in the protest march were serious about these issues, the same people would have been in the streets of Washington and cities and towns across the nation expressing their disgust during Barack Obama’s two-term presidency, a period in which a record number of people were deported, a frightening time in which the White House assumed even greater autocratic powers, and a period in which the U.S. military continued to kill people, without interruption, in other countries.

A group of anti-Trump protesters, Hillary Clinton supporters rally outside the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC./Photo by John Stanton, BuzzFeed News

If they truly cared about life-affirming policies, one would have expected the people at the Saturday night march to have taken to the streets to protest Hillary Clinton if she had won last Tuesday. But it would be folly to expect middle class liberals to protest Clinton after a political campaign in which they painted Trump and Green Party nominee Jill Stein as the only candidates worthy of scorn. The people I spoke with at the march appeared perplexed when I asked them if they would be in the streets protesting if Clinton had won the election. Their expressions said it all: “Are you crazy? Of course not!”

It was only five years ago when the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement presented an indictment of both Democratic and Republican party officials for their culpability in a rigged economic system. OWS resonated with millions, but its ideals were quickly forgotten. Except for the occasional mic check refrain, it was as if Occupy had never happened as the protesters marched on Saturday night. The marchers seemed unaware of what a real democracy — political and economic — looks like. They were more interested in image over substance.

Marching in Democratic Party Circles

Pro-Hillary Clinton chants — “we’re still with her” and “she won the popular vote” and “when they go low, we go high” — resounded at various points during the march, a soul-crushing sound given the horrific policies Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama had delivered since 2001.

The march also had a noticeable authoritarian vibe, with white people yelling at other marchers, including Black participants, not to participate in certain chants — “We reject the president-elect” was shouted down by participants as anti-democratic — because they worried such words would alienate any Trump supporters or other people within earshot.

Demonstrators rally against the election of Donald Trump in Washington, DC/Photo by Mark Hand

After a campaign of Democrats constantly comparing Trump to history’s worst leaders, there wasn’t a sense of urgency one would have expected. Many of the marchers had already internalized the Democratic Party establishment’s call for national unity. Seriousness and resolve proved difficult to detect among the participants despite the claimed threats posed by a Trump presidency.

The march was eerily reminiscent of 2008 when the Democratic Party faithful serenaded Barack Obama with love. Obama was following in a long line of Democrats who would bring more of the same neoliberal, war-like ways to Washington, and yet they adored him because he was charismatic and polished. The march also was similar to the attempt by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to curb political activism through their Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall. For many in the crowd, the march was probably the first time they had attended a political event since the faux Comedy Central rally of 2010.

Large numbers expressed genuine fear about what a Trump presidency would bring to the country, while others expressed grief – using the words “anger” or “rage” were verboten during the march — that the Democrats had experienced such a terrible loss.

One Hotel, Three Protests and an Agent Provocateur

By Anne Meador

The barricades and police officers stationed in front of the Trump International Hotel seem likely to be fixtures for the next four years. The brick plaza of the old Post Office building, which was leased to Donald Trump’s eponymous hotel chain, is a spacious and inviting site for demonstrations. Paying guests, who are already too scarce, must put up with chants and speeches long into the night, since all anti-Trump protests lead eventually to the Hotel.

On Friday night, a group of about fifty young people clustered in front of the police barricades taking turns speaking with a bullhorn. In spite of it, their voices were barely audible outside of the tight circle. On the outskirts, photographers shivered in gusts of cold wind.

A smaller group approached around 9:30pm and momentarily riled up the protesters, chanting, “Not My President!” and “Fuck your wall!” A couple of women were draped in Palestinian flags. A few young men were pumped up and seemed bored by the quiet speeches. One, who appeared to be white and possibly high, tried to lead the others away on a march. “Let’s take the streets!” he urged. A few organizers of the already assembled group, who were black, calmly confronted him, telling him to respect their protest.

A protester puts a restraining hand on a colleague incensed by a pro-Trump provocateur./Photo by Anne Meador

A middle-aged white man heckled the group. “I hope you get run over, you pieces of shit, all of you!” he yelled. A protester was provoked and got up in the heckler’s face, angrily denouncing him. A comrade occasionally put out his arm to restrain him. Eventually, a young woman approached and matter-of-factly told them to stop it, in her words, “it isn’t worth it.” As if a spell had been broken, the combatants backed off. (The heckler professed to be a retired police officer but has been seen many times shadowing protests. Some protesters have pegged him as one of several ill-concealed plainclothes cops who monitor demonstrations.)

At about 10pm, a large group, charged with energy, marched down Pennsylvania Ave. and stopped in the street in front of the hotel. “Fuck Trump!” and “He’s not my president!” they chanted. After several minutes, they moved on to disrupt Chinatown and block traffic in the 3rd Street tunnel.

A local TV news van lingered in the quiet aftermath, packing up. The button that bleeps out profanity on air had gotten a work out, the crew said. Even so, the producer had cut their live feed early.

Shock, fear and rage

By John Zangas

The morning after the presidential election shocked and dismayed many as the results came in. Before daybreak press trucks lined Pennsylvania Avenue under a steady drizzle.

By Wednesday night hundreds of protesters stood in defiance of the president elect at the front doors of Trump International Hotel in a tide of solidarity and resistance. They chanted protest catch phrases from their respective causes. Their groups were suddenly intersected in a common cause against a shared opponent.

In anticipation of growing security concerns, police barricades were put up with police and guards at every door.

Trump Hotel in DC had been a magnet for discontent during his campaign as Trump’s remarks were spread on news channels, but with his election win, it had over night become a lightning rod for discontent.

Protesters included many groups taking issue with Trump’s ideology as his vision exposed what America would look like over the course of his campaign.

On the sidewalk, protesters expressed shock, fear, anger, and even rage, that what had seemed an improbable and unlikely rise to power, had now become a reality.

Wednesday night, two young women concerned with women’s healthcare rights, expressed concern whether Roe v. Wade could be eroded or overturned as Trump was expected to appoint an conservative Supreme Court Justice to the position vacated when Scalia died last February.

They stood together with a sign reading “Donald Trump Will Never Be My President” and “Dump Trump.” Siri Brudaveld was concerned about his Presidency because of his comments about women. “I feel unsafe in my own country…  Somebody who has been accused over and over again and has been recorded saying inappropriate things about women and towards women is in the White House.”

Another young woman, Elizabeth Figueroa, said that she was “very frightened and sad” about the election result. “My biggest fear is that he is going to reverse Roe v. Wade and take away rights that women have earned over the last fifty years,” she said.

Trumps insistence that he would build a wall to keep immigrants out and deport Hispanics and Muslims drew immigration groups to the White House on the same night.

Omar Marroquin stood holding a sign reading, “Immigrants Pay More Taxes than Donal Trump,” which simultaneously struck at two key issues surrounding Trump’s Tax returns and whether working immigrants will be permitted to to remain here.

“They still have federal taxes taken out of their checks, they still have local taxes taken out, most of the time paying those taxes because of circumstances,” he said regarding immigrants who are in the U.S. holding down jobs for their families and sending their wages home to support them.

“He has demonized immigrants and made a following that believes that immigrants should be sent back home when people are out of here out of necessity,” said Marroquin.

By Thursday night more groups descended on Trump International Hotel, sparking several fights between protesters and Trump supporters who taunted them for their chants, “He’s Not My President” and “Dump Trump.”

One by one they spoke on a bull horn, of their individual concerns, calling him out policy changes they feel will encourage mysogyny, bigotry, and sexism. But it seemed there would be little they could do with certainty to change the election result. What was certain was that the anti-Trump sentiment and protests weren’t going to leave Washington any time soon.

 

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Dakota Access Pipeline Company Intends to Break Law to Finish Project

Thu, 11/10/2016 - 19:21

Builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline are making final preparations to drill under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Reservation despite not having the final permits needed to proceed. Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, has indicated they plan to drill under the Missouri within two weeks. They plan to finish the last segment at the river although the Army Corps of Engineers has not granted an easement to drill under Lake Oahe.

Thousands of indigenous people and allies have been holding firm in the standoff against hundreds of militarized police near the Reservation. In what has become the largest resistance involving indigenous rights since Wounded Knee, Water Protectors are standing up against an energy company determined to complete an oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

The uprising near Lake Oahe on the Missouri River has drawn a brutal application of police force and is likely to shape the character of fossil fuel project fights for years to come. Hundreds have already been arrested, along with several key members of the press.

The Sioux have demanded that pipeline construction not cross the Missouri at Lake Oahe, which would risk contaminating their water supply. They also object to construction crews destroying their sacred ancestral burial sites.

A masked warrior woman raises her fist at a Dakota Access construction site./Photo by Doug Grandt

Police from five nearby states have joined the Morton County local police force, carrying assault weapons, chemical agents, and flashbang grenades, and equipped with LRADs, helicopters, surveillance aircraft, and military grade assault vehicles. The Water Protectors of Standing Rock include over 300 tribes from 90 Red Nations and have encamped at four locations close to the pipeline path.

Tribe Elders have requested Water Protectors to remain nonviolent, but tension has sparked clashes. Water Protectors continue challenging authority by inserting themselves in the face of overwhelming police force. They filed for a temporary court injunction, but when that failed, they erected road barricades, forced work stoppages by chaining themselves to equipment, and blocked crews from accessing project sites to stop pipeline construction.

The FCC has declared a four-mile no-fly zone over area where area where police and Water Protectors are staged, prohibiting media from using drones equipped with cameras to capture confrontations. But independent media has nevertheless been able to report key events.

Dakota Access LLC, the corporation building the Dakota Access pipeline, is intent on completing the $3.8 billion project by year’s end despite a tsunami of mounting opposition, both grassroots and political. If completed, the project will send 470,000 barrels of Bakken crude from North Dakota to Illinois for refining.

Energy Transfer Partners Criticized by Its Own Industry Publication

A high profile energy trade publication, American Energy News, which typically reports on the side of the gas and oil industry, came out with uncharacteristic criticism of the project, describing it as a liability for the reputation of and a “political disaster” for the American gas and oil industry. Energy Transfer Partners, it said, had “a lot of soul searching to do” with regard to their handling of the project.

“Energy Transfer Partners and the Petroleum Institute have just made a huge strategic mistake with their handling of the Dakota Access pipeline protests,” it said.

Violent Police Tactics

The standoff has become a spectacle of state-sponsored violence against indigenous people. Standing Rock Sioux have reported trauma from police during arrests and processing, including many injuries, strip searches, and include a horse that was shot and killed by police. Images of Water Protectors with wounds from rubber bullets are being circulated on social media.

A private security firm released dogs on Dakota people outraged that an area just determined to be a burial site was being uprooted.

Democracy Now reporter Amy Goodman was charged last month with inciting a riot, although she was only equipped with a microphone, camera, and crew. The charges were later dismissed by a judge.

A dog attack on September 3, unleashed by a security firm hired to guard the pipeline, resulted in six injuries, including a child and a pregnant women, was but a forewarning of what was yet to come.

Erin Schrode, an independent journalist, was shot by police with what is believed to be a rubber bullet while she interviewed an activist Cantapeta Creek. Her camera caught the moment of her shooting and reaction as she fell to the ground. A photo of her back showed a grapefruit sized welt on her upper left back. Police denied they shot her but they were recorded carrying and pointing weapons, grenade launchers, and firing teargas at the Water Protectors.

Both sides of the standoff are deeply entrenched, refusing to concede ground in the 1,168-mile project. Sioux Elders have accused the police of being used as a corporate styled security force to enforce its agenda.

Police military tactics have solidified tribe alliances in a nearly unbreakable bond of solidarity not seen in many decades. Indigenous tribes joined at the camps now number over 300; elders and youth standing shoulder to shoulder against four-man-deep lines of militarized police. Internal fissures of between tribes from long ago have been forgotten. The Seven Council Fires, an alliance which has not been invoked in many generations, has also been rekindled.

Water Protectors have grown emboldened too, defiantly erecting barricades on highway 1806, a road near the camps, and setting them on fire, a tactic sometimes seen in politically tattered developing counties where unrest commonly pits governments and police against citizenry. Cat-and-mouse resistance tactics have been effectively delaying completion of the pipeline. They have been well-supported by copious donations of money and supplies from loyal social media followers.

The United Nations has weighed in on the uprising as well, calling for a halt to construction and condemning police tactics, further tarnishing the industry.

Police have used a military weapon called an LRAD, or sound cannon, on protestors./Photo by Doug Grandt

The UN requested the U.S. government to comply with its commitment to the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “We call on the government of the United States to… ensure the right of the Sioux to participate in decision-making, considering that the construction of this pipeline will affect their rights, lives and territory,” said Alvaro Pop Ac, Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The governor of North Dakota activated the National Guard and condemned the Water Protectors for endangering public safety, but there are no residents in the remote area around the camps or adjacent to the pipeline path at the Standing Rock Reservation.

Timeline of Significant Events

July 25, 2016: The Army Corps of Engineers issued a finding of no significant impact on the environment.

July through September: Standing Rock Sioux assemble “Spirit” and “Red Warrior” camps near Lake Oahe not far from the Standing Rock reservation.

August 13: Water Protectors surged onto the pipeline construction site. Morgan County police arrested 18, including Sioux elder Dave Archenbault II.

August 24: Tribes packed U.S. District Court in Washington, DC. Judge James E. Boasburg issued a temporary injunction until he could consider a ruling which he planned to issue in a week.

September 3: A security company hired by Dakota Access released dogs on hundreds of Water Protectors, injuring six. Reporter Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, who was filing a news segment at the time and released a viral video report of the attack showing Water Protectors being bitten and dogs bloodied from biting them.

September 9: North Dakota State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson issued an arrest warrant for Amy Goodman for misdemeanor criminal trespass; later dropping that charge, but filing a felony warrant for inciting a riot. Press freedom groups decried the prosecutor’s act as a blatant infringement of press freedom and a trampling of First Amendment rights.

Macauley Brown, a Standing Rock Sioux, ran from South Dakota to Washington, DC to draw attention to the Dakota Access Pipeline./Photo by Anne Meador

September 9: Judge James E. Boasberg ruled pipeline construction could proceed. Minutes following his ruling, the Obama Administration requested Dakota Access to voluntarily stop construction. In a joint published statement, the Army Corps of Engineers, State Department, and Department of Interior, wrote, “We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.” However, construction continued.

October 17: Charges against Amy Goodman were dropped. Goodman heralded the decision, calling it “a great vindication of the First Amendment and of our right to report.”

October 22: Water Protectors established Oceti Sakowin Treaty Camp, a front line encampment directly in the path of the pipeline and declare they have re-occupied the land under eminent domain. In 1851, the land had been affirmed as under domain of the Oceti Sakowin in the Fort Laramie treaty. Police respond in full battle gear, deploy mace, and arrest 83 people.

October 23: Water Protectors returned and took back the same land where arrests occurred the previous day. They re-established camp Oceti Sakowin, setting up several tipis and structures, erected two barricades on highway 1806 and confronted police. Police lined up with humvees, MRAPs and body armor.

Week of October 23: More than a million people “signed in” at the Sacred Stone and Oceti Sakowin camps on Facebook. The online sign-in’s purpose was to throw off known police tracking tactics.

October 28: Water Protectors clashed with police in a major escalation resulting in 141 arrests. During the confrontation, protectors claim police fired tasers and rubber bullets. An LRAD was turned on the Water Protectors and recorded on video at the scene. Police sprayed chemical agents into Water Protector’s faces. Police wrote numbers on arms of those arrested with indelible ink and confined them in what Water Protectors claim were dog kennel cages, further inflaming anger at the camps.

November 2: Police engaged Water Protectors again at the edge of Cantapeta Creek at Turtle Mountain, a known burial site, north of Cannon Ball Run. Protectors were trying to access the mountain as the pipeline buildout approached Lake Oahe. Protectors had built a wooden foot bridge over the creek to access the sacred land from the reservation side. Police fire rubber bullets and mace protectors as they stand in the water near the creek edge.

Also on November 2 at Cantapeta Creek, journalist Erin Schroeder was shot in the back with a rubber bullet while interviewing a Water Protector. Her camera captured video of the moment she was shot. A photo taken of her back injury was widely shared.

November 3: The UN sent a team to investigate indigenous people’s claims of human rights abuses of Water Protectors by North Dakota police. “When you look at what the international standards are for the treatment of people, and you are in a place like the United States, it’s really astounding to hear some of this testimony,” Robert Borrero of the International Indian Treaty Council told Reuters.

Standoff Continues

The Obama Administration is presently considering a reroute of the pipeline away from the planned pipeline tunnel under Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Reservation. Obama spoke on November 2, saying the Army Corps of Engineers is considering a reroute because of the unrest.

But Elders say the project route has already destroyed burial sites and whatever river crossing is chosen, it will still cross the Missouri upstream, potentially affecting the reservation and millions dependent on the river.

Water Protectors, Sept. 27, 2016/Photo by Doug Grandt

Indigenous burial sites have already been plowed under by construction crews despite efforts to protect them, and over 400 have been arrested. Many have suffered injuries from rubber bullets and strong-armed police tactics.

The Standing Rock Sioux Elders have reinforced a peaceful ethic among all the water protectors. It is possible there would by now have been fatalities in the tense standoff if Water Protectors had taken more militant measures.

The Standing Rock Sioux have vowed to remain by Lake Oahe through the harsh North Dakota winter or until the pipeline is permanently stopped.

Even with a reroute and possible completion of the pipeline, suspicion and resentment over the character of the build-at-any-cost project runs deep and has cast what will be long lasting bitter memories for those who took part in the uprising against the Dakota Access pipeline.

It has also marked the beginning of a new epic of aggressive environmentalism in the U.S. It is also the new face of a environmental movement defaulting to resistance which from now on, the delegitimized fossil energy industry will have to contend with.

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Undeterred by Trump Victory, #NoDAPL Pursues Campaign Against Lenders

Thu, 11/10/2016 - 12:50

From left, Niki Carroll, Eula Dyson, Joan Biren, Bethany Flores, Joshua Pena protest Dakota Access Pipeline project at Washington, DC, branch of Bank of America./Photo by Mark Hand

Washington, DC — Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline resumed one day after Donald Trump shocked most prognosticators by winning the U.S. presidential election. In Washington, DC, people gathered in Farragut Square in the early evening on Nov. 9 to express their opposition to the construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline and the financial institutions that are providing loans to its developers.

Several people marched from the downtown park to a nearby branch of Bank of America to protest the Charlotte, NC-headquartered bank’s loan of $375 million to the pipeline developers. Activists across the nation are hoping constant pressure will convince banks to opt out of bankrolling the 1,172-mile pipeline, which would carry crude oil produced in the Bakken fields of North Dakota across four states, with an end point in southern Illinois.

In Farragut Square, protesters expressed concern about the decision to route the pipeline system through Native American lands in North Dakota, including under the Missouri River. Leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation is located about 50 miles south of Bismarck, ND, contend the pipeline could threaten their sole water source.

Eula Dyson, a Maryland resident who has friends on the Standing Rock reservation, lamented that pipeline construction crews have succeeded in getting almost the entire pipeline built in the contested region, except for the Missouri River crossing. “That’s the final piece,” Dyson said at the protest. “I grew up in south Louisiana. I know what oil is all about, the destruction caused by the oil industry to the environment down there.”

As proposed by Energy Transfer Partners, the lead developer of the pipeline, the Dakota Access system would cross the Missouri River less than a mile north of the Standing Rock reservation. An early proposal for the pipeline called for the project to cross the Missouri River north of Bismarck, but one reason that route was rejected was its potential threat to Bismarck’s water supply.

Joshua Pena, who had never attended a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, decided to join the Nov. 9 action in solidarity with Native Americans. “I’ve been seeing the repression of these people for so long. What we’ve done to them over the past several hundred years is absolutely embarrassing and disgraceful. And the fact that in this day and age, we continue to exhibit the exact same behaviors is unacceptable,” said Pena, who lives in Vienna, Va.

The original path of the Dakota Access Pipeline “was going to go through some white people’s land and they complained about it and so they re-routed it to go through the Native American land because apparently their rights aren’t as important as the white people are,” he said.

Niki Carroll, who lives in Purcellville, Va., and was also attending her first protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, felt it was important to express her support for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. “When a white community said they did not want the Dakota Access Pipeline to go near their community and the developers decided to re-route it through Native American lands, it was typical of what settler culture has always done,” Carroll said.

Protesters Urge Banks to Withdraw Support

None of the banks financing the Dakota Access Pipeline has backed away from the project. But Citigroup reportedly has raised concerns over the project with Energy Transfer Partners and called for greater engagement with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Environmentalists have targeted banks in other campaigns. Banks such as Barclays, ING and Deutsche Bank have opted not to finance projects that involve mountaintop removal mining. JPMorgan Chase announced earlier this year it would no longer finance new coal-fired power plants in the United States but the move could be related to the declining profitability of investing in coal as opposed to concerns over climate change.

Mandy Stussman and Brandon Johnson demonstrate against Dakota Access Pipeline in Farragut Square in Washington, DC./Photo by Mark Hand

Pena does not believe Hillary Clinton, if she had won the election, would have helped to stop the pipeline project. “I think either Clinton or Trump would have had approximately the same policy in this regard. They’re both owned by the same people. They’re both answering to the same type of people. Neither of them would have made a change. If we would have seen Jill Stein as president, absolutely the pipeline would have been stopped in an instant,” he said.

Dakota Access Pipeline supporters have noted that the pipeline would follow a similar route to an existing natural gas pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The Northern Border Pipeline, operated by TransCanada Corp., crosses the Missouri River near Dakota Access Pipeline’s proposed river crossing. Supporters have questioned why the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did not protest Northern Border’s proposed Missouri River crossing at Lake Oahe when it was built decades ago.

But Pena does not see a double-standard in the Standing Rock Sioux tribe opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline project. “An oil spill would be orders of magnitude more devastating to the environment and the water than a natural gas rupture would. There’s no comparison,” Pena said.

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Several Arrested as Million Mask March Returns to Washington, DC

Sat, 11/05/2016 - 21:38

Washington, DC — The annual Million Mask March returned to the U.S. capital city on Saturday, November 5, drawing hundreds from around the country in protest against war, state surveillance, wealth inequality, poverty, and a long list of other grievances.

Hundreds affiliating themselves with the group Anonymous and adopting the anachronistic personage of Guy Fawkes, staged their 7th annual protest. The march wound through Washington, DC, and stopped at key government and corporate buildings.

The Million Mask March commemorates Guy Fawkes Day, which has been celebrated in London for centuries. Fawkes, who was sentenced to be hanged for his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605–a plan to blow up the House of Lords– jumped from the scaffolding, committing suicide before the sentence could be carried out.

Anons gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument as the sun rose and walked to the White House, but they were obstructed by barricades erected for preparation for the January 20th presidential inauguration. They were met by dozens of Secret Service who confronted them in a tense standoff, but there were no arrests.

Protesters surround front door of FBI building, several arrested./Photo by John Zangas

As they passed a homeless man in Lafayette Square, they showered him with donations and food. One youth gave the man a bud of marijuana. In response, the man said he would gladly give back all of his money for it. They also did the same for a homeless woman nearby.

As the march meandered unpredictably, it passed the Trump International Hotel, which has become a hotbed for protests since it opened in September. Several dozen surged into the lobby but were escorted out by security. At they were ejected, several vandalized a free standing sign by the entrance. (See video.)

The march then went across the street to the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building where tensions escalated further. DC Metropolitan Police arrested several for disorderly conduct after they tagged the street with spray paint.

The situation was de-escalated by one youth at the bull horn, who asked everyone to remember their “message of peace.”

The march nearly doubled in size as more joined along the way to the U.S. Capitol Building. Access to the Capitol was also barricaded due to preparations for the Inaugural speech and parade.

There the group was met by a team of about 100 U.S. Capitol Police officers in riot gear, who blocked access to the Capitol grounds, but there were no arrests.

Why March?

There were a variety of messages and reasons given for participating in this year’s march.

“We’re very unhappy with the way things are going, the environment, the corruption of a system without control, has gotten out of the hands of the people,” said Bell Jordan from New York.

U.S. Capitol Police in riot gear block marchers./Photo by John Zangas

Kevin Blanch, a key organizer for the march, said that the Million Mask March is in the spirit of Guy Fawkes and a way to give grassroots activists to get out into the streets. “The Million Mask March has become an international day of protest, and the [Guy Fawkes] mask has come to symbolize that,” he said.

Several others voiced concerns with the election and topics such as the environment and military spending.

“We are fighting everything from corruption to fiat currency to GMOs,” said Vanessa, who did not give her last name.

As of 5 pm, the march was still going after eight hours, passing the Washington Monument for the third time. Several were carrying a banner which read “Water Is Life” and “#NoDAPL,” intended as a message of support for the indigenous people’s uprising in North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Click to view slideshow.

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Silver Spring Residents Sue Washington Gas, Apartment Management after Deadly Gas Explosion

Wed, 11/02/2016 - 18:50

Bailey & Glasser attorney John Barrett speaks at Nov. 2 press conference in Washington, DC, announcing lawsuit against Washington Gas and Kay Management./Photo by Mark Hand

Lawyers for the victims of a natural gas explosion and fire at an apartment complex in Silver Spring, Md., filed two lawsuits against Washington Gas Light Co. and apartment management company Kay Management. Seven people died as a result of the Aug. 10 disaster, including two children. At least 25 people were injured and about 150 were displaced.

The lawsuits, filed on Nov. 2 in Superior Court of the District of Columbia, place the responsibility for the explosion and fire on Washington Gas, as the entity responsible for the natural gas lines that delivered gas to the apartment complex, and Kay Management, as the entity responsible for maintaining the gas lines inside the apartment complex that exploded that night.

“We truly believe that Washington Gas and Kay Management are responsible for these seven deaths and many people who have been injured,” CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres said at a Nov. 2 press conference in front of the Washington, DC, headquarters of WGL Holdings, the parent company of Washington Gas.

CASA, a nonprofit group that advocates for low-income workers and tenants, partnered with two law firms — Bailey & Glasser LLP and Gupta Wessler PLLC — to conduct an independent investigation into the natural gas-fueled explosion and fire at the Flower Branch Apartments complex and file the lawsuits on behalf of the apartments residents.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), two federal agencies that have investigated the explosion and fire, have not released any information on the investigation. The agencies have denied CASA and the law firms access to “crucial evidence in our ongoing inquiry,” Torres said. “If this happened in a rich neighborhood, we would have an answer immediately. But because these families live in a poor neighborhood, we still don’t receive any answer,” he added.

Washington Gas said its participation in the ongoing NTSB investigation precludes it from making any public statements about the inquiry or the explosion and fire at the Flower Branch Apartments. The company expressed its “deepest and sincerest condolences” to the residents affected by the disaster. But Washington Gas said it cannot at this time comment on the litigation related to the incident.

In a statement in response to the Nov. 2 press conference organized by CASA, Kay Management said it met with residents of the two affected buildings within days of the natural gas explosion to answer questions and to provide details on company-provided assistance packages. “We are continuing to work with CASA’s attorneys to coordinate a second meeting under mutually agreed-upon terms with any resident,” Kay Management said.

Of the 23 apartments that are no longer habitable, all leaseholders and their authorized occupants have secured housing, Kay Management said. “We are committed to work with government agencies to resolve the ongoing investigation as quickly as possible,” the management company added.

Plaintiffs Seek Damages and Justice

The first lawsuit seeks damages for personal injury and wrongful death for the families of those killed by the explosion and fire and for those residents who sustained physical injuries. About 30 people are represented in this lawsuit. The second lawsuit, a class action complaint, seeks justice for all of the residents of Flower Branch who were affected by the explosion, including the families who lost their homes and their life savings. About 75 households at the Flower Branch apartment complex are members of the class.

Seven people, including two children, died at the Flower Branch Apartments complex in Silver Spring, Md., as a result of an Aug. 10 explosion and fire./Photo by Mark Hand

In the wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking economic and non-economic damages, including for physical pain and mental anguish suffered in the past and future, medical and other expenses incurred in the past and future, lost earnings in the past and reduction in earning capacity in the future, and loss of use of personal property.

In the class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking damages for being rendered homeless and displaced, harm to personal property, loss of use of personal property, loss of use of household goods or wearing apparel, loss of the benefit of leasehold interests, lost wages, and additional expenses. The plaintiffs also are seeking injunctive and equitable relief designed to prevent similar tragedies in the future, both at the Flower Branch Apartments complex and at other locations serviced by Washington Gas or Kay Management.

“The broader purpose of this legal action is improved safety for the area’s gas customers. We want safety reforms at Washington Gas and Kay Management and help ensure the nightmare at Flower Branch does not happen to other homes in Maryland or the District of Columbia,” John Barrett, an attorney with Charleston, W.Va.-headquartered Bailey & Glasser, said at the press conference. “They must improve their equipment and the processes by which they maintain their lines and respond to customer warnings about gas leaks.”

Based on preliminary findings, investigators and building management blamed a natural gas leak in a basement utility room. The NTSB took over the investigation into the causes of the disaster and is expected to issue a final report within 12 months of the August incident. An NTSB spokesman said the apartment explosion and fire are still under investigation. He also said the agency could not comment on the lawsuits brought against Washington Gas and Kay Management.

Attorneys Claim Negligence, Lack of Communication

The claims in the lawsuits primarily relate to alleged negligence by Washington Gas and Kay Management with respect to maintaining the gas lines and responding to complaints about gas odors. Local residents said the smell of natural gas was commonplace in the Flower Branch Apartments, and some accused the apartment complex managers of ignoring their gas leak complaints.

“Less than three weeks before the explosion and fire, residents had reported the smell of natural gas, but the Defendants – Washington Gas Light Company, which supplied natural gas to the complex, and Kay Management Company, which managed the complex — failed to take any action to address the complaints,” the plaintiffs stated in the wrongful death lawsuit. “They did not repair the gas leak, did not make an appropriate inspection that would have identified a leak, and did not warn or evacuate residents. Defendants also failed to perform routine inspections that would have uncovered the potential for catastrophe and saved the lives and property of the residents.”

Residents of the Flower Branch Apartments complex in Silver Spring, Md., participated in the Nov. 2 press conference in front of Washington Gas’s headquarters./Photo by Mark Hand

Kay Management communicated with residents of the Flower Branch Apartments soon after the disaster because of the challenges facing the displaced residents. But since then, residents and their advocates have struggled to get additional answers from the management company, according to CASA. Washington Gas has refused to communicate with CASA and the plaintiffs’ attorneys about the Aug. 10 incident, Torres said.

“They’ve delayed and danced around our demands long enough. The victims and families are tired of waiting and we have been as patient as good conscience permits,” Barrett said. “The lawsuits we filed today give us the tools to get answers.”

Maria Escobar and her husband and three-year-old daughter attended the press conference, as did more than two dozen other residents of the Flower Branch Apartments complex. On the night of the explosion, Escobar and her family fled their apartment barefoot and lost everything in the fire. They are now living with family in the region. Another Flower Branch resident, Sara Yac, moved with her family to a different apartment at the complex after her apartment was destroyed in the explosion and fire. She is part of the class action lawsuit.

Bailey & Glasser also has represented communities impacted by disasters in West Virginia’s coal mining regions. “Those cases are very similar. We filed a number of lawsuits on behalf of entire towns and communities in southern West Virginia who were affected by coal mining and by coal mining disasters — losing their water, being subjected to a daily onslaught of dust and noise associated with coal preparation plants,” Barrett said. “This is very similar. The injuries that were involved in those cases don’t rise to the level that these families have experienced, but we are thrilled to be working with CASA. We are thrilled to be working with these families.”

Low-income residents throughout the Washington metropolitan area are subjected to “inhumane and dangerous” conditions, CASA said in a Nov. 2 news release. “In this case, the persistent conditions led to death and displacement. The truth is these conditions would never have been allowed to persist in more affluent communities,” the group contended.

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New Virginia Fracking Study Lays Groundwork for Regulatory Battles

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 15:11

Most protest in Virginia has centered around proposed fracked gas pipelines cutting through the state./Photo: Chesapeake Climate/Flickr

The League of Women Voters of Virginia completed an in-depth study of hydraulic fracturing and is now working with its local chapters to prepare a state policy position on the oil and gas production process. The study, released in October, provides an overview of the modern form of hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” and identifies the areas of the state that could be targeted by natural gas producers using the technology.

In Virginia, the Marcellus Shale is found along the western edge of the state, while the Taylorsville Basin and other smaller basins are located in the eastern part of the state. Southwestern Virginia is known predominantly for its coalbed methane production, but the industry also has drilled thousands of oil and gas wells in the region over the past 85 years.

In its advocacy work and lobbying, the League of Women Voters of Virginia often relies on the policy positions developed by its national office in Washington, DC. With fracking, though, the state organization wanted to develop a position that would be more specific to Virginia, according to Lois Page, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia.

“We were concerned that the only fracking position we had to work with as a state was a national position advocating for clean water,” Page said in an interview. “There seemed to be other issues involved. We felt that we had to study it just for Virginia, to see what Virginia needed.”

The state organization wants its 12 local chapters to review the study and then come to a consensus on questions that delve into how the use of fracking should be regulated at the state and local levels in Virginia. The local chapters’ consensus reports are due to the state organization by the end of March 2017. The state organization will then decide on a policy position regarding fracking in Virginia at its April 2017 board meeting, Page said.

At its state convention in 2015, the League of Women Voters of Virginia voted to undertake the fracking study. The 24-page study, researched and prepared by a group of League of Women Voters volunteer members, took approximately 14 months to complete.

“Hydraulic fracturing is a moving target. Every day, new legislation, lawsuits, and technologies are created,” the League of Women Voters of Virginia concluded in the study. “Every geology and well requires a different extraction method. Every piece of data has advocates and opponents. Industry, government, and citizens struggle to find a balance that will provide low-cost, environmentally clean energy in quantities that will support our current lifestyles and future energy requirements.”

The Virginia Oil and Gas Association (VOGA) said it encourages citizens and groups to research the facts about fracking in the state. “The Commonwealth of Virginia has a rich history of safe and environmentally sensitive natural gas and oil extraction with more than 80 years of history to back up the facts,” the trade association said in an Nov. 1 emailed statement. “There are more than 9,300 gas wells in Virginia  and there have been no proven cases of groundwater contamination attributed to fracking.”

Another Fracking Study?

Instead of preparing a new fracking study, some environmentalists believe the League of Women Voters’ time could be put to better use. Natalie Pien, chair of 350 Loudoun, a local chapter of the 350.org environmental group, contends researchers have conducted enough studies into the impacts of fracking.

“The time and energy should be spent on going ahead and opposing it. There have been plenty of studies, plenty of evidence that fracking is dangerous, whether it is happening in Virginia or Pennsylvania or West Virginia,” Pien said in an interview. “I can see where they want an independent study, but it’s like recreating the wheel.” Due to concerns over a rapidly changing climate, Pien emphasized “we don’t have time to recreate the wheel and then take action.”

An unconventional shale gas well drill site in Pennsylvania./Source: SkyTruth

Pien said she supports the League of Women Voters but wishes the organization would use studies already conducted by universities and other organizations. “Whether or not fracking occurs in Virginia or occurs in other states, it’s the same problems, the same issues, the same impacts,” she said.

The League of Women Voters has procedures it follows as it formulates policy positions. Preparing studies on issues, which represents one step in these procedures, allows the League to proceed with stronger support from all of its members, the organization said.

In December 2015, the Virginia Sierra Club joined other environmental groups to urge Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to order a “thorough, interagency, public review of the Commonwealth’s regulations and procedures” governing fracking in the state.

“Although some limited lower-volume fracking has occurred in the past, newer and more risky fracking techniques seen in other states would be new to Virginia, and Virginia is not prepared for them,” the Virginia Sierra Club said in the Dec. 3, 2015, letter. “A 2013 survey of regulations across the country found that Virginia has among the least stringent shale gas regulations of all 31 states in the United States with actual or potential shale gas production.” The McAuliffe administration has yet to order a comprehensive, inter-agency review of the state’s rules and regulations governing fracking.

Earlier in 2015, though, a Virginia advisory panel recommended that energy companies disclose the chemical ingredients they use in fracking. But the Sierra Club contended these recommendations and others did not go far enough. “Even with DMME’s [Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy] recently proposed amendments, Virginia’s drilling regulations fail to adequately protect the public,” the Sierra Club said in the December 2015 letter.

VOGA countered that additional regulation of Virginia’s natural gas industry is unnecessary because the sector is already regulated by a multitude of agencies at both the state and federal levels, including the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy’s Division of Gas and Oil, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.

It remains unclear which side of the debate the League of Women Voters of Virginia will fall. The organization could support the status quo, tighter regulation of the industry, or even a ban on fracking in the state. The League of Women Voters of Virginia emphasized its fracking study was guided by principles espoused by its national organization, including the belief that “the government should promote the conservation and development of natural resources in the public interest, share in the solution of economic and social problems that affect the general welfare, and promote a sound economy.”

The study’s authors put together a list of issues that it wants its local Virginia chapters to examine in relation to fracking: the public’s right to know, protection and management of natural resources, social and economic justice, and health and safety.

Modern Fracking Slow to Reach Virginia

Companies have used fracking on approximately 2,100 wells in shale, sandstone and limestone formations in southwestern Virginia since the 1950s, according to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. Virtually all of these fracking jobs used small amounts of water and did not employ the high-volume, slick-water methods used in shale gas drilling operations since the early 2000s.

With the new technology mastered, producers were able to economically tap shale rock formations for both oil and natural gas. In Virginia, as little as 35,000 gallons of water may be required for a coalbed methane well compared to up to 6,000,000 gallons that may be used to frack a well in the Marcellus Shale.

The George Washington National Forest, located in western Virginia, has been viewed as a potential site for shale gas drilling. But two years ago the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced it would place nearly all of the 1.1 million-acre George Washington National Forest off-limits to shale gas drilling and fracking. In a decision issued in late 2014, the USFS said it will allow drilling on only 10,000 acres in the forest now leased for energy development and on 167,000 acres whose mineral rights are privately owned.

Preparing the fracking study turned out to be a major undertaking for the League of Women Voters of Virginia, an all-volunteer organization, aside from one recently created administrative position in Richmond. The organization does not have enough members to conduct major studies on a regular basis, Page said.

Construction of pipelines has emerged as another controversial energy-related issue in the state. League of Women Voters members in parts of Virginia are concerned about the numerous natural gas pipelines projects and pipeline upgrades that have been announced in recent years. But Page said it is too early to say whether the organization will conduct another study on pipelines. If enough members express an interest, the pipeline issue could be discussed at the organization’s next state convention in June 2017, she said.

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Loudoun Officials Caught Off-Guard by Dominion’s New Compressor Expansion Plans

Thu, 10/27/2016 - 11:22

Dominion Transmission’s Leesburg Compressor Station in Loudoun County, Va./Photo by Mark Hand

Local lawmakers are bewildered by Dominion Resources Inc.’s latest plans to upgrade a natural gas pipeline compressor station in Loudoun County, Va., less than two years after the company promised no new compressor expansions in the area would be forthcoming.

The planned compression expansion is part of a project that Dominion is calling Eastern Market Access, a project that will increase capacity on its Dominion Cove Point pipeline by about 294,000 dekatherms per day. Washington Gas, the natural gas utility for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, and Panda Power Funds, developer of the proposed Mattawoman Energy Center in Maryland, have agreed to long-term firm contracts for equal shares of the planned new capacity.

“In the similar application a couple years ago, they said they weren’t going to do this again,” Tony Buffington, Blue Ridge District supervisor on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, said in an interview at an Oct. 26 informational meeting held by Dominion at a local elementary school. “They said they wouldn’t be coming forward with anything like this. If anything, they would downsize. So there’s a concern that, well, if you said that last time and now you’re coming forward with this, why should anybody believe anything you’re saying?”

Buffington’s district includes the community that is home to two Dominion compressor stations as well as a Columbia Gas Transmission compressor station. “They basically are apologetic for the previous instance where they made that statement, and they said they shouldn’t have made that statement,” the Republican supervisor said of Dominion.

The previous company statements referred to a proposed compression upgrade related to Dominion’s Cove Point liquefaction and pipeline project, Dominion said. For a subsequent project, Dominion filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2015 to install one new 8,000-horsepower electric compressor unit at its Leesburg Compressor Station as part of its larger Leidy South Project. After receiving a FERC certificate of approval in August, Dominion has begun work on the Leidy South Project, with a projected in-service date of October 2017.

In its latest announcement, Dominion said it plans to add 7,000 horsepower of compression to the Loudoun Compressor Station as part of the Eastern Market Access project. Buffington said Dominion officials told him that the Eastern Market Access project application is based on the amount of pipeline capacity and compression the company knows it will need now. But the company did not rule out the possibility of another similar request in the future, he said.

In an Oct. 27 statement, Dominion said demand for natural gas to meet residential, business and power-generation uses continues to grow quickly in the region. “Just as local officials and community planners must manage the demand for new schools, roads and other services that comes with a growing population, we too must expand our pipelines and power lines to meet increasing energy demands,” the company said. “We have designed this project to have the least impact possible on neighboring property owners, including the addition of electric compression.”

Va. House Member Opposes New Compression Expansion

Virginia Del. J. Randall Minchew, who represents the 10th district, which includes the community around the compressor stations, expressed disappointment with Dominion and is urging the company not to file the application with FERC for the Eastern Market Access compression expansion.

Public officials had an understanding, Minchew emphasized, that Dominion would not add new compression at either the Leesburg or Loudoun compressor stations. Minchew said he plans to work at both the state and county levels to stop the project to ensure the health and welfare of the residents who live near the compressor stations can be protected.

Entrance to Dominion’s Loudoun Compressor Station southeast of Leesburg, Va./Photo by Mark Hand

Dominion created a stir in the county when it vented its Loudoun Compressor Station on Sept. 26. Natural gas, mixed with an odorant for detection, spread as far as 10 miles east and north of the station. The local police and fire departments received more than 100 emergency calls.

Buffington said his office received “very late notice” about the venting. “My office got notice Friday afternoon and they did it Monday morning. It’s hard to get a news flash typed up and sent to constituents in order for them to read it and understand what’s going on,” he said.

Dominion is planning to conduct another round of venting at the compressor station on Nov. 1 and 3. But the company and county officials plan to make sure the community is better informed beforehand about what is happening, Buffington said.

Dominion owns the Leesburg Compressor Station, which serves its Dominion Transmission Inc.’s PL-1 line. On the opposite side of Watson Road southeast of the town of Leesburg, Dominion also owns the Loudoun Compressor Station, which serves the Dominion Cove Point Pipeline, a transportation system that interconnects with Dominion Transmission’s PL-1 line.

The Eastern Access Market project represents the third proposed expansion at its two compressor stations in Loudoun County in the last four years. In 2012, the community protested Dominion’s plans to add compression to its Loudoun Compressor Station as part of the Cove Point liquefaction project. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution opposing the company’s plans to add the compression. In response to the county’s concerns, the company changed its plans and opted to add 62,500 horsepower of compression to its Pleasant Valley compressor station in neighboring Fairfax County as part of the Cove Point liquefaction and pipeline project.

Residents Rally Against Compression Expansion

About 20 people held a rally at Dominion’s Oct. 26 informational meeting to demonstrate their opposition to the Eastern Market Access project. The open house occurred one day after Dominion held a similar informational meeting in Charles County, Md., where the company plans to build a new compressor station as part of the project.

The demonstrators in Loudoun County expressed concerns about the potential health effects from the routine venting and blow-downs that occur at the compressor stations and questioned why Dominion announced the Eastern Access Market project so soon after receiving approval for the Leidy South Project. “Compressor stations have been shown to pose a health risk to those who live close by. Greene Mill Preserve is a community of over two hundred residents and is only one mile from the station,” local climate justice group 350 Loudoun, organizer of the rally, said in a news release.

Loudoun County, Va., Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall./Photo courtesy of Phyllis J. Randall

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall also attended the Dominion open house. “Part of the reason I’m here is to learn why they’re doing it, why they need it, how it will affect Loudoun and how it will affect people in other counties and even in other states,” Randall said.

Randall, a Democrat who became the first African-American woman in the history of Virginia elected to chair a county board of supervisors, said she used both the “frequently-asked-questions” sheet provided by Dominion and the list of questions handed to her by the demonstrators to learn as much as possible about the project. “I’m pushing very hard for Dominion to give me the answers that are not on their frequently-asked-questions list,” she said.

After the venting incident in September, Randall said she heard complaints from residents. But she also has heard concerns about natural gas pipelines and shale gas drilling in general. “It’s not just about, ‘Are you going to expand the compressor station?’ It’s about how healthy is this for our neighbors.” Randall, along with her fellow board colleagues, may hold an informational session on the project “because I think it’s important for everyone to know,” she said.

“Some of what I’m hearing is concerning,” she said. “What’s really concerning is mostly not what’s happening in Loudoun, but what’s happening where the natural gas is being produced. For me, I’m, of course, here as chair of the Loudoun County board. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about people in other countries and other states.”

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