Civil disobedience training session addresses protest tactics

Green Environmental Organization hosted a civil disobedience training session on March 6 in the Interfaith Center. Two defenders from We Are Seneca Lake spoke about their protests against the planned expansion of gas storage by the Texas-based energy company Crestwood Midstream in the salt mines underneath Seneca Lake.

After the session, students were considered trained and therefore permitted to volunteer at the organization’s protests.

Defender Doug Couchon began the session by introducing the organization and its members. Couchon stated that We Are Seneca Lake is composed of 700 trained individuals who have blockaded Crestwood’s gates 48 times and generated 480 arrests.

Following Couchon’s introduction, defender Mariah Plumlee spoke about the types of gas Crestwood plans to store. Currently, Crestwood stores 1.5 billion cubic feet of methane in the salt caverns and hopes to eventually store liquefied propane and butane as well. The courts are deciding whether liquefied petroleum gas storage will be permitted.

Plumlee added that Crestwood wants to store fracked gas in these caverns because they have an excess supply and are not making enough money selling it.

According to Plumlee, salt industries use a solution salt mining process to extract salt from the caverns. This process leaves shale with holes in it. When shale interacts with the methane, it can travel easily in the caverns, making them unstable.

We Are Seneca Lake originally focused on protesting methane storage because the issue can no longer be fought in the courts.

“Our only  left is civil disobedience because all the legal recourses have dried up and failed; talking to government, talking to industry, marching, peaceful protest, public fora—none of that has worked,” Couchon said. “The only thing left to citizens like us is peaceful nonviolent civil disobedience to make change.”

If an accident happens, Plumlee emphasized that Crestwood is not responsible for paying for the damages; the town of Reading, where Crestwood is located, is. By allowing Crestwood to work in Reading, Plumlee said that the town receives a small sum of money and eight full time jobs.

Couchon and Plumlee then discussed the nature of their blockades. They explained that if a confrontation occurs at a blockade, it is the job of the defenders to remove themselves from a potentially violent situation.

“If you’re up on site with us and somebody hangs out of their truck and gives you the finger and tells you to get a job—and you don’t do anything—it doesn’t feel like you’re acquiescing to their reality quite as much as it might in another situation. It’s because you’re standing with the most wonderful people that you’ll ever meet,” Plumlee said. “There’s something really special about the people who are brave enough to come out and stand up for Seneca Lake.”

The blockades consist of a team of people planning on getting arrested and a group of supporters. People who have been arrested have been charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct at the violation level.

Once arrested, protesters are given an arraignment date in which they are publicly read their charges and required to plead guilty or not guilty. If an individual pleads guilty, they will receive a maximum fine of $375.

Some defenders have refused to pay the fine, which, according to Plumlee, costs Skyler County a substantial amount of money. Currently, if an individual refuses to pay the fine, a black mark is placed on their credit.

As a result, most defenders plead not guilty. Plumlee explained that this cost the courts even more money and overwhelms them with paperwork. Plumlee added that this is the first time in New York State that defenders were dismissed in the interest of justice.

“Our lawyer made this incredibly elegant and beautiful argument pointing out that the people who had been arrested as a We Are Seneca Lake defender were actually the backbone of our community and that they were the people who helped when they were asked,” she said. “They were the people who stood up for things and who took care of people who needed to be taken care of.”

Junior Laura Brown attended the session and said she felt it was very informative.

“This is stuff I don’t really have a lot of knowledge about so I really wanted to be active and understand a lot of it and what I can do outside of the community of Geneseo,” she said. “A lot of the activities that I do are on campus, which is great, but I would like to start figuring out some things I can do outside of that.”