Bill McKibben's Organizes Protest and Mass Arrest at MA Power Plant

Originally published in Open Media Boston. by Tate Williams (Staff), Jul-24-13

Cambridge, Mass. - The climate movement is a unique one, longtime activist Bill McKibben told an audience in Cambridge Sunday night, because it doesn’t gain its strength from a few powerful advocacy groups or high-profile leaders.

“What we are getting are thousands of nodes of people all around the world, groups in the community, fighting particular things—particular power plants, or fighting for wind on Cape Cod, fighting on all those fronts, but also realizing that they are connected and part of something much larger,” he said to the crowd at a rally and fundraiser.

And that’s why, McKibben would conclude, he wants you to get arrested in Somerset this weekend.

His activist group is organizing a series of civil disobedience actions across the country this month, including one Sunday at Somerset’s Brayton Point Power Station that will end with a set of activists risking arrest for trespassing on plant property. McKibben spoke at the First Parish Cambridge Unitarian Universalist church in Harvard Square Sunday as part of an event to fundraise and promote the demonstration.

“It’s a hard thing to ask anyone to get arrested. We shouldn’t have to do it,” he said, his voice a bit faint, he explained, from traveling and speaking in support of the demonstrations. “It should be more than enough to have scientists explain that the worst thing in the world is happening and here’s what we should do about it.”

That’s precisely what McKibben tried to do starting in 1989, when he published The End of Nature, one of the first books to introduce the issue of climate change to the general public. Since then—perhaps being humble in his observation that the movement lacks leaders—he’s become one of the most prominent environmentalists in the country, eventually moving from writing about climate change to leading massive demonstrations calling for action on the issue.

“I’ve been to jail a couple of times, and it’s not great fun, but it’s not the end of the world,” McKibben said. “The end of the world is the end of the world.”

The latest wave of these demonstrations is happening in late July and early August, in what is calling “Summer Heat,” 11 coordinated, nationwide actions, some of which include planned arrests.

McKibben has been on tour speaking in support of the effort, which brought him to Cambridge Sunday. In addition to his talk, there was a panel discussion featuring State Sen. Will Brownsberger, Camilo Viveiros of the George Wiley Center and Claire Miller from Toxics Action Center.

The Massachusetts event this coming Sunday is calling for the close of Brayton Point, the largest coal-fired power plant in New England. The plant made news back in May, when activists Jay O’Hara and Ken Ward piloted the lobster boat Henry David T. in the path of an arriving tanker to block the delivery of a coal shipment. The action this weekend is considered a continuation of that protest. And as McKibben described, it builds on an increasing number of protests to either prevent new or close existing fossil fuel power plants, a sort of piecemeal workaround to failed attempts at national climate policy.

Activists will meet in Somerset Sunday morning and march to the plant, where a group of the demonstrators will then likely be arrested for trespassing. One of those demonstrators will be Turner Bledsoe, 79, of Hingham, who attended the event in Cambridge and said he was planning to be arrested for the first time in his life on Sunday.

“It’s an existential issue, whether our civilization can persist,” Bledsoe said in an interview after the panel discussion. “I think we’re on an unsustainable path, and if we don’t turn things around very quickly, we’re going to be in big trouble.”

Four years ago, Bledsoe converted his house to be as sustainable as possible, installing solar power and a geothermal well.

“It was clear doing good things isn’t enough. We really are at war with the fossil fuel industry. They’ve done everything in their power to delay conversion to alternative fuels and it’s the most important thing I could be doing.”

He said he does have some trepidation about being arrested, but fortunately, his daughter is a lawyer.

Bledsoe was not the only senior participating in the event. There were several gray-haired attendees Sunday and a handful indicated they planned to be arrested the following weekend. That diversity of participants is another important element of the climate movement McKibben said he’s witnessed.

“The message we need to keep sending all the time is, there is nothing radical about what we’re asking,” he said. “All we’re asking for is a world that works the way the one we were born into worked. That’s not radical. That’s actually kind of conservative.”

Learn more about the Brayton Point event here. Also note that anyone planning to risk arrest must first attend a separate training Saturday.