Civil disobedience in Lafayette and North Dakota

6
Joel Dyer

The latest bright idea to emerge from Boulder County’s intrepid anti-frackers is to get the City of Lafayette to legalize “non-violent” civil disobedience and “direct action protests” that target oil and gas drilling.

According to a story in last Monday’s Daily Camera, such acts would include sit-ins, strikes and workplace occupations or blockades and would “allow protesters unprecedented immunity from arrest or detainment.”

“Our position is anything that interferes with our right to a healthy climate and any attempt to forcefully compel drilling on Lafayette citizens would be open to acts of civil disobedience,” said Cliff Willmeng, who organized the anti-fracking group East Boulder County United.

“What other option is there for people when their state government is in the pocket of the oil and gas industry?”, said Willmeng’s mom, Lafayette City Councilwoman Merrily Mazza.

Well, that will certainly fix the oil and gas industry’s clock. The second drillers set up a rig in Lafayette it will the swarmed by little green guardians of  Lafayette’s earth, air, water and oatmeal, who’ll plant their butts all over the rig, and shut that baby down for days, weeks, months — whatever it takes — until the oil company comes, gets tired of losing thousands of dollars a day, lays off the dozens of locals working for it, and moves back to North Dakota; all with the full blessing of the Lafayette city government which wouldn’t lift a finger to stop them.

What could possibly go wrong?

Glad you asked.

Because back in North Dakota, oil and gas activists trying to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline are providing some enlightening examples of just what the term “non-violent,” means to today’s “direct action” eco-protesters.

During a Sept. 9 clash, four security officers and two guard dogs were hurt as several hundred protesters confronted construction workers at the site.

In October, demonstrators set fire to nine vehicles, destroyed construction equipment, and left debris and burned out vehicles strewn across a bridge on a state highway, which has remained closed ever since.

Former North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple (who left office a few weeks ago) received so many threats on social media from latter-day Gandhis that the state patrol started accompanying him everywhere he went. Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, who has dealt with the protests for months, regularly gets similar threats.

Last Monday, three protesters were arrested during a 200-person protest near a fenced Dakota Access Pipeline drill pad and charged with criminal trespassing, inciting a riot and resisting arrest. They were accused of cutting a security fence, removing fencing material and dismantling lights that were being used to illuminate a bridge.

But hey, our local anti-fracking activists would never dream of doing stuff like that. Heavens no! And hell no! The very thought that they would leaves me ashamed and feeling dirty.

OK, here’s something else that could go wrong.

Getting government to let you break the law is a game two can play at.

On Monday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that a North Dakota state legislator, Rep. Keith Kempenich (R-Bowman) is sponsoring a bill that protects drivers who “inadvertently” hit someone obstructing traffic at an anti-pipeline demonstration.

“A driver of a motor vehicle who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway is not guilty of an offense,” the bill reads.

Kempenich says he got the idea for the bill after his mother-in-law’s car was swarmed in an effort to block the road.

“If you stay off the roadway, this would never be an issue,” Kempenich told the Star Tribune. “Those motorists are going about the lawful, legal exercise of their rights to drive down the road. Those people didn’t ask to be in this.

“This bill puts the onus on somebody who’s made a conscious decision to put themselves in harm’s way. You can protest all you want, but you can’t protest up on a roadway. It’s dangerous for everybody,” he said.

Needless to say, the protesters are horrified by the bill. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see a scenario in which a roughneck trying to get to work is swarmed by a bunch of “non-violent” protesters gently trying to overturn his truck and burn it, and who in a moment of panic “inadvertently” hits the gas instead of the break and “accidentally” mows down a few dozen of them.

“It’s shocking to see legislation that allows for people to literally be killed for exercising their right to protest in a public space,” said Tara Houska, an American Indian environmental activist who has been in the protest camp since August.

She’s got a point there, but it’s also shocking that Ms. Houska would claim a constitutional right to protest in the middle of a public highway by blocking it.

There is no such right. If you choose to protest that way, you do so with the expectation that you will be arrested and punished for your acts. That’s the heart and soul of what civil disobedience is about, and the thing that gives it it’s moral authority.

If you’re not willing to accept the consequences of being civilly — civilly — disobedient, all you are just is a garden-variety miscreant committing a crime and trying to get away with it.

Unlike Houska, Willmeng seems to recognize that there is no constitutional right to stage sit-ins, workplace occupations, and blockades that violate other people’s rights. That’s why he wants the City of Lafayette to give him a pass in advance.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

  

  • Rick Casey

    Paul Danish, past Boulder Council member and candidate for County Commissioner, has penned an editorial that ridicules civil disobedience, minimizes the accomplishments of the Standing Rock protest, is apparently in favor of allowing fracking on Boulder Open Space, and seems to favor a bill currently before the North Dakota legislature that would legalize murder of oil and gas protestors by automobile if they get run them over on a state highway. Charming.

    Why the Boulder Weekly allows such an angry, biased, and inaccurate libertarian rant to be published is beyond me. I am only glad to see that they allowed a more balanced news story by Rob Jackson in the same issue about the Lafayette city council meeting where the Climate Bill of Rights was proposed and tabled for a later vote. I suppose Mr Danish’s outlandish editorials still churn enough controversy to justify publishing them; but I hardly think they have wide support.

    What Mr. Danish fails to mention is the larger picture, and why the group behind the proposed bill, East Boulder County United, has taken the route of proposing civil disobedience at the local level: because all other levels of government have failed us. I worked with EBCU in 2012 and 2013 to get the Lafayette Community Bill of Rights on the ballot, which passed by 60 per cent. The Boulder judge that decided that state law preempted us from doing this six months later did not even address what was stated in that bill: that we created a law based on rights stated in the bill based on our right as home rule community to do so.

    In other words, we went through the legal process of passing a valid law based on our community rights and were ignored, based on court precedent alone, which was not an authentic legal analysis of what is in that town charter amendement. We did not get our day in court, and an unchallenged legal maneuver supposedly decided matter; not at all, in our opinion. That decision should have been appealed and heard by the Colorado Supreme Court, where there should have a real discussion of how our community rights were defined, and what that implies. But we lacked the resources to fund such an appeal.

    Rather, the issue was whitewashed by a judge intimidated by the oil and gas industry, which has been doing so for decades at the state level. And to quote Mike Foote, our representative in the state legislature, nothing happens there without their approval.

    We are still waiting for our day in court; and the passage of a Climate Bill of Rights will be another attempt to get that. The law has been stacked in favor of the oil and gas industry for decades; this is an attempt to even the playing field — but they seem to be terrified of allowing that to happen, and react with heavy handed, authoritarian force, backed up by the police power of the state.

    Which is exactly what happened at Standing Rock. The Indians have been waiting for their day in court since the first treaties were broken. All they are asking at Standing Rock is that the oil and gas industry abide by the law and respect a past treaty. And how were they treated? We all saw how they were treated — and they have stood their ground. If Mr Danish was not aware, this was an event covered by international news media, and represents a turning point where native Americans, backed up by thousands of non-Native supporters, stood up to injustice, and the insanity of continuing to invest in an industry that is hell bent on destroying the planet.

    I sincerely hope the Lafayette City Council will pass this Climate Bill of Rights, which I feel is what the majority of Boulder County citizens would also support — and not allow fracking into our community. According to the amount of available open land in Boulder Country (see http://www.bouldercounty.org/os/openspace/pages/posacres.aspx), if 1,800 wells were drilled on county open space, and would be approximately one per 21 acres. If Mr Danish thinks that is Boulder County citizens are ok with, I am afraid he’s going to be disappointed. His views are those of an outdated, backward looking libertarian crank who is out of touch with a progressive movement that is looking to the future, has no illusions about who is pulling the levers of power, or the power of civil, non-violent disobedience to change the established order of things, as history has shown.

    • Caitlin Rockett

      Rick, we’re unsure of why this comment isn’t showing up on our website. We want to assure you that it hasn’t been deleted. We’re looking into why some comments aren’t showing up.

  • Rick Casey

    Why was my previous comment deleted?

    • Caitlin Rockett

      Rick, we’re unsure of why this comment isn’t showing up on our website. We want to assure you it hasn’t been deleted. We’re looking into it.

      • Rick Casey

        Thanks. Well, here it is again. as Paul Danish needs some counterbalance:

        Paul Danish, age 74, ex-Dem turned Republican, past Boulder Council member and candidate for County Commissioner, has penned an editorial that ridicules civil disobedience, minimizes the accomplishments of the Standing Rock protest, is apparently in favor of allowing fracking on Boulder Open Space, and seems to favor a bill currently before the North Dakota legislature that would legalize murder of oil and gas protestors by automobile if they get run over on a state highway. Charming.

        Why the Boulder Weekly allows such an angry, biased, and inaccurate libertarian rant to be published is beyond me. I am only glad to see that they allowed a more balanced news story by Rob Jackson in the same issue about the Lafayette city council meeting where the Climate Bill of Rights was proposed and tabled for a later vote. I suppose Mr Danish’s outlandish editorials still churn enough controversy to justify publishing them; but I hardly think they have wide support.

        What Mr. Danish fails to mention, and is apparently completely unaware, is the larger picture, and why the group behind the proposed bill, East Boulder County United (EBCU), has taken the route of proposing civil disobedience at the local level: because all other levels of government have failed us. I worked with EBCU in 2012 and 2013 to get the Lafayette Community Bill of Rights on the ballot, which passed by 60 per cent. The Boulder judge that decided that state law preempted us from doing this six months later did not even address what was stated in that bill: that we created a law based on rights stated in the bill based on our right as a home rule community to do so.

        In other words, we went through an arduous, year long legal process, involving significant investment of time, energy and effort by many Lafayette citizens, of passing a valid law based on our community rights and were ignored, based on court precedent alone, which was not an authentic legal analysis of what is in that new and innovative town charter amendement. That new innovation, community rights, was not given a chance to be heard. EBCU and concerned Lafayette citizens did not get their day in court, and an unchallenged legal maneuver supposedly decided the matter; not at all, in our opinion. That decision should have been appealed and heard by the Colorado Supreme Court, where there should have a real discussion of how our community rights were defined, and what that implies. But we lacked the resources to fund such an appeal.

        This is not democracy. This is rule by corporations who fund politicians; that is, a plutocracy by the rich who own those corporations, which borders on facism. I hope that anyone reading this realizes this is the kind of government that the oil and gas industry has been creating, out of view of public scrutiny, for decades, primarily at the federal and state level of government. But now the times they are a’changing…

        Let me state the matter quite factually: Lafayette’s declared community rights were whitewashed by a judge intimidated by the oil and gas industry. Our judiciary and legislative bodes have been intimidated by this industry for decades. To quote Mike Foote, our representative in the state legislature, whom I personally heard state this in a local town meeting, nothing happens in the state legislature without the approval of oil and gas industry.

        Does this sound democracy to you? I don’t think so…

        EBCU and Lafayette citizens are still waiting for their day in court; and the passage of a Climate Bill of Rights is another attempt to get that. The established law has been stacked in favor of the oil and gas industry for decades; this is an attempt to even the playing field — and they are apparently so terrified of allowing even a semblance of true democracy to emerge in our legal system that they impulsively react with heavy handed, authoritarian force, backed up by the police power of the state.

        Which is exactly what happened at Standing Rock. The Native Americans have been waiting for their day in court since the first treaties were broken. All they are asking at Standing Rock is that the oil and gas industry abide by the law and respect a past treaty. And how were they treated? We all saw how they were treated — and they have stood their ground. If Mr Danish was not aware, this was an event covered by international news media, and represents a turning point in a global environmental movement, where native Americans, backed up by thousands of non-Native supporters, stood up to injustice, and the insanity of continuing to invest in an industry that is hell bent on destroying the planet.

        I sincerely hope the Lafayette City Council will pass this Climate Bill of Rights, which I feel is what the majority of Boulder County citizens would also support — and not allow fracking into our community. According to the amount of available open land in Boulder Country (see http://www.bouldercounty.org/o…, if 1,800 wells were drilled on county open space, and would be approximately one per 21 acres. If Mr Danish thinks that Boulder County citizens are ok with this, I am afraid he’s going to be disappointed. His views are those of an outdated, backward looking libertarian crank who is out of touch with a progressive movement that is looking to the future, has no illusions about who is pulling the levers of power, or the power of civil, non-violent disobedience to change the established order of things, as history has shown.

  • Elijah Bleue

    Hey Paul, you ignorant intellectual ‘escort’ (lets use the nice word). Where’s your ‘defense’ of this fascist anti-Zionist president you helped elect? Huh? If you try, seriously, it’s clear to us all you’ve developed dementia after all. Something that just a theory we had before.

    Why the hell is the Boulder Weekly even giving you a voice anyway?

    HEY BOULDER WEEKLY YOU’RE HELPING THEM. WTF is wrong with YOU?