The #SummerHeat Close Brayton Point protest, at the Brayton Point coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Mass., on July 28, 2013. Credit: Wen Stephenson
“A lot of naïve people around here today.”
The middle-aged guy in the Fall River Herald News T-shirt was casually chatting up the cop, just some friendly mid-morning chit-chat, as I walked past them in the middle of Brayton Point Road in Somerset, Massachusetts, on Sunday. He was referring to the crowd of some 400 singing and chanting protesters moving toward us, marching to the Brayton Point coal-fired power plant down the street, carrying banners like “Gov. Patrick: Quit Coal,” “Coal Kills,” “There Is An Alternative” and “Just Transition For All.” Leading the march, which had the support of local community members and organizers, was a group of forty-four people—including college students, grandparents and mothers of young children—who would shortly be arrested for trespassing at the gates of the plant. They engaged in peaceful civil disobedience to demonstrate the moral seriousness of their demand: that Governor Deval Patrick use his authority under the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act to close the largest coal plant in New England, one of the region’s largest sources of the carbon emissions that are catastrophically heating the planet.
I stopped and turned to the Herald News guy. I couldn’t help myself.
“You think these people are naïve?” I asked him.
“Uh, yeah. Sure.” He was startled.
“And you’re a reporter?”
“I’m a photographer,” he said flatly, and walked away, suddenly in a hurry to find a better angle. The police officer stared at me inscrutably. I’d been mingling with the press, taking photos and tweeting with my phone, but I was clearly with the protesters. I smiled and kept walking.
What I wished I’d asked the photographer was this: What’s more naïve? The belief that we can afford to go on burning coal without robbing our children of a livable future on this planet? Or believing in the possibility of a fearless and determined peoples’ movement to change the course we’re on?
I hate to tell the cynics, but an epidemic of the latter kind of so-called naïveté is sweeping the country. The protest at Brayton Point on Sunday was just one in a nationwide series of actions taking on the fossil-fuel industry—from Pacific Northwest coal-export terminals to a Utah tar sands operation, from an Ohio fracking site to a proposed tar sands pipeline in Maine—under the banner Summer Heat. (The Brayton Point protest, organized by 350 Massachusetts and Better Future Project, where I serve on the volunteer board, was inspired by a high-stakes direct action on May 15, which I write about in The Nation’s current issue, when two New England climate activists anchored a lobster boat in the path of a coal freighter.) In June, the youth-led Fearless Summer campaign began a series of direct actions targeting extreme fossil-fuel extraction, while the indigenous Idle No More movement and Defenders of the Land launched “Sovereignty Summer.”
All of which is just the latest surge of a growing Fossil Fuel Resistance that includes grassroots uprisings along the Keystone XL pipeline route, from Tar Sands Blockade in East Texas and Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance to Bold Nebraska and many others; the long fight against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia; fossil-fuel divestment campaigns on more than 300 campuses, now joined by city and state governments and religious institutions moving to divest. Meanwhile, more than 68,000 people nationwide have signed a “pledge of resistance” to engage in peaceful civil disobedience if President Obama approves the Keystone XL.