On March 27th, I was one of thirteen defendants who went to court in the West Roxbury district of Boston to answer charges related to our arrests for civil disobedience against a fossil fuel (fracked gas) pipeline in that neighborhood. The prosecution reduced our criminal charges to civil infractions, a disappointment in the sense that we wanted to present a full “necessity defense” at a jury trial. Then something extraordinary happened: the judge allowed each defendant to address her directly.
We spoke successively in a way that argued and reinforced all the usual elements of the necessity defense:
(1) we reasonably believed we were acting to prevent imminent harm
(2) the harm we sought to avert was greater than the harm done by illegal action
(3) we reasonably anticipated that our action would avert the harm and
(4) there were no remaining legal alternatives.
In the end, the judge found us all “not responsible” (the civil infraction version of “not guilty”) by reason of necessity. This felt like a moment of moral clarity about where we are in the climate movement and I was honored to be a part of it. Respect and gratitude go to The Climate Disobedience Center and to the residents of the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston who led this fight.
Here is a great piece in Commonwealth magazine giving the background and context of this moment. The particular action that I was part evoked the connection between the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels and the deaths of those who die of climate impacts, specifically those who were buried in trench-like mass graves that had been dug in anticipation of the extreme heat wave in Pakistan that year. Rev Mariama White-Hammond, Rabbi Shoshana Friedman and Tim DeChristopher were among those that delivered eulogies and made prayers that day before a group of us laid down in that pipeline trench. I want to note that my participation grew out of conversations with both Mariama and Tim (as well as, with Rev. Margaret Bullitt- Jonas) at the Center for Earth Ethics ministers training in 2015, just a few weeks before the action. Finally, I want to note that local residents like Mary Boyle had worked very hard building the movement in opposition to this particular dangerous high-pressure fracked gas pipeline, which also brought the imminent danger of explosion into their dense neighborhood. They were acting to protect their neighbors, and they also made a powerful case for the protection of all life on Earth.
Director, Center for Earth Ethics