Message from Nutty, who begins a two week sentence for taking action to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
From March to May of last year, for 57 days, Nutty lived on a tiny cot atop a tall monopod, blocking MVP’s access to the top of so-called Peter’s Mountain in the Jefferson National Forest. Today, Nutty appeared in court, and pled guilty to ‘Blocking a Forest Service Road or Gate’. The prosecutor was asking for 30 days, but Federal Judge Ballou sentenced her to 14 days in prison. Tomorrow, she will turn herself in to serve the sentence. Directly before her sentencing, this is the statement she made to the courtroom.
“As long as there have been laws, there have been circumstances that call on us to break them. As pipeline work approached the mountain, I judged that circumstances made it necessary to take a stand.
The Mountain Valley Pipeline does not exist in isolation, and neither does any other pipeline. They are being built at the culmination of hundreds of years of enclosure and theft and colonization. Each new fossil fuel infrastructure project is a step further along the path of rampant and unnecessary environmental devastation, another aspect of humanity’s dangerous alteration of the systems life on earth relies on.
MVP claims that this pipeline isn’t just an attempt to extract profit from the destructive processes of fracking. They claim it’s in the public interest. But we don’t need pipelines. We need the freedom and the space to build a world without them. We need breathable air and drinkable water and wild places.
When they began their project MVP said they’d be done in 2018. Right now on Peters Mountain, there’s a swath of felled trees that breaks apart the canopy and cuts for miles through streams and wetlands and sensitive forest. But the broken trees are still shading the ground as seedlings grow in their place, and there is not a single piece of pipe buried or section of trench dug. No matter the consequences, I cannot regret the part I played in that.
I want people behind me in this courtroom to know that we can be stronger than the fear of legal consequences and police actions. I was neither the first nor the last to set my body in the path of MVP’s destruction. Threatening or jailing us cannot hide the harms the pipeline brings, and will not erase the urgent need for resistance.
Thank you to all the friends who came here today. That is all I have to say to this court. ”
Some further words from Nutty as she begins her sentence:
“Eight months ago I climbed out of the camping cot I’d been living in for fifty-seven days and rappelled to the ground. I walked away from the monopod to the tent where police photographed me and ran my ID. I got finger printed while lying in a hospital bed. I left Giles county in the passenger seat of a friend’s car, with three misdemeanor charges for violating US Forest Service regulations and a court date which would be delayed repeatedly in the coming months.
Yesterday a federal judge finally sentenced me to 14 days in prison for my crime of acting against the MVP.
The prosecutor had pushed for 30 days in jail, calling for a sentence that would deter me and others from taking action against the MVP as construction continues in coming months. I know I am not deterred, and I hope no one else is either.
The testimony of the forest service was a predictable reminder of how cops can lie and lie and lie. Patrol captain Katie Ballew stated, as they have claimed before, that the forest service was there to protect people. She claimed they were concerned with my health and safety after they spent weeks blocking deliveries of food and water. She claimed they were protecting those of us resisting the pipeline from hostile community members; during those days I never knew of a single hostile interaction with anyone who wasn’t working for the pipeline or the cops, while locals routinely braved the steep trail around the forest closure to visit me and my friends.
One thing we hope she wasn’t lying about was how much the aerial blockades on the mountain this spring cost the USFS. She testified that overtime and travel alone cost $435,000. She said forest service cops in
surrounding states have had to forego any new equipment and training.
Perhaps this will make them think twice before allowing another pipeline to cross through the lands they oversee. I learned later that some who’d come to witness the hearing in my support had to keep themselves from applauding.
I plead guilty to the charge of blocking the road, and the state dropped the two other charges.
I had watched others plead guilty before; I knew that the final chance for the accused to speak during the court’s proceedings is deliberately selected to fall just before the sentence is pronounced. I imagine that audiences seated on courtroom benches have missed out on many strong denunciations of the pantheon of courts, cops, prisons and laws due to defendants’ well-founded fear that a judge might react with harsher penalties.
They asked if I had anything to say. Despite how I hate mincing my words out of fear, there was a lot I didn’t think worth uttering before the judge who would decide my fate.
Like fuck your laws. Like in my dreams, I imagine your vaunted court buildings crumbling and broken. Flames licking at the mountains of statutes and precedents you’ve used to command us. Prisoners cutting through shackles and smashing through gates and breathing fresh free air.
Fuck the liberal ideologies of people who take offense at the punishments endured by some land defenders while they proclaim how distinct we are from those who share our jail cells.
The courts are wrong for prosecuting us. And they are wrong for prosecuting all those who lack the extensive networks of support that our movement provides. The courts take people in the hardest moments of their lives and make them even harder, steal people from their families, jail them for not having the money for bail and then imprison them for not being able to afford a fancy lawyer.
The oft-repeated fantasy of a system that enforces equality and deals fairly with disputes is crushed by the reality of millions imprisoned for being poor and trying to survive, for being the wrong race or born in on the wrong side of a border. Those who profit most by exploiting them remain well-protected by the police. This isn’t some perversion of the legal process; it’s how it works. When British laws were insufficient for their ends, settlers on this continent created legal frameworks for dispossessing native peoples and enforced them with massacres. Slavery was once legal, and now in its stead the legal system has provided prison labor.
What we experience is far from the extremes of the atrocities committed by this legal system. Yet every time in the last few months I’ve accompanied friends to their hearings and arraignments, the courts give clear reminders of the domination that they stand for. We step inside past the portraits of presidents and governors. We watch the cops and the prosecutors walk by as court-appointed lawyers call the name of one or another of the hundreds of clients they’ve never met. In some courtrooms, the holding cells are close enough that from the benches on the far side of the room we hear the clinking of chains.
This is what I remember when I think of the array of cases where the courts have slowed MVP’s progress by suspending water crossing permits and the permits to cross the very mountain I defended. Of course I’m glad of these rulings, as I’m glad of everything that makes this project more costly to complete. But know this: for every decision that ameliorates the conditions of oppression, there are hundreds that helped enforce the status quo. The rule of law helped usher in the rampant industrialization and commercialization of every aspect of the world that set us on the path to this unfolding ecological catastrophe. The rule of law enforced the dictates of capitalism and helped bring us pipelines and strip mines and fracking.
The courts may increase their legitimacy by sometimes responding to the compelling arguments of concerned citizens, but they will never lead us away from the workings of an economy based on extraction. No, I’m not against wading through legal documents in search of tools with which to entangle our enemies. Working on different fronts to expose pipeliners’ and government agencies’ hypocrisy is an important part of this struggle. But acting on the idea that legal remedies are the be all and the end all, that judges and lawyers and politicians will solve our problems, turns my stomach.
What if the courts, extraordinarily, stopped this pipeline? I don’t believe it’ll happen, but it’s not impossible. We would rejoice. We would be so, so glad for all the places no longer threatened by the constant transport of highly pressurized toxic explosive gases. And we would still be left in a civilization with a profoundly damaged and dangerous relationship to the water, air and earth we live on. We would still be ruled by states and laws that derive their power from colonialism, patriarchy and white supremacy.
The courts and police would still reserve the right to determine the legitimacy of our resistance. Right now, even as on paper the pipeline lacks many of the permits required to complete it, people at the treesits and the camp in Elliston, VA are waiting for a judge to determine whether to grant MVP’s request to inflict the full might of the federal marshals upon them. Last year in Franklin county, those same marshals decided that it was acceptable to drop part of a tree on someone trying to defend it.
Even if the pipeline were stopped, the insides of the jails and prisons would still look the same. Political prisoners locked up for decades on sketchy and fabricated evidence would remain caged. People would still be dying inside jails and prisons and those institutions would still nearly always face no penalties. The misdemeanor pods in county and city jails would still be full of people in the same bullshit situations as those my friends and I have met during brief stints inside.
They’d be stuck waiting on $50, $100, $300 dollar bonds. They’d have been arrested for trying to feel a bit better by getting high. Or they got caught shoplifting. Or someone with a grudge calling the cops on them. Or they failed to pay child support. Because somehow we’ve been raised to tolerate a legal system that thinks locking someone away from their family and means of survival is a reasonable way to impel them to help their child.
It’s not like any of us know how to end all this. But I don’t think we need to articulate every solution in order to condemn this bullshit system. I’m committed to direct action not only to confront the specific assaults of this pipeline or any other poisonous entity, but to push for a different relationship towards those who try to control and exploit us. Because as long as we’re appealing to some higher authority, we’ll need to remain within the bounds they find intelligible and non-threatening. And it’s time to stop shying away from the truth that those bounds keep us within a world that is appalling and unjust and unacceptable.
People make laws and people can destroy them. If states and corporations could find a way to eliminate defiance, they would already have enacted it. When we break the rules and refuse to repent or to submit, when we come together and try to make laws irrelevant and unenforceable, those who cling to power see the specters of their doom. I see the stirrings of a better world.”
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