By Josh Stanfield, Campaign Manager, Jennifer Lewis for Congress
At this point, every reader of Blue Virginia is probably aware of the dangerous and unnecessary fracked-gas pipeline projects being forced upon Virginians. Opposition to the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines made plenty of headlines over the past year, as did the growing coalition of Democrats, Independents, and Green Party candidates who refuse campaign contributions from Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company. Over a dozen of these candidates are now incumbent legislators in Virginia’s House of Delegates, an electoral result that without a doubt altered the dynamics of energy regulatory policymaking in Virginia’s legislature.
But the process of constructing these pipelines continues – and our Department of Environmental Quality seems rather uninterested in exercising its authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. I won’t go into the connection between campaign finance reform, political corruption, and regulatory agencies that fail to regulate – but the DEQ’s inaction has left the people of the Commonwealth with one recourse as old as our nation itself: non-violent protest.
In comes Red: a 61-year-old woman who, from a tree stand about 30 feet in the air, has taken to protest the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and MVP’s appropriation of her land through an easement granted via eminent domain. This land has been in Red’s family for seven generations, and her daughter has taken to the trees nearby to protest as well.
Yet the combined forces of state and corporate power have decided that, in response to Red’s non-violent protest in her own trees, on her own land, they’ll go ahead and deprive her of food and water. What was originally a cause based in environmental stewardship, opposition to political corruption, and the protection of property rights has now become even more potent.
The question now: in these United States, and in our Commonwealth, do we allow what’s tantamount to the torture of a peaceful protester?
This morning, a group of activists, community leaders, and legislators – including most of the Northern Virginia Democratic Delegation in the House of Delegates – held a press conference. There were calls for stream-by-stream analyses and certifications, for ending the cruel treatment of non-violent protesters, and for the protection of Virginians’ property rights. There were also calls to protect the historic African-American community at Union Hill and, ultimately, for outright opposition to the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.
In the 2018 congressional campaigns, we’ve heard some candidates speak out against these two fossil-fuel infrastructure projects. We’ve also heard candidates promise to refuse contributions from Dominion, from Appalachian Power, from corporate PACs, and from all fossil-fuel interests. Now that there’s been political movement from Northern Virginia Democrats, many of whom have not been openly critical of these projects before, it’s time for congressional candidates to stand up, speak out, and bear witness to what’s happening.
Jennifer Lewis’s campaign in CD 6 has teamed up with Anthony Flaccavento’s campaign in CD 9 to lead a group of 2018 Virginia Congressional candidates up Bent Mountain to witness Red and her daughter’s courageous acts of protest – and to witness the shameful denial of food and water to these non-violent protesters occupying their own trees on their own land.
The plan is to arrive on site at 9:00am on Monday, April 23rd. I’ll personally be contacting every Democratic congressional campaign in the state today with details, though the invitation is open to any interested congressional campaign. Feel free to proactively contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We understand the difficulties of geography and scheduling, and we want to emphasize that the purpose of this ascendence is to witness – not to campaign. Any form of solidarity is appreciated from candidates and campaigns who can’t make it. Let’s continue the momentum and make clear that these pipelines are not inevitable, and that we won’t remain silent in the face of injustice.
You can learn more about Red’s protest by watching this video or reading Laurence Hammacks’ piece in The Roanoke Times.