Resistance at Riverdale: “It’s a Huge Blockade”
The biggest blockade of a fracking facility yet to be erected in Pennsylvania has now been in operation since 6:30 AM Friday morning, June 1st at 7 Riverdale Lane, Jersey Shore, PA. The remaining ten families living in Riverdale Mobile Home Park built the blockade, with help from an estimated 40 – 70 community members, activists, and from former residents recently forced out by Aqua America. Aqua America, based in Bryn Mawr, PA, and its corporate partner PVR, have fractured the community, dislocating about 25 families so far without compensation for their expense or for the destruction of their community. Aqua, with its corporate partner PVR, is forcing these vulnerable families out to build a water withdrawal facility to suck three million gallons of fresh water / day from the Susquehanna River, selling the water to fracking corporations.
“Talk about heartbreaking, seeing these stripped down lots where homes used to be, it really tears at your heart,” commented Reverend Leah Schade, pastor and founder of the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition. Reverend Schade led a prayer vigil, “Hands Across Riverdale,” in the community last Thursday evening, May 31st. “I put together a whole liturgy, a public lament. I put together a litany on justice and how we are to treat those most vulnerable.
“We put one candle for each family that’s already been forced out, and we read out loud the names of every family forced out by this fiasco. They left in fear; we said their names out loud with dignity, to honor and respect their lives. Then we did a blessing of the Susquehanna River and took a vow, made a prayer circle, meditated in contemplative fashion, then marched right in to prepare for the next day,” she said in a June 2nd interview. Short video interviews with the families are here.
“Defending Rural America”: Creating a New Village Out of the Old
Reverend Leah Schade described Riverdale’s overnight transformation into a community of resistance in a tone of wonderment. “What was really cool was that I left at 9 pm Thursday and by the time I came back at 6:30 AM Friday, they’d not only set up tents and a blockade, but they’re creating this little village out of the refuse. They are using those bits and pieces [left by the stripping away of the homes of those already forced out by Aqua] to create a new village out of the old. Last night there were torrential downpours and a tornado watch and everyone slept in the tiny home of an elderly man… It was cozy, but we were all safe and dry.”
Describing the atmosphere on Day One of the blockade, when not one truck from Aqua showed up to test the blockade despite having declared June 1st to be the deadline for construction to begin on the water withdrawal facility and the deadline for all the families to leave their homes permanently, Reverend Schade continued,
What’s happening is very exciting. Early Friday morning there were 30 – 40 people at the blockade, and all told, 50 – 70 people have participated so far. What’s really interesting is people are coming in from Occupy Wall Street, and from as far away as Lancaster, PA; they’re taking their own photos and spreading the word.
There’s this rolling tide, in and out, of people helping out. It was so nice to see people who’d moved out come back; those who’d left joined those who’d stayed, and then still more came. The [remaining] residents could hardly believe it.
It’s a site that lends itself to… an emerging community. I really see something amazing happening here, especially if more people come. We are defending rural America.
Today, Riverdale blockade organizer Alex Lotorto commented, “The residents, and all of the supporters, did fantastic work yesterday. We built a sign, ‘AQUA AMERICA KILLED COMMUNITY,’ using the roof from one of the trailers. This morning there are 30, 35 people there, and fifteen of them are willing to be arrested. We have a full blockade on Riverdale Lane and a half-blockade on the other road, so residents can get through.” He continued,
About every 30 seconds, a frack truck goes by. One of the residents, who drives a truck for the industry, has been on the CB radio explaining the situation to the truckers. The resident, Eric, along with his wife and four kids, worked bit by bit on their home and finally finished renovating it a year and a half ago. Because he works for the industry, he went to the CEO of his company to see if a frack truck could pull his home out, and store it in their parking lot. But the industry said no. So Aqua he was forced to strip his whole home to bits all weekend.
At first he told his kids, “Don’t go near those weird-looking activists.” But I spent time with him listening to his dreams. He wants to buy land, to have seven acres, chickens, a healthy life for his family, and start a solar company. That’s his dream! The guy is like a saint. And he talks to all the other truckers on CB radio.
It’s unbelievable how much support there is for the residents; the frack trucks honk in sympathy as they go by. The only negative response has been from the out of state Halliburton truck drivers.
Blockaders are actively and urgently calling for more people to join the blockade, bringing food, art supplies, funds and good spirits. A nonviolent code of conduct is established. Aqua America has agreed, for the first time, to sit down with lawyers for the Riverdale community, at its Bryn Mawr corporate headquarters, on Tuesday morning. Look here for updates.
Aqua PVR Annual Meeting June 6th
Meanwhile, the Aqua partner company which is actually in charge of constructing the water withdrawal facility at Riverdale, Penn Virginia Resource Partners, is coincidentally having its Annual Meeting at 10 AM on June 6th, this Wednesday, at The Villanova University Conference Center, 601 County Line Road, Radnor, Pennsylvania 19087. They plan to elect several directors; approve executive officer compensation; and “transact such other business as may properly come before the Annual Meeting, or any adjournments or postponements thereof.”
Environmental justice groups urge citizens to let the good people of Aqua PVR know what environmental stewardship means: “Don’t take the river out of Riverdale.” And Riverdale residents have said they would welcome the help of nonviolent activists in educating those attending PVR’s annual meeting about their demands, which are:
Residents are demanding that Aqua America PVR allow them to remain in their homes, compensate those residents who have been displaced, and acknowledge the right of return to those who have left but wish to come back.
So, share. Read more. Take action. Oh and… it may sound boring compared to a blockade, but don’t forget to call your legislators and tell them we need a moratorium on fracking right now. In the Delaware, Susquehanna, and Ohio River Basins: that means all of Pennsylvania. The faces of Riverdale are the faces of fracking: families with young children; a man on dialysis three times a week; someone in a wheelchair, an elderly woman with breast cancer; an intrepid woman with lively, articulate 11 year old twins; World War II veterans, being forced into homelessness.
This is where social justice and environmental justice meet, build, and grow together.