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Stop the Frack Attack: One Photo, Three Moments

July 30, 2012

People from all over the United States filled the streets of Washington, D.C. on Saturday to “Stop the Frack Attack,” after a hot hard day’s lobbying on Thursday and 12 hours in a sweltering church strategizing on Friday. Here we are:

March on Washington to Stop the Frack Attack: July 28th, 2012. Photo by Hendrik Voss.

Of all the powerful moments from this weekend, I’m just going to start by sharing three of my own. I’m sure every marcher, every organizer, every speaker and everyone who supported this mobilization with their hard work, their fundraising, their spirit and dedication back home, has their moments to share. Perhaps some of you will post yours in the Comments below.

Thursday July 26th: Delaware Riverkeeper’s daughter:

It’s the sixth appointment of the day, and we Pennsylvanians are lobbying an anti-environmental legislator: Senator Pat Toomey. We’ve made all our asks: Support the FRAC Act, endorse the BREATHE Act, oppose turning shale states into extractive colonies to export fracked gas overseas as LNG. But it is the fifteen-year-old among us who speaks with the greatest clarity. “What are you doing, creating this fracking mess for my generation to clean up?” she asks. (I have a feeling her words were actually more eloquent than that, but that is how my memory has reconstructed her point.)

Then she speaks of the Atlantic sturgeon, which spawns only in the Delaware River. “There are only 100 of these sturgeon left, and they can’t spawn anywhere else,” she says. It is the only time anyone brings up species death all day, and she does it with the greatest dignity imaginable. The Toomey staffer drops his plastic smile and it is a moment of renewed commitment for everyone in the room, whether or not Toomey continues to obstruct, rather than protect, health and environment.

Friday July 27th: Jenny Gives Voice

We’ve been sweating all day together, as we strategize: folks from Pennsylvania (a big circle of about 45 organizers), Ohio, New York, West Virginia, Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, New Jersey, Idaho, North Carolina, California, and more. It’s a hot church, did I mention that? A hot church on a hot day, and in the evening over 220 of us pack into the back room to hear as powerful a panel as I’ve ever heard. You can watch and listen to the post-panel discussion here.

Jenny Lisak, organic farmer and grassroots researcher from western Pennsylvania, provides a profile of shale country realities ranging quickly, and with detail, from the 8 deep injection wells already permitted in PA, with 32 more proposed, to her own dogs. And we learn that her dogs were doubly impacted. One died from cancer after toxic radioactive Marcellus flowback brine (she had it tested) was dumped on her road; the dogs walked across the road and licked their paws for a long time afterwards. Her other dog had seven stillborn puppies.

Even as Jenny’s words are echoing inside our ribs, the Onandaga speaker,  Frieda Jacques, says in her straight-on way, “You don’t mess with water. Every living thing depends on it.” And when she allows her grief to show through, it helps us all, for we are often alone with that grief for the widespread destruction of air, water and good life-giving land. There was more, but I said three moments of power, and here’s the third:

Saturday, July 28th: Fire Boy and his Mother

The main rally is underway; one person has been taken away in an ambulance after being dropped by the extreme heat. I spend my first ten minutes at the rally fanning her with my Protecting Our Waters “No Fracking” sign. The medics are terrific, responsible and quick. Bill McKibben, Josh Fox and other speakers connect the dots between extreme weather events, drought, climate, and fracking.

Weaving among the crowd, I find so many people I absolutely adore: Kristian Boose, the best blogger this site ever had, moved away to Oregon, but there he is at Stop the Frack Attack. Autmn Star, one of the many star organizers of last year’s Shale Gas Outrage, moved away to New England — well, to her ancestral home — but there she is at Stop the Frack Attack.

I speak to as many strangers as possible, too. Attracted by a banner, I approach and compliment somebody. She says she came all the way from Fayette County, Pennsylvania. I tell her, “I know about the Headley family of Fayette County, and how terrible the impacts have been on them…”

“I am Linda Headley,” she says. Her son, standing next to her, says, “I’m the boy lighting the water on fire in that video.”

I don’t want their water to be on fire. I don’t want their other son, a little boy, to be sick. I don’t want them to have to go to Washington. As one of the speakers said, “None of us want to be here.” But we claim our connectedness, even so. We build our community as we go. Bill McKibben’s remarks about community were a highlight of the Friday panel.

So I meet and share a bitter laugh with Fire Boy. I meet and give my empathy and admiration to his mom, Linda Headley, the heroic woman who pulled her dog out of the sludge pond and suffered health effects for 6 months afterwards. I’m SO PROUD of all these people who refuse to allow the gaping silences to swallow them!

I meet a woman from West Virginia who lost her husband and her son due to gas drilling, and Dana Dolney is crying after talking with them so I don’t want to force them to tell their story again on the spot. So I don’t know those details, but I can tell you that I am hearing more about contamination cases and health impacts in West Virginia.

It is awful. It is sobering. John Fenton, of Wyoming, mentions that he lost 14 calves in one night due to a production spill on his land.

So it is painful. But these are my people, and not a one of them has given up. “It’s too late for us,” said Linda Headley, “But we want to protect other people.” So I, and thousands like me, will continue to lose sleep for them for as long as it takes. For the duration. I got up at 3:45 AM on Thursday morning to get down there and rattle Congress. Other people traveled farther, sacrificed more, and are going back to their home state with renewed awareness that this is absolutely a national and international fight. Until we have turned the whole fossil fuel battleship around. Until we have stopped poisoning that which gives us, and all living creatures, sustenance.

18 Comments
  1. July 30, 2012 6:24 am

    thanks, Iris, for witnessing, writing and being there to let the world know about this dirty, unhealthy Industry that has invaded our towns, rural areas, farms, homes…it’s an honor to part of all this– We are a Community that seeks to save this Planet from the abuse of Industry. Pollute no more — Demand Clean , non-polluting Alternatives.

  2. July 30, 2012 7:33 am

    Thanks Iris for putting the Human side of this issue, sometimes we get so wrapped up in the technicalities and the political/regulatory aspects we sometimes miss the real reason for all our concern, the people and the environment.

  3. Jerry Lee Miller permalink
    July 30, 2012 7:41 am

    Thank you Iris!! I agree about the eloquence of our 15 year old sister! She also went with me to visit my PA congressman’s office (Joe Pitts) and spoke beautifully there as well. And yes, we need to grieve. Perhaps have a few funerals for the species we’ve lost, the way of life many have lost, the democracy-don’t know-maybe we can get it back. “Our America” Josh Fox said.

  4. July 30, 2012 9:01 am

    Beautiful.

  5. July 30, 2012 9:12 am

    I am very moved by your short recap of three very long intense days in the DC heat. It’s not easy taking on a goliath like the gas industry, but I am constantly inspired by how rapidly the anti-fracking movement is growing in PA, the US, and around the globe!

  6. Abby Sullivan permalink
    July 30, 2012 9:25 am

    I wish I could have been there! Thanks for the time and energy and work you’ve done and always do.

  7. Bonnie Cannan permalink
    July 30, 2012 11:52 am

    The event, the real people stories and the march are all essential elements but let’s not fool ourselves, The oil/gas industry has like other large corporations in this country replaced and corrupted anything approaching democracy. Our efforts also much coincide with others that seek a new economic system that restores a peoples’ democracy where corporations are not people and the political system has a true vision. Bonnie Cannan

  8. July 30, 2012 2:06 pm

    Beautiful recap of the events. Thank you for all you do.

  9. Judy Muskauski permalink
    July 30, 2012 6:19 pm

    Thank you, Iris!

  10. July 30, 2012 6:32 pm

    Thank you iris for bringing the human side to the forefront, so many people and animals affected by fracking. The next generation should not have to fix the mess that has been created, and we all have the right to clean water, fresh air and land that is not polluted!

  11. July 31, 2012 7:14 pm

    With you all the way, Iris! psyched for SHALE GAS OUTRAGE 2

  12. Claudia Crane permalink
    July 31, 2012 11:17 pm

    I was there. I don’t think I have ever felt more overwhelmed by heat, pollution and humidity, or more inspired by the crowd’s energy and enthusiasm to fight this good fight, epecially in spite of the hideous weather. Thanks for the wonderful witness, Iris.

  13. Faith permalink
    August 1, 2012 11:22 pm

    Beautifully written…thanks so much Iris for all your clean water actions and your eloquent words and inspiration…Shale gas Outrage 2 — looking forward to it!

  14. Judy Muskauski permalink
    August 3, 2012 10:30 pm

    So sorry I didn’t get to meet you in DC but hopefully I’ll catch you in Philly!! Keep up your great work!!

  15. Ann Dixon permalink
    August 9, 2012 5:14 pm

    You write so beautifully about such an ugly situation, Iris. You inspire me to keep going on this fight for clean water and air.

    • Stephanie CIner permalink
      August 10, 2012 5:38 pm

      These moments are so powerful. I checked out a few articles about Stop the Frack Attack, but the stories you share here are exactly what move me to keep working and sharing with others. Thanks for giving voice along with the courageous folks you met in DC. I’m stoked for September 20th!

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