Michael Foster knew what he had to do last October when he turned the valve that shut off the Keystone pipeline in North Dakota: "Stop the poison."
Monday October 2nd, Michael heads to trial in Cavalier, North Dakota to make exactly that point: that he had no reasonable alternative to address the magnitude of the climate crisis, and as a conscientious citizen he was duty-bound to take the most appropriate action. Sam Jessup, who was Michael's support person in North Dakota, is headed to trial as well.
This is a unique climate trial. We have never before seen a high-profile action go to trial in the center of the country. The jury pool won't look like the one that would have sat for the Lobster Boat Trial, nor will it look like the juries in Washington State for the Delta 5 and Ken Ward's valve turner trials. We will be paying close attention to how these farmers and ranchers, who had this pipeline run through their back yards in 2010.
Michael is facing a raft of charges: criminal mischief, criminal conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, reckless endangerment (all felonies) and criminal trespass (a misdemeanor). These charges carry maximum possible jail time of 22 years. Sam is charged with conspiracy trespass and conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, one felony and one misdemeanor, which would have a total maximum possible sentence of 11 years.
It's unlikely they'll get anything near the maximum sentences, but we're still nervous: this is North Dakota; a state which has been systematically trying to criminalize dissent since civil disobedience began at Standing Rock last summer. It is not yet clear exactly what kind of climate evidence Michael and Sam will be able to make to the jury: on Friday the judge agreed to the prosecution's motion to bar climate evidence. But this argument doesn't seem to be over yet. We are still hopeful that this trial is going to cover some new ground, and that the awesome witnesses who have agreed to testify on Michael's behalf will be allowed to take the stand.
To stay tuned, Follow our own Jay O'Hara live-tweeting @Oharjo and Emily Johnston @enjohnston using #ClimateTrial and #ValveTurners and watch Facebook where #ShutItDown be doing LIVE video updates outside of the court house and written recaps throughout the days.