Reflections from the Minnesota Valve Tuners Trial

MN_VT_Boltcutters.jpgThe primary lesson reinforced by the Minnesota Valve Turners Trial is that with climate necessity defense trials, and other political trials, you never know what you’re going to get, and you have to be ready for anything.

I’ve attended quite a few trials that were almost necessity defense trials, or what we hoped could have been necessity defense trials, and there is always something standing in the way of the trial becoming what we wanted it to be. A week before the Minnesota trial, it seemed like it was the best hope yet to finally be a full necessity defense trial in front of a jury. The case had already been through two rounds of appeals, with the state superior court affirming that the defendants had the right to use the necessity defense. And this is important: those appeals court victories by the valve turners set a precedent in Minnesota that will help others use the necessity defense. This could be critical in the the line 3 pipeline battle that is now heating up.

But a few days before the trial started, the judge severely restricted what the defense could present as evidence and witnesses. All of the political science expert witnesses who could testify to the lack of legal alternatives, an essential element of the necessity defense, were stricken from the witness list. The witnesses with expertise on the efficacy of civil disobedience were also banned from testifying. And perhaps most importantly, the judge ruled the expert testimony about climate science was not allowed on the grounds that the reality and severity of climate change was “commonly understood and accepted knowledge.”

This threw a twist into the trial at the very earliest stages. The jury selection process is an opportunity to frame the narrative of the case for the jurors. The way questions are asked shapes the way people think about the issues. In a climate necessity defense case, the narrative should be about how we respond to very real and serious threats. But lead attorney Lauren Regan was put into a difficult position by the last minute restrictions on climate science testimony, so she made an unusual gamble.

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Welcome Emma!

Welcome Emma!

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In 2018 we have been expanding our reach, and we are scaling up. There is a lot of work to do. As part of that new energy, we are excited to announce that Emma Schoenberg is joining the Climate Disobedience Center as our newest Fellow. Emma is a Vermont-born community organizer and trainer, who got her start during Occupy Wall Street in 2011. Emma is bringing her considerable organizing skills, including in direct action and civil disobedience, facilitation and campaigns, to work with the core team - the three of us. Together we are building a more disciplined, focused, and effective Climate Disobedience Center to support and nurture the movement we need. Hurray!

We're grateful to be on your team, and hope to hear from you about starting a praxis group in your area.

-Marla, Tim, and Jay

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Another Climate Trial Today!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Climate Necessity Defense Moves Ahead in Duluth Wells Fargo Lockdown Trial


Duluth, MN, October 18, 2018 -- The trial of Scot Bol, Ernesto Burbank, and Michael Niemi -- the three people who performed an act of civil disobedience last January 12 at the downtown Duluth branch of Wells Fargo -- will take place tomorrow morning, October 19, at 9AM in front of Referee John Schulte at the St. Louis County courthouse in Duluth. The defense plans to call three expert witnesses at trial in its presentation of the "climate necessity defense" -- including Dr. Christina Gallup, Associate Professor of Geological Sciences at UMD, Ryan Jones Casey, Asset Management Specialist at Natural Investments LLC, and Tara Houska, National Campaigns Director at Honor the Earth -- as well as the three defendants.


“Wells Fargo finances Enbridge’s destructive activities,” said Scot Bol, one of the defendants. “Business as usual cannot continue. We acted as we believe we must, in light of the imminent threat that Wells Fargo is posing to our communities."


Members of the public and press will be permitted to attend the trial, which is expected to last approximately one half day. Following last week's acquittal of the "Valve Turners" in Bagley, Minnesota, at which the prosecution failed to prove its case, this will be the first time the "climate necessity defense" will be presented at a criminal trial in Minnesota.


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Contact: Ellen Hadley, 763-227-9361 ellene798@msn.com, Wells Fargo Three Support Committee
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Minnesota Valve Turners #ClimateTrial begins

The climate trial we've been waiting for begins this morning in Bagley, Minnesota. If you need a refresher on what this trial is about, check out Wen Stephenson's analysis in The Nation

As our friends, Annette and Emily (Valve Turners) and Ben (support team) head to court, they are surrounded by supporters, and they are ready to tell their powerful stories of why their actions were necessary. 

At the same time, they have been forced to change up their approach to the trial. Although the highest court in the state of Minnesota affirmed their right to proceed with the presentation of a necessity defense, the Court in Bagley has rejected most of their expert witness list.

As Nicky Bradford and Alec Connon report in this blog post:

"The jury will, in other words, be prevented from hearing the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether or not the Valve Turners actions were necessary."

Climate Disobedience Center's Tim DeChristopher is there to support the Valve Turners and their team, to learn from this trial so that we can apply those lessons in support of future trials, and to share his analysis of the proceedings with all of us. Tim will be tweeting from @dechristopher and @ClimateDisobey.

You can also follow Climate Direct Action (the Valve Turners and their team) on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and their trial blog.

We're building community for the long haul because opponents and challenges like this are bound to rise up to meet us. Please know that your support – even from a distance – matters to people who put themselves on the line for the sake of all of us.

Let's keep building hope and resilience together,

Marla (for the Climate Disobedience Center team)

P.S. If you missed our webinars about holding it together in tough times (1) and our new effort to support people to build strong, resilient communities where they are (2), you can watch recordings here and here.

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Email Restored (10/01/2018)

Update! Our email was restored 10/01/2018. You can email any of us at firstname [at] climatedisobedience [dot] org. This week, Tim is at the Valve Turners' #ClimateTrial in Minnesota and probably won't see many emails. For most of the rest of October, Jay (and Meg) are sailing... it's a honeymoon! Marla is on call for all matters! (that's MarLa with an L). 

Hi friends, if you have been trying to reach us via email starting Friday afternoon 9/28, your email has gone into a black hole. We've been switching email over and run into a snag. We should be up and running by Monday, but if you need to reach us immediately call (781) 819-0993.

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Webinar: Holding It Together

Bringing together Kazu Haga, Michelle Fournier and the Climate Disobedience Center's Marla Marcum and Tim DeChristopher.

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Resist Spectra Trial

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I’m writing today to make sure you’ve heard the news about a necessity defense climate trial in Cortlandt, New York where six defendants have been granted a necessity defense by Judge Kimberly Ragazzo. Although the Westchester District Attorney’s office reduced charges to a level that denies these pipeline fighters a jury trial, their case is moving forward in a bench trial (in which the judge makes the ruling on guilt or innocence).

I spent spent the last two and a half days in preparation and in court with the defendants and their supporters, and this necessity defense trial is unfolding in some fascinating and promising ways.

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We have a Summer Intern!

hannah.pngWe are excited to welcome Hannah Chodosh as our 2018 Summer Intern! Hannah is originally from New Jersey and is a rising senior at the University of Vermont. At UVM she is majoring in English and minoring in Environmental Studies. In Spring of 2017 Hannah interned with 350 Vermont, and comes to CDC with a keen interest in writing about climate change, and understanding how the law (and the necessity defense) can work with grassroots campaigns to build power.

She writes:

With so many channels for action on climate change exhausted, the movement of people taking direct action to refuse the fossil fuel industry and the future it tries to choose for us is, to me, a deeply exciting avenue of change. People taking those kinds of actions show me that it’s possible to live in recognition of the climate crisis and to act at an appropriate scale. They are examples, and, I think, important ones, of how to create ways of having an impact when it seems like there are none available. I am very much looking forward to working with the CDC this summer and seeing their work up close, and I’m excited to learn about and help document how different campaigns, like the one in West Roxbury, formed and acted creatively and at the scale of the problem. 

 

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Necessity Defense Webcast

Last week Jay and Marla participated in a webcast that covered an overview of the climate necessity defense, a discussion of its uses for movement organizing, and an update on current cases. Kelsey Skaggs from the Climate Defense Project and Valve Turner Ben Joldersma also participated in the discussion. Thanks to Stand.Earth for hosting this important conversation. 

 

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Welcome to Moona Cancino

We are delighted to announce that Moona Cancino is the latest CDC Fellow!

Moona is engaging in the efforts to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline which both run through the Commonwealth of Virginia. As a cancer survivor and a mother, Moona found herself needing to develop practices that heal her mind, body and spirit. It is these practices which translate into powerful activism without burning us out on the grief and anger that can come with finding a movement that sometimes holds more sadness than joy. She realized that her spirituality only was meaningful if it was taken out into the world. In 2016 Moona trained with the Satyagraha Institute and spent a month at Standing Rock. In addition to her local work in Virginia, she is working with others across the country to build a decentralized network of heart-centered nonviolence practitioners working at the intersection of climate justice and racial healing. Moona lives with her son at The Woodfolk Community, an intentional community in Charlottesville.

Welcome Moona!

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