The 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.Read more
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 Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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.
One year after Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein entered a valve site to manually shut down the flow of oil in two Enbridge tar sands pipelines near Leonard, Minnesota, District Court judge Robert Tiffany granted a motion brought by the “Valve Turners” and two supporters to present a necessity defense at trial.
The case is the result of coordinated “Shut It Down” actions to halt the flow of all tar sands pipelines in the country on October 11, 2106. Johnston and Klapstein shutting off the flow of Enbridge Corporation’s pipelines 4 and 67 near Leonard, Minnesota, while fellow activists manually engaged the emergency valves on pipelines in Washington, North Dakota, and Montana. Documentary filmmaker Steve Liptay and support person Ben Joldersma were also arrested in the Minnesota action, and they join Valve Turners Johnston and Klapstein in this landmark effort to present a climate necessity defense.
A climate necessity defense offers a jury a novel scenario: the defendants freely admit to taking the actions for which they have been charged. Instead of seeking to plant doubt in the minds of jurors, the defense provides context for the action, calling expert witnesses to offer testimony about the urgency of the climate crisis, the imminent danger posed by tar sands pipelines, and the historic role of civil disobedience in transforming unjust systems.Read more
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.
The valve turners are producing a series of videos on each of the activists who turned the valves and shut down 15% of the US oil supply on October 11, 2016. Each of them are ordinary individuals with a compelling vision of action in these times of crisis. Michael Foster goes to trial October 2nd in North Dakota.
The valve turners are producting a series of videos on each of the activists who turned the valves and shut down 15% of the US oil supply on October 11, 2016. Each of them are ordinary individuals with a compelling vision of action in these times of crisis. We are happy to help share their story.
Thanks to Climate Disobedience Center Fellow, Nicky Bradford, for this great overview of Day 1 of Ken Ward's re-trial in Skagit County, Washington.
You'll find the post and links to social media updates here (on the front page of ShutItDown.Today).
On October 11th, 5 activists shut down all five pipelines carrying Canadian tar sands into the US. This is their story.