Virginia (USA): Tree Sit in Hellbender Autonomous Zone Hits 50 Days

The tree sit in the Hellbender Autonomous Zone (area close to Elliston, Virginia) has now hit 50 straight days. While there has been some ‘crew changes’ between those in the trees, the tree sit continues full steam ahead as an inspiring example of direct resistance to the Mountain Valley Pipeline and its world. What follows is a collection of recent statements from the Appalachians Against Pipelines Facebook page, direct from the tree sitters.

On day 50 of the tree sit the follow statement was posted to Appalachians Against Pipelines:

Today marks the 50th day of standing in the way of the slow violence of the Mountain Valley Pipeline!

The fire of resistance is catching, and we can see that in the brave acts of folks like the 6 individuals arrested recently for their actions at an MVP worksite. We are immensely grateful for their sacrifice, and for the folks supporting them throughout this ordeal.

Today I was asked by someone, “Do you still have hope?” I do. I have to, or I wouldn’t be here. People everywhere give me hope, from those fighting Bayou Bridge in Louisiana, to those locking down in front of ICE offices, to those fighting for prison and police abolition, and more. People everywhere are rising up and fighting back.

50 days have come and gone at the Yellow Finch sits. We will continue to occupy these trees for as long as it takes. The time to act is now. We have almost no time left to prevent total catastrophe. We must keep fighting, on the ground and in the trees and across this (stolen) land.

— from the Yellow Finch tree sits outside of Elliston, VA

On day 49 of the tree sit, Phillip wrote the following on the recent lock downs and arrests that took place against MVP construction equipment. They wrote:

Yesterday morning, 6 people were arrested and placed into cages for interfering with the destruction of the environment — the environment that sustains all life.

If it weren’t for people such as those 6, it would be difficult to ward off feelings of hopelessness. But such acts of resistance rarely emerge out of a vacuum — they are inspired by all those that went before them and motivate all that follow them.

So this morning, those 6 people joined the chain of self-sacrifice and determination that will hopefully lead to the better world that we all know is possible.

To those 6 people, I can’t say anything other than thank you. If our struggle succeeds, it will be because of people such as yourselves. So though your bodies may be in jail, I hope that your hearts are ringing with the love and solidarity that has propelled you to action. Every one of us at camp is standing with you today, and whether or not we have met, I am proud to call each and every one of you my friend.

You have brought hope and beauty into this world. I hope that it touches your hearts, as your actions have touched mine.

In solidarity,
Phillip

Phillip wrote on day 45:

Common sense tells us that multi-billion dollar companies are powerful. For 45 days now a couple of wooden platforms secured to trees have proven common sense wrong. For 45 days EQT, in spite of all of their wealth, has been unable to do the one thing they’d really like to do: cut these trees and finish this pipeline.

So it would seem to my naive mind that the only conclusion is that EQT must not be so powerful after all. And why stop there? I’m sure we’ve all heard that one quote: “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” It’s a great quote but seeing the truth of it in action is nothing short of transformational.

These supposedly powerful institutions are really only powerful because we think they are. If enough of us shook off our irrational fear of the officially powerful it would all be over for them. Perhaps these sits and the ones before it are part of the beginning of this process.

Whatever the case, on today the 45th day of defying common sense and the immutable laws of power, I can’t help thinking how easy this is and how weak our opponents are. I’ve spent all day in my sleeping bag reading Ursula LeGuin and all day EQT has been losing money.

On day 41, Phillip wrote:

Following our comrade Lauren’s post, I feel that I should write something explaining who I am and how I decided to live in a tree. Unfortunately, every internal attempt I’ve made to answer this question so far has gotten bogged down in the specifics of how I ended up in Virginia, the tactical wisdom of tree sits at this stage of the campaign, and other minutiae. So instead I will answer the underlying question: why devote your life to activism?

Consider briefly the state of the world. Every day, innocent people in Yemen are bombed and starved to death by the United States and its junior partner Saudi Arabia. The people of Palestine live in a state of unending siege as Israeli settler-colonialism follows its logical course to genocide — a course that Indigenous people in the US are still experiencing. Globally, there is enough food produced to feed every person but over 20,000 people starve to death every day. To top it all of the latest IPCC report says that we have 12 years to stop the impending climate catastrophe, a catastrophe made all but inevitable by capitalism’s need for infinite growth on a finite planet.

In light of these facts, all of the answers I can give to the “why” question seem sadly inadequate. Perhaps it is a testament to my rhetorical shortcomings that I can do no better than to say that it’s just the right thing to do.

But although my feelings of moral clarity are vivid and inspiring, I’m not content to simply feel them within. Indeed, I feel compelled to share them with others in the hope that this moral clarity will allow us to shake off the mental disease of hatred and its logical spawn of capitalism, racism, misogyny, and all forms of oppression.

Unfortunately, convincing people of the moral necessity of dismantling capitalism is not always so easy. Which leads to my feeling that if I want others to share my moral judgment, I had best make the issue as clear as possible. This in turn leads to the way I choose to struggle for change in this world.

For one, I have completely renounced violence – even in self-defense. Although the state will inevitably use violence against me in the form of pain compliance, pepper spray, imprisonment, solitary confinement, and other strategies, I will not retaliate. I have no interest in playing their old game of inflicting suffering on the “other” until you prevail. Instead, I will accept suffering on the behalf of these broken people and institutions in the hopes that doing so might produce a better world.

Furthermore, I have chosen to be completely honest about what I do. While I would find it empowering to defy the state and get away with it, I find it more empowering to do so and then stand by what I’ve done. Yes, defying the state in this way is usually deemed “illegal,” and yes at some point I may go to jail and face any number of consequences. So be it.

This campaign, like all others, presents a moral dilemma. Two sides stand opposed to each other and to be neutral is merely to passively choose the dominant side. In this case, the dominant side is EQT and the state. I believe my side, the side opposing these institutions, is right. Whether or not this is so is up to each person to determine. I only hasten to add that I have completely embraced nonviolence and honesty while our opponents have done neither. Indeed, what organization harbors more secrets and uses more violence than the US government and its corporate backers?

It is my hope that my presence in this tree and my actions more generally will make two things clear. The first is that I’m a decent person trying to do the right thing. The second is that the corporate state considers me a criminal. If these two things are true, the only logical conclusion is that we must be living in an unjust society. Where that conclusion (and the ones following it) will lead differs for each person. But for some it leads to a platform in a treetop and rainy days spent writing rambling Facebook posts.

On day 38, Lauren wrote the following statement upon coming down from the trees:

It has been 38 days. 38 amazing, inspiring, life altering, resistance fueled days. I’ve learned and experienced so much.

I have learned not to underestimate the impact that one action can have.

I have learned that we’re strongest when we support and lean on one another. We are not in this alone.

I have learned that no matter how impossible or absurd something seems, we are capable of so much more than we realize.

After 38 days I have decided to come down. When I first climbed up here I wasn’t sure how long I could last, but I was driven to endure for as long as possible. But then the day came and went when we reached that one month mark… and then even surpassed that! And MVP has left us alone… for now.

Throughout this blockade, we have persisted through a hurricane, high winds, rain, and MVP cutting trees too close to our traverse lines. I have learned and experienced so much in the form of books and visitors and simply being a part of the forest. There were some days that I just sat and watched birds from my platform as they flew from tree to tree and interacted with each other, oblivious to the danger that lurked just over the ridge line.

If there is only one thing that I take away from this whole experience, it is that we can find strength through the relationships we forge along the way. Visitors hiked up here in the wind and rain to bring us supplies. During a hurricane and on their only days off, people were here.

During my hardest days, I found strength in the moments when I least expected it. It was in the children playing in the stream at the bottom of the hill, it was in the musicians who played us music on dreary days, and it was in the countless visitors who shouted up at us that our blockade gave them hope.

It is important to recognize that this is a collective struggle and therefore it will take a collective effort in order to overcome the hurdles we’re up against. This is not something that we as individuals can accomplish alone. We are stronger when we work together.

It is equally as important to recognize when it’s time to make decisions with our health and wellbeing in mind. We cannot take on all of these burdens ourselves and sometimes we must admit to ourselves that what is best for us, and for everyone else, may not be what most aligns with our egos. I felt for the longest time that I had to stay up here as long as humanly possible, to push myself even if that meant going past the point of what would be good for me and my personal health.

But that benefits no one.

A message I received from a friend recently provided me with some much needed wisdom when I was struggling with the decision to come down, “Take care of yourself. It is a radical thing to create spaces where that’s possible, unlike in school and most jobs where you are expected to keep going even when it’s damaging.”

That friend was Nettle, who has been a much needed friend and ally in the trees.

Nettle will continue on in the white pine, along with another tree sitter to take my place. Knowing that this blockade will go on despite my coming down fills me with immeasurable joy and gratitude.

We need more people to step up and fill roles like this one. I had never been a part of a direct action before this past spring. I was simply someone who found light and inspiration from prior tree sits and thought to myself, “Why not me?”

It’s something we all must ask ourselves. Too often we find excuses not to do the hard thing, the challenging thing, but the truth is that there will always be a million reasons not to do something.

We will never accomplish anything if we don’t push ourselves and make sacrifices to try and make the world a place we can all live in. It will require personal sacrifice. Sometimes it will require a lot of long nights, hiking up and down steep mountains, and sleeping on a hard platform high up in the air.

It won’t come easy.

If you don’t believe that you are capable of doing a direct action like this one, then look at me as proof that you can. I had no prior expertise or experience. I was just somebody who cared.

Don’t keep waiting for the right time. We don’t have anymore time. The time is now, it was yesterday, it was years ago, decades ago. We need you. Get involved with direct action in whatever way you can. You are not in this alone. There are many, many people who will support you.

I support you.

To every single person who has ever expressed support or solidarity, to every person who has hiked up this steep hill or donated supplies to our tree sits, thank you. I will never be able to fully express in words how grateful I am for all of you. So I will simply say, thank you.

& keep on fighting.

Much love and solidarity, Lauren

IGD

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