August 31st, 2016

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Brendan Steps Up: A story of pipeline resistance in Boston for adults and children
by Andrée Zaleska and Brendan Matulis

On August 31, the day before his 16th birthday, my friend Brendan lay down in a trench in West Roxbury, MA, to protest the construction of a fracked gas pipeline. He was the youngest person on a yearlong campaign of civil disobedience organized by citizens of Boston against an act of destruction to our neighborhood and our Earth’s climate.

Brendan’s wrote to his parents to convince them of the necessity of risking arrest in the protest. Here are some of Brendan’s words:

“I choose to stand up to climate injustice by participating in nonviolent civil disobedience. Because I love you and any future children I may have, I must do what I judge as right when faced with tough decisions, not what results in the least conflict. I alone sought to join this organization and I alone volunteered to risk arrest.

The seas are rising and will force entire peoples away from their homes as it consumes land. At the same time, the environment which sustains us is declining rapidly. Combine this with our ever rising population and disaster is inevitable. Large uprooted populations plus declining resources will bring violence and war. On our current course, I can’t see how this coming century will be any more peaceful than the one before it (the bloodiest century in history). I don’t want my children and your grandchildren to live in a world like that (though I am sure they will make the best of their situation and be happy if I teach them will). I cannot stop this titanous force by myself, but I can play a small part. And if I play my part, however big or small it may be, I will have done everything I could in the fight against this looming disaster.”

I’m authorizing myself to tell Brendan’s story because I’m one of the organizers of the resistance in this situation, because he turned to me for advice on how to fight climate change, and because Brendan is the longtime friend of both of my sons. Brendan’s story both moves and terrifies me. Here’s how the day went for me:

When I walked up to the action site the WRLP protest the 3 resistors were already in the trench, the work had stopped and there were a dozen police officers and a fire truck there.

I was almost flattened by a flood of pride, love and terror by the symbolic predicament of this young man who is among perhaps a dozen kids I think I helped raise. All the Brendan moments came back to me: Brendan at sleepovers, Brendan playing paintball,  Brendan telling very odd stories about aliens, Brendan on camping trips. In there was also the several years of conversations about climate change, and the great NYC march of two years ago with him, my son Simon and other friends.

Then came all the associations with trenches, including the mass graves in Pakistan, dug this year in advance of a heat wave; the trenches of WW1; men trapped in coal mines; fracking mines. Everyone protesting pipelines in New England knows the dirge we sing (written by the band Melodeego):

Melodeego – Digging Us a Hole

To download the song for FREE: http://bit.ly/16ZqvM9 We are excited and humbled to be announcing the release of “Digging Us a Hole.” This song was born during the “Funeral For Our Future” action in March, where we sang it together with over 100 activists in the TransCanada lobby in Westborough, MA.

There is perhaps nothing more effective about direct action than the symbolism, the images it conjures up, and that’s why I’m telling you how I felt. I felt a cold dread. Brendan was in the trench and I couldn’t see him. I knew what would happen; I knew he would be fine. Our organizers are excellent, our police relations extremely civil. What I don’t know is what the future will bring for Brendan, my sons, their generation. What will it take to get us out of the trench we’ve dug ourselves? Again, Brendan addresses his parents, drawing on his faith: 

I also want to thank you for your effort in this fight. I thank you for our solar panels, our compost, our household’s awareness about the environment, 14192741_10202360439450443_7215432794331363561_nletting me go to NYC to march for climate, raising us to love our world, and much more. Your fight plays a role in the sacred decree of God relating to the purpose of all humanity. It was once believed that kings were made in the image of God and therefore ruled in the place of God. But it is written in the scriptures of the nation of Judah and the ancestral tribe of Israel that all humanity is made in the image of God. Therefore, we are charged to rule all creation as representatives of God. It is our duty to care for and love our world as best as we can.”

Brendan was out of the trench within 30 minutes, escorted to a police van looking happy and proud. I texted his parents and they met him at the police station within an hour. He’ll receive a summons to court and a slap on the hand from the magistrate. Brendan deserves our congratulations. But look at these two picture and feel whatever you feel, and ask yourself whether you are doing enough to keep our children out of the trenches of the future. brendantrench

AndrĂ©e Zaleska is the co-director of JP Green School, an “unschool” where children and teens study sustainable living, urban food gardening and green building in Jamaica Plain

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