Dump Dominion!: A Diverse Eco-Action in the River City

I headed to the Capitol of Virginia yesterday expecting another same old, same old rally of tired Richmond progressives who show up for all things liberal. You know, the usual — about 100 people show up, a few middle class, middle aged white folk organizers from the 1960s address the crowd to polite applause, the media take some photos and video, we take selfies with our signs, and then we all go home. Occasionally, we politely march around the block a few times, but strictly in the permitted zone.

Surprise! Something revolutionary is happening in Virginia! Yesterday’s Dump Dominion! action, sponsored by NO ACP brought direct action back to Richmond’s Capitol in a host of meaningful and constructive ways. I was moved and energized by the experience and I applaud the efforts of No ACP to create an action where:

  1. The march stayed on message. While there were a over 700 people of differing political, social, economic, and environmental views present at the march, there were two clear and consistent messages a) Revoke the DEQ permits that allow Dominion Power to dump coal ash into the James and Potomac Rivers and b) Hold Governor McAuliffe accountable for his failure to deliver on his campaign promises regarding environmental action.
  2. Intersectionality was a Headliner. While Richmond still has a long way to go, this was perhaps the most racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, politically, gender and age diverse marches I have been to in the Commonwealth. Further, the presence of diverse speakers also reflected and celebrated the message that the environment belongs to WE THE PEOPLE. Speakers offered thoughtful, fact-based commentary that addressed the intersections of race, economic oppression, colonialism and the environment. There were also discussions about ecofeminism, Native American experience, and environmental movement history.
  3. The Logistics were Inspired March organizers provided signs and water to participants (which is always appreciated) and took the extra steps to secure permits, media coverage, police escorts, police liaisons, bail bonds staff, legal observers, bike marshals, and foot marshals to ensure participant safety (these things don’t always happen). This was a well-organized, planned, and executed march. The ingenious march route went by notable sites like the Governor’s Mansion, Dominion Power, McGuire Woods and Suntrust (where the state Democrats were meeting).
  4. It was a creative action. As a member of Codepink Women for Peace, I appreciate a march with catchy chants, big puppets and banners, costumes, drums, and more cowbell please! I enjoyed it immensely when Mother Earth and a shark wandered by me along Broad Street. I do believe that yesterday, those grumpy people staring out at us at Dominion Power learned that 700 appropriately festooned people with slogans and pointed messages, can make a noise loud enough to be heard across the state.
  5. Flexibility allowed for organic action. At the conclusion of the march, a large group of protesters broke away and climbed up the hill to the Capitol. Organizers did not panic. Instead, they gave incoming marchers the ability to choose to participate in either the permitted or the non-permitted action on capital grounds. Some members chose to wrap up their day at the permitted Bell Tower rally. About 200 others, myself included, climbed up to the Capitol where 110 of us or so took the Capitol Steps where we continued to chant, rally, drum, and listen to well versed speakers who conveyed important information on Dominion’s anti-environmental actions across the Commonwealth. We were updated on actions of the Capitol police and were kept informed about negotiations ongoing with the police and with the Governor’s office. I found this to be the most moving, educational, meaningful action of the day — just sitting on the Capitol steps, enjoying the view, listening to passionate statements made by a host of young activists. I stayed up there for about an hour and 15 minutes until the Police showed up with paddy wagons. Then, because I promised my wife not to get arrested on her birthday, I departed with another friend as did the majority of protesters remaining on the steps. Eight intrepid and courageous souls, however, were arrested by the police for nonviolently remaining seated on the steps in protest of Dominion and state government’s actions allowing the dumping coal ash in the James. They will be taking the battle to court in March. The heinous permits will also be challenged in court in the coming months.

I give my deepest appreciation to everyone who organized and participated in such a great day of action!! All this is to say, that there are still days were an ardent and somewhat cynical activist can be surprised by the power and determination of individuals putting feet to the pavement for justice — our own and our planet’s. It gave meaning to the words: The people. United. Will never be defeated!

Now, this is what democracy looks like. In solidarity,

Ryan

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