Photo by Tre Timbers

The important story leading up to Bill McKibben’s viral tweet about the Boston pipeline protesters

By Chris Faraone

Our teams at DigBoston and the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism were thrilled to see this tweet from climate justice activist Bill McKibben go viral on Tuesday:

Good golly! A few minutes ago a Boston judge acquitted 13 pipeline protesters on the grounds that the climate crisis made it necessary for them to commit civil disobedience. This may be a first in America. Details to follow, and go to @ClimateDisobey for some live video

As I recently wrote about our connection to the West Roxbury ordeal:

The initial project we pursued after launching the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) in 2015 was a feature titled “Dedham and Goliath.”
Published in DigBoston and written by Nick Moorhead, the article was the first dive any outlet in our region took into shenanigans and protests around the Algonquin pipeline offshoot being built to carry natural gas through Dedham, Westwood, and West Roxbury.
We chose to make our first impression with an article about natural gas for several reasons. Among them: to display our intent to jump on issues that are often tragically ignored and to demonstrate out of the gate that we planned to explore environmental issues that even the alleged liberals at newspapers of record are reluctant to cover.

We could not be more ecstatic to see these protesters, and this cause, get all this attention. In less than one day it already reached the UK, where the Independent is reporting:

More than a dozen protesters who clambered into holes dug for a high pressure gas pipeline said they had been found not responsible by a judge after hearing them argue their actions to try and stop climate change were a legal “necessity.”
Karenna Gore, the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, was among more than 198 people who were arrested because of their 2015 actions protesting the pipeline in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Thirteen people were to go on trial this week, though prosecutors downgraded their original criminal charges to one of civil infraction.
On Tuesday, Judge Mary Ann Driscoll of West Roxbury District Court, found all 13 defendants not responsible, the equivalent of not guilty in a criminal case. She did so after each of the defendants addressed the judge and explained why they were driven to try and halt the pipeline’s construction.

As this story is examined and evaluated, and as it continues to go viral, we hope that outlets near and far consult the on-the-ground local reporting of sources like the West Roxbury Transcript and Universal Hub, which followed slow developments up close when no one else was looking. And of course we also hope they check out the long form BINJ and Dig feature, “Dedham and Goliath,” which, among other things related to the unspeakable anti-democratic behavior in play, explained:

Residents in Dedham and West Roxbury are up in arms about what many see as a legitimate threat to their health and safety. Beyond the possibility of an explosion, there are other terrifying potential side effects of having the line run through a residential area. According to a group calling itself Stop the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline, those concerns include the danger of environmental contamination from methane, as well as from toxic components like PCBs, arsenic, and radon. Some residents are concerned that they might have to forfeit property because of the construction, while others fear residual plummeting property values.

In short, this apparently unprecedented situation didn’t happen overnight. For those covering this moving forward, it’s important to acknowledge the beginnings, and the bullying endured by those now being hailed as heroes.

P.S. Since we’re talking about the environment and crisis, I can’t forget to mention our work covering the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, which has been closed for several weeks since serious storms clipped the coast. Our reporter Miriam Wasser is down there reporting tonight, but in the meantime you can read our oral history of 50 years of anti-nuclear protests in New England at, and/or request a free print copy here.

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