HAMMOND, Ind. –Eight months after 41 protestors were arrested for trespassing at a BP Oil facility in Whiting, Indiana, the so-called “Whiting 41” had to appear in court Jan. 13 to accept their plea bargains. Pagan blogger John Halstead took part in that 2016 demonstration, as we previously reported, and was eager to assist fellow activists turn this 2017 moment into a larger action.
The video included below is one of several taken during the Jan. 13 demonstration and posted on the Facebook event page. In a different video, not available for embedding, Halstead explains the motive for participating. He says, “We are living in one of the most […] environmentally devastated regions in the country […] It is all part of a petroleum industry that has shown no care for the people in the communities where they are located.”
The 41 people who were arrested last May had been participating in a worldwide day of action against the use of fossil fuels, with events taking place on six continents. As a condition of their case being dismissed, the protesters had to agree not to get into further trouble. However, they had to travel to Hammond in order to enter their pleas in person.
With that many activists gathering together in one place, it would easily seem to many an opportunity for those involved to orchestrate another event. Having that gathering happen just one week before the presidential inauguration, the protesters reportedly felt a greater urgency to speak out. Many of Trump’s cabinet picks are considered climate-change deniers, and that became the focus of last week’s action. Said Halstead:
We had over 100 people there (felt like more), in spite of wind chill temperatures in the teens and a sheet of ice covering everything. We gathered in front of the Lake County Superior Court. Inside, the Whiting 41 were heard by the judge and the order was entered to dismiss their cases contingent on our not committing any criminal offenses for six months. Outside we were met by cheers and applause and the sound of Queen’s “I Want to Break Free.”
Exactly how far these activists can go without revisiting this case is a question that Halstead, himself an attorney, answers more liberally than the lawyer who represented the Whiting 41. “There is some disagreement (between me and our lawyer) whether that means we can’t get arrested or whether than just means we can’t get convicted. I think it means convicted,” Halstead explained. “People want to be able to risk arrest next week at the Women’s March and in April at the big environmental march in [Washington] D.C.”
After emerging from the courthouse, members of the Whiting 41 and others made a further splash by engaging in some street theater to drive home their demands, not least of which is not confirming climate-change deniers Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, and Rick Perry as members of the incoming president’s cabinet. That message in particular was delivered to Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, but protesters also had their current governor — soon-to-be-vice president Mike Pence — in their sights.
Halstead, who felt that the theater action very much resembled Pagan ritual, explained:
We began with flowing blue water represented by streaming blue cloth. The villains — climate change denier nominees for Trump’s cabinet and justices protecting corporate interests (played by my daughter and I) — enter the scene. Lady Justice is blinded.The villains are followed by the giant pipeline of death, which surrounded the water, breaks open, and turns the water black.
And then, as [Dave Stocker,] our art director and narrator said, “We invite the sacred in,” through the words of a representative of indigenous [people]. Lady Justice’s eyes are unveiled and and the water is healed, as we sing, “People gonna rise like the water, gonna tear this system down, I hear the voice of my great grand-daughter, saying keep it in the ground!”
Halstead took at least one other prominent role when he read the list of demands and a solidarity statement before an enthusiastic audience and a bank of news cameras. Those same demands were delivered to a representative of Senator Donnelly, who apparently was not in his office when the activists arrived.