My act of civil disobedience

Here is my facebook post from the morning of June 1st:

Early this morning, I went with some friends to block the access road to a frack site in Denton. We are asking that work not commence there for the duration of the day. I will only leave before 7 p.m. if I am in handcuffs.

An act of civil disobedience requires you to distinguish just laws from unjust laws. I have read much about this and discussed Antigone, Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, Jr. with my students. But I have never acted until now, because never before has that distinction been so clear in my mind.

A just law would give those exposed to the harms of fracking a meaningful voice. An unjust law would subordinate those voices to the dictates of the powerful and wealthy. HB 40 is an unjust law.

Last year, we felt the humanizing potential of democracy. Using the empowering mechanism of the citizens’ initiative, people put their shoulders to the work of shaping the common weal. We had a conversation about what kind of place we want to be, and it was a conversation that remained lucid despite the influx of corporate money. In the end, we decided that we want to be a frack free Denton. We saw that was the only reasonable path left for us to secure our most basic goods – healthy air and water, safe neighborhoods, and a livable community.
What happened next was equal parts surreal and sinister. In a naked display of corruption, the industry bought a new law. An apoplectic orgy of irrationality in Austin spawned HB 40, which does nothing to address the underlying policy issues that actually drove the Denton ban. Vested rights, the split estate, disclosure laws, lack of state monitoring, the distribution of wealth…none of these issues were even broached. When Denton sent our state representatives a white paper on vested rights the only response was crickets chirping.

Where any reasonable person could see so many problems in need of fixing, the corporate cronies in Austin saw only one: Community autonomy. One state representative (a recipient of over $150,000 from the oil and gas industry) flat out told me their intention was to “stop the virus from spreading.” To them, the power of people, the power of grassroots democratic action, is a pathogen in the body politic.
When Austin wouldn’t fix problems rooted in state law, we took it upon ourselves to find a solution. Their response was to attack us rather than set their own house in order. And they didn’t just attack Denton or fracking bans. No, they squelched local control for hundreds of towns and cities across the state. The industry is buying the same assurance in other states too.

It’s a vindictive overreaction. It is a political extremism to match the technological extremism of fracking – a fractured democracy to go along with a fractured earth. There may be no single place where it is entirely rational or unambiguous to take a stand against the erosion of democracy. But it has to happen somewhere at some time. For me it is today and here. What will it be for you?

Many of my heroes, like MLK, risked their lives challenging unjust laws. My life is comfortable and my prospects today are mild and secure. I do not risk much. And I am ashamed to say I would not have the courage to act today if I faced the kinds of dangers others have faced.

I have no doubt Denton’s police officers will treat me with dignity. They are honorable men and women. It may be that others will choose civil disobedience too. I hope it is the case. But I will have no truck with anyone who disrespects our police. I also hope that anyone who protests at this site, or any site in Denton, do so with respect, civility, and courtesy for the neighbors.

I am doing this as a father and citizen. I am NOT acting in my capacity as a professor at the University of North Texas. I am also NOT acting as President of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group. This is on my own time for reasons that are my own.

My reasons are entirely selfish: how could I sleep at night or look my children in the eyes if I was not here today to mark, with my body as well as my words, this injustice? I want to be able to live with myself. It is better, as Socrates notes, to be out of tune with society than to be out of harmony with one’s self.

I owe it to everyone who worked so hard to pass rules that were ignored; to everyone who made the fracking ban a success; and to everyone who has watched in disgust as plutocrats silenced not just Denton’s voices, but the voices of hundreds of communities. I carry all of you with me today. I can feel your arms linked with mine.

I hope to be able to participate in the discussion at City Hall tomorrow night about the fate of the fracking ban. I don’t know what we should do. I do know we all love Denton and share the same goals of protecting health, safety, and welfare. Yet I also know that the industry is trying to tear us apart. They want Denton to devolve into a civil war, and indeed I have already seen relationships broken on the rocks of this hard decision.

Our strength comes from our unity. Don’t let them take that from us.


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