“A Farm Inviolate” – May 10, 2012: Statement by J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD
Goats bearing witness to the blessing
Blessing the land with Lucinda’s ashes
(Note: this is the complete statement I had prepared. Because of a sudden, gusty spring rain that had soaked us pretty well, I did not speak every word of this. But in my heart I meant every word of it.)
Today I act to declare my farm, all that lives above on its surface, the very air and sunlight that caresses and enlivens all of us here today, and all that lies below it as firmament, I hereby declare off-limits from shale gas extraction and its toxic impacts, in perpetuity. Some will say what I do is against the law. But I say this: I act in the spirit of the founders of this nation who proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence that “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” entitled them to throw off the oppression of the British Crown. I act to throw off an oppression manifesting itself in the threat of “fracking” for methane gas, an extreme form of fossil fuel extraction that is but representative of a much bigger oppression that is bearing down on all of us.
There is an increasing collusion between corporate power and the governmental powers of the United States of America, Pennsylvania and other states. This flag beside me is losing its potency as a symbol of justice and freedom. The republic for which it stands is being bought and sold as though being traded on the commodities market. We are losing our democracy. Governments are protecting corporations, not people.
Seeing energy companies dictate laws such as the recently passed Act 13, I can now understand better what our nation’s founders discovered in trying to negotiate with the British Crown. Act 13 is a corporate-sponsored form of organized crime perpetrated upon the people and democracy of Pennsylvania, written by politicians purchased for that purpose by lubricious campaign contributions that exceeded $4.4 million in the 2010 election cycle, more than one-third of which went to Governor Corbett, and almost two-thirds of which went to Gov. Corbett, Senator Joe Scarnati, Speaker Sam Smith and the Republican Party Committee. That is not to count the $5 million in gas company lobbying in Harrisburg and being the Gold Sponsors of the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.
We are being systematically colonized by multinational corporations who give no quarter. There has come a time when negotiation is capitulation, when our petitioning for redress “in the most humble terms” has failed, and when our “repeated Petitions” are being “answered only by repeated injury.”
The America we love is fast becoming America, Inc. – a wholly owned subsidiary of faceless corporations that get to speak with money to get the politicians they want to make the laws they need to despoil our environment and even what we eat for their exorbitant profits. Monsanto is buying up and patenting our seeds and poisoning us with their genetically engineered crops. The USDA and Food Safety Administration – at the behest of the industrial food lobby – are preventing the labeling of genetically modified food products that a super majority of Americans want to see labeled. Chesapeake Energy and Range Resources and CONSOL Energy and EXCO Resources (allied with British Petroleum) and Cabot Oil & Gas and Shell Oil and many others are being given license to run roughshod over local zoning protections. Their transgressions against water and air and human and animal life where they drill are being shielded by court gag orders. PNC and other banks are financing mountaintop removal of coal that is destroying entire ecosystems in West Virginia.
Our political leaders, beholden to corporations to fund their campaigns, refuse to lead us out of a fossil fuel era that is warming our planet, and refuse to prevent the chemical contamination of our environment and food for corporate profits. The environment is becoming more and more toxic. Species are disappearing by the hundreds annually and many of our own human kind are finding themselves dealing more and more with the calamities of climate change.
Act 13 codifies injuries against our democracy and our earth itself. It was an outright victory for the “Shale Army” of which one energy executive boasted: “The shale army has arrived. Resistance is futile.”
But resistance is not futile. The “shale army” will find that out soon enough, after we have taken more losses at their hands, to be sure, but soon enough. Resistance can be liberating. It is also a little scary, of course. That is why our Declaration of Independence ends, knowing that war is at hand, on a somber note that appeals “to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions” and comes to a close with these words: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
That is what today is for me. And I dare say many of my friends gathered here. Our lives. Our fortunes. Our sacred honor. Maybe even our liberty will be required of us as we resist the shale army. But we shall pay those costs. We shall pledge all that to Nature and to our fellow human beings who are part of Nature, God’s Nature, even those who perpetrate the harm.
I am putting all of that into this fight, risking it all without any assurance of victory.
Why? Because we need a new paradigm for how we live on this Earth. Our individual acts of resistance such as this one today must be part of an ongoing organization to create a foundation of law based on the Rights of Nature.
Now, for a moment, let me turn to those who were invited but chose not to come today. Mr. & Mrs. Burkett. Senator Scarnati and Speaker Smith. J. Brett Harvey of CONSOL Energy and Douglas Miller of EXCO Resources.
Mr. & Mrs. Burkett – If you were here I’d say this to you. When you bought the deed to the gas rights for $150 in 1995 from a previous heir of this farm, you could not have known anything about the highly invasive and toxic processes of drilling into an unconventional gas field such as the tight shale of the Marcellus. No one did. And you could not have known that someday two people would come and pour their entire life savings into making this an organic farm. And when you made a smart deal for $80,000 in leasing bonus and looked forward to 12 ½% royalties, it must have seemed such a good thing for your family, but you had no idea that this type of drilling could destroy another family’s dreams for sustainable farming and nurturing a new generation of young farmers. But now you do know, and when you told Lucinda and me that you were not interested in selling the gas rights back to us, you said it was because you were “greedy.” I asked how you could allow the earth to be destroyed for some money, and you told me that it did not really matter because at the end of time, according to your faith, Jesus Christ would return and make the world whole again for his faithful, and those people who did the damage to the world would receive their just due. But don’t you see, Mr. & Mrs. Burkett, that “those people” are you? “Those people” are all of us if we allow the destruction of our earth
Senator Scarnati, for two years I have tried to get you to understand the suffering that afflicts people and animals in contact with this drilling, wherever it has occurred. You refuse to take in any information about that. In fact you recently blocked a $2 million fund to develop a health registry that would track cases of people who are being sickened. Today we have presented news accounts of more than 115 such cases, but for you (on purpose) you will not pay attention to these. These are all the “disappeared ones” for you (on purpose). They do not exist for you, they cannot exist for you, and you do not want information about them to exist for anyone else. I pity you, sir, and – believe it or not – I continue to keep you in my prayers.
Speaker Smith, Mr. Harvey and Mr. Miller – let me offer this to all of you who have refused to be here today. Also to you, Mr. & Mrs. Burkett and Senator Scarnati. If you were here I’d ask you to stand up, turn slowly and look around this beautiful farm, this beautiful farmland and woods before you. Just turn your bodies slowly around and see all of it, see and imagine it as habitat for me, my family and friends, my neighbors, these goats, the fox and the deer and the moles and the mice and the groundhogs, the ground-nesting birds and peeping frogs and the slithering snakes. “Look Out” on this place and see it as a home for many, not a commodity to be exploited. “Look Out” on this particular place, which in some ways stands for all places where earth and sky and water and air and life are under threat by our insatiable “economy” built on fossil fuels, built on wars for fossil fuels, and try to hear there words from a poem called “Look Out” by the farmer Wendell Berry. Hope that these words are not about you. Hope that some day these words will not describe any of us:
Look Out – by Wendell Berry
Come to the window, look out, and see
the valley turning green in remembrance
of all springs past and to come, the woods
perfecting with immortal patience
the leaves that are the work of all of time,
the sycamore whose white limbs shed
the history of a man’s life with their old bark,
the river quivering under the morning’s breath
like the touched skin of a horse, and you will see
also the shadow cast upon it by fire, the war
that lights its way by burning the earth.
Come to your windows, people of the world,
look out at whatever you see wherever you are,
and you will see dancing upon it that shadow.
You will see that your place, wherever it is,
your house, your garden, your shop, your forest, your farm,
bears the shadow of its destruction by war
which is the economy of greed which is plunder
which is the economy of wrath which is fire.
The Lords of War sell the earth to buy fire,
they sell the water and air of life to buy fire.
They are little men grown great by willingness
to drive whatever exists into its perfect absence.
Their intention to destroy any place is solidly founded
upon their willingness to destroy every place.
Every household of the world is at their mercy,
the households of the farmer and the otter and the owl
are at their mercy. They have no mercy.
Having hate, they can have no mercy.
Their greed is the hatred of mercy.
Their pockets jingle with the small change of the poor.
Their power is the willingness to destroy
everything for knowledge which is money
which is power which is victory
which is ashes sown by the wind.
Leave your windows and go out, people of the world,
go into the streets, go into the fields, go into the woods
and along the streams. Go together, go alone.
Say no to the Lords of War which is Money
which is Fire. Say no by saying yes
to the air, to the earth, to the trees,
yes to the grasses, to the rivers, to the birds
and the animals and every living thing, yes
to the small houses, yes to the children. Yes.
My friends, please, now join me as we set aside this farm from the destruction of shale gas drilling.
(To those gathered). As I move now to release a portion of my wife’s ashes upon this land, I will end each invocation with her name. When I do that, please say with me “¡Presente!” to recognize that she is here with us in spirit. “¡Presente!” is a way of saying that she here with us to take new spiritual action as guardian and protector of this farm that she so loved. So… (lifting the first handful ashes)
1. May she who was soft, warm and moist to me – now made dry by cancerous death – come now in these ashes to mingle with earth and water below our feet, come to protect the soil and water of this farm and all the lives which they sustain. Come now, Dr. Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez! (¡Presente!)
2. May she who was quench to my thirst, who was water of this good earth’s loving waters – now made grit and grief to me by cancerous death – may she come now to her final home, come speak with these ashes her final words of peace and wellness for her beloved organic farm. Come now, Dr. Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez. (¡Presente!)
3. May she who was tender and close and loving of me – now made dust and distant from me by cancerous death – come now in these ashes to declare this farm forever inviolate of shale gas drilling or any other attack upon it as a living system. Here now she declares a new right of love on the surface and below this farm that no gas drill will ever penetrate.” Come, be with us now, Dr. Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez. (¡Presente!)
Thank you. Now we will take your questions.