In the 1970’s I was active with an Anti-Displacement Committee group in downtown Brooklyn, NY. We worked with tenants who were facing pressures, some of them very intense, from unscrupulous landlords trying to force the tenants out so they could jack up the rents or go coop in the gentrifying area where I lived.
Several times we successfully used a particular tactic to fight them: demonstrating at the home or public office of the landlord, alerting his neighbors to what he was doing. Once we picketed in sub-freezing weather outside the storefront office of a landlord who was not providing heat or hot water to one of his buildings. Another time we took a busload of people from Brooklyn to Stamford, Ct. to the estate of a very rich landlord who was brutally forcing tenants out of a large apartment building. When we arrived, 40 of us walked down the driveway to his home, rang his bell, and when no one answered we plastered his house and his personal tennis court with leaflets and signs. And once we called the home phone number of a landlord not providing heat and hot water, telling him that if he didn’t provide those services within 24 hours, we would distribute leaflets up and down his block.
In all three cases the tactic worked. Heat and hot water was provided, and the remaining tenants in the building being emptied were offered reasonable financial settlements in return for agreeing to move. Though not exactly a victory, it was pretty much the best that could be hoped for given the particular situation.
So when the idea emerged within Beyond Extreme Energy a few months ago that we should escalate our tactics at the non-responsive Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, and go to the homes of the four FERC Commissioners during a mid-May week of action, I was fully in support. After all, the decisions of FERC over the years have led to the disruption or devastation of many tens of thousands of people’s lives, possibly more. This has happened via land seized by eminent domain; pipelines, compressor stations or other polluting and threatening fossil fuel infrastructure built on or close to that land or people’s homes; and people’s water contaminated by the fracking that can only happen if there’s infrastructure to transport and process it.
For four days in a row we conducted what we called a “rolling occupation.” Every afternoon or evening we went to one of the Commissioners’ homes with leaflets to pass out to neighbors and to post on nearby lamp poles. We held banners that called them out by name, and twice we offered passers-by healthy and delicious food prepared by the wonderful group Seeds of Peace. We posted on their front doors or delivered, once via a pizza delivery, a people’s Eminent Domain notice. We played over a portable sound system the sounds of chain saw workers cutting trees. FERC allowed this to be done over a 24 mile stretch of land in Pennsylvania this past February and March, even though the proposed Constitution pipeline projected to be built along that stretch did not have a needed permit from New York (which New York turned down about a month later—FERC has yet to offer even an apology to the Pennsylvania landowners whose trees were cut down for no good reason).
One night four of us slept overnight on the sidewalk in front of FERC Chair Norman Bay’s house. The next morning we placed a mock pipeline in his front yard.
We were very pleased by the response of the neighbors we spoke to at the various locations. There was a lot of support for what we were doing, a lot of consciousness about the climate crisis and interest if not approval of our efforts to have an impact on FERC. The highlight was a discussion with a neighbor of Norman Bay’s who had nothing positive to say about him and who told us that if we needed to use her bathroom during the night that we could do so.
How did FERC respond? At 6:15 on the evening before their scheduled monthly public meeting, they announced that the meeting would not be open to the public. They announced that they were turning the open meeting into something that people could only watch via livestream.
Clearly, BXE’s 18 straight months of attending and speaking up at those public meetings and our plans for a rally outside FERC the morning of that meeting, had something to do with the decision. It remains to be seen what they will do for future third-Thursday of the month, FERC “public meetings.”
Actually, it turns out that some people did get into the FERC meeting: people from the gas industry. During the rally outside FERC which BXE had organized for 8 am the morning of the meeting, some of us saw corporate-looking types entering the building. When we investigated, this oh-so-typical-of-FERC exception to their supposed meeting-closing was confirmed.
BXE had a name for this week of action: the Rubber Stamp Rebellion. In the leaflet we distributed at FERC, in front of the Commissioners’ homes and elsewhere during the week, we said: “BXE is calling for an end to the Fracked-gas Expansion Rubber-stamp Commission, an end to the FERC that promotes fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure and that makes wealthy corporations more powerful while sacrificing communities, our health and our Earth. BXE calls for a swift, just transition to a renewable-energy economy.”
Let the Rubber Stamp Rebellion continue!
Ted Glick is a co-founder of Beyond Extreme Energy and a community organizer in northern New Jersey. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.