out of jail and headed to UMBC

April 26, 2013


Sandra Steingraber left jail shortly after midnight Thursday.//photo by John Armstrong from Raising Elijah’s Facebook page.

Sandra Steingraber was released from jail early today and will speak at UMBC Monday afternoon. I encourage you to be there.

For the past eight days, she has been locked up in Chemung County Jail in Elmira, NY, for trespassing—that is, blocking the entrance to a planned compressor station and natural gas storage site on the banks of and under Seneca Lake near her home in Trumansburg, NY. Steingraber maintains that the natural gas company is the trespasser, on the air, water, soil, climate, on the future of her children and all children, on peace of mind. 

Inergy LLC’s goal is to store liquefied natural gas in abandoned salt caverns and to turn the Finger Lakes region into a transportation and storage hub for fracked gas. Steingraber and 11 others—the Seneca Lake 12—were arrested in March when they blocked the way of a truck carrying a drill head and on its way to work at the site.  Steingraber and two others pled guilty at a trial last week and were jailed after refusing to pay $375 each in fines. (Five others paid the fine with the help of donations. The rest haven’t appeared in court yet.) 

Steingraber lived downstream from someone’s shortsighted and long-ago decisions and developed bladder cancer at age 20, most likely as a result. Her first book, Living Downstream, included research into the links between cancer and synthetic chemicals. She doesn’t want her children or any children to suffer from today’s bad decisions.

In her book Raising Elijah (just out in paperback), she writes of the environmental crisis borne of an addiction to fossil fuels. From prison, she wrote: 

“The fundamental message of Raising Elijah is that the environmental crisis is a crisis of family life, as it robs parents of our ability to carry out our two most basic duties: to protect our children from harm and to provide for their future. When inherently toxic chemicals – including developmental toxicants linked to asthma, birth defects and learning disabilities – are legally allowed to freely circulate in our children’s environment, we can’t protect them. When heat trapping greenhouse gases create extreme weather events that slash the world’s grain harvests (this is happening) and acidify the oceans in ways that threaten the entire marine food chain, starting with plankton (and this is happening too), then we can’t plan for our kids’ futures – no matter how much we sock away in their college funds or Tiger Mom them into athletic or musical mastery. 

“This crisis requires our urgent attention. And by attention, I mean sustained political action, not intermittent, private worrying. Hence, unless the kids can get there and back, under their own steam, then piano lessons, karate, Little League, play practice, SAT prep, and Scout meetings are cancelled until further notice. Ditto for yoga, date night, and book club (with apologies to my long-suffering publicist). 

“Look, one in every four mammal species is headed for extinction. The world’s available drinking water is becoming less and less available. Insect pollinators, which provide us one-sixth to one-third of the food we eat, are in trouble. The price index for 33 different basic commodities is rising, and financial analysts are predicting shortages of the kind that lead to social unrest. Meanwhile, the world’s leading and most powerful industry is preparing to blow up the nation’s bedrock and frack out the last wisps and drops of gas and oil – releasing inherently toxic chemicals into our communities to do so. 

“In short, we don’t have time for out-of-town sporting events.”

On being separated from her children, she wrote:

“So, yes, my course of political action has taken me away from my own children in an attempt to redress this problem on their behalf, and during the first five days, when I was kept in 24-hour lock-up, I had no access to them. But I am convinced the tears of my children now will be less than their tears later – along with the tears of my grandchildren – if we mothers do nothing and allow the oil, coal, and gas companies to hurdle us all off the climate cliff. 

“I’m also aware that human rights movements throughout history – from abolition to suffrage to civil rights – included many people who were parents of young children. They were surely just as busy as you and me. They, like I, probably also kept a list labeled, “Things to do before going to jail.” Their list, like mine, probably included: making meal plans, paying bills, cleaning the bathroom, and finding a costume for the school play. 

“To fight against Hitler, anti-fascist partisans sent their children away to safe places in case they were betrayed. They were busy parents, too. They loved their children just as much as we do. The difference is: now there is no safe place for our children. We can’t hide them from the ravages of climate change.” 

Sandra Steingraber has tried everything and run out of patience. She is calling for a “civil rights-style uprising” for this biggest crisis of our time. She said the women in jail with her were fierce, proud and worried about their children—including one who was trying during calls on the pay phone to find a kidney for her son. She is calling for a “civil rights-style uprising” for this biggest crisis of our time. From jail, she wrote to mothers: 

Imagine hundreds and hundreds of mothers peacefully blockading the infrastructure projects of the fossil fuel industry, day after day. Imagine us, all unafraid, filling jails across the land. Imagine the press conferences we would give upon our release. Imagine us living up to our children’s belief in us as super heroes.



–elisabeth hoffman



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