we are all on the front lines

July 16, 2014

mike cuffed

Mike Bagdes-Canning gets the cuffs, along with 24 others, for civil disobedience at FERC.//photo by Tom Jefferson

 Mike Bagdes-Canning is a husband, father, grandfather, retired teacher and vice president of Cherry Valley Borough in Butler County, PA. He was one of 25 people arrested Monday morning for blocking entrances at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or rather the Fracking Expansion Rubber-stamp Commission. He also attended the Stop Cove Point rally and march to FERC on Sunday. In this guest blog post, Mike explains that we are all living in frontline communities and that our struggles are the same. — elisabeth hoffman

BY MICHAEL BAGDES-CANNING

As a frontline resident in the shalefields of Pennsylvania, the rally on Sunday and the action on Monday were as much about us in Pennsylvania as about the people at Cove Point.

Cove Point and the other export facilities are critically important to those of us in extraction communities because once the gas is available on a global scale, it will command a “global price.” Shale gas is very expensive to produce, and it is not profitable to extract at the moment. That will change if it hits the global market. The dire circumstances we find ourselves in now will be viewed as the good old days.

mike for blog post

“Extreme energy threatens us all.”//photo by Tom Jefferson.

In addition, though, we are all from frontline communities. Creating a world market for LNG would be devastating to humanity and much other life as we know it. That point was made at the rally. It wasn’t an accident that my friend Cherri Foytlin from the Gulf region was a speaker — we, all of us, need to be in this fight. Your fight is my fight, my fight is your fight.

This all became very personal for me today. I spent the entire morning with some of the folks I’ve been working with — trying to keep drilling away from a school campus that serves 3,200 kids. They had a hearing with our Department of Environmental Protection (DEP — we call it Don’t Expect Protection).  I was there as a member of the media: I document shale stories for the movement. I was kicked out of the meeting because our law does not serve the people. It serves the corporations. Then I had to deliver my friend, photographer Tom Jefferson, back home to Pittsburgh. Tom wasn’t allowed into the meeting either. Finally, after spending most of the day on the road, I was grateful to be heading home to my piece of heaven — Cherry Valley. At a little after 7 p.m., after being away from home for 11 hours, I turned onto my road, and about a half-mile south of my driveway, I came upon a crew doing seismic testing, one of the initial steps in the drilling process. There was a sign in the road that said, “Lane closed.”  I got out of my car and stormed past the flag-man, pulled out my camera and started to document. They told me that I had to leave; I told them I wasn’t going anywhere. THIS IS MY HOME!  They told me to back away, it wasn’t safe. I told them that I wasn’t going anywhere, they weren’t welcome here. They had to think I was a raving lunatic — and I was. Even now, hours later, I’m angry and already contemplating my next steps. The arrest in D.C. will not be my last.

Gabriel Echeverri, a young man I met at Shalefield Justice Spring Break, spoke to my heart when he told Maryland shale advisory commissioners, “I have an issue with you all debating for hours about the most publicly acceptable way of coming and destroying our homes and poisoning our waters while we have to sit here and listen to all of it.”

Karen’s and my home is surrounded by properties that have been leased. Some of our immediate neighbors have not leased, but the folks that adjoin them have. We are a small island in a vast sea of leased properties.

Both major political parties have betrayed us. Our government serves those who would destroy us. It’s up to us to draw a line in the sand.

Day in and day out, I deal with folks who have been harmed, folks who no longer feel at home in their homes. Today, I find myself joining their ranks. My peace has been yanked from me.

There is, however, a difference between me and those people I work with, the folks I’ve come to call friend, neighbor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard: “What can we do? They’re so big, and we’re so small.” I know what I can do. I can fight within the broken system we’ve been given. I can put my body in front of machines.  I can turn to my network of frack-fighters. I can gain inspiration from my heroes on the frontlines — people like Janet, who despite being without water for over three years and in ill health, has single-handedly carried a water bank serving others without water. I can gain inspiration from folks willing to put themselves in harm’s way.

This fight is not mine any more than Cove Point is a fight for Marylanders. I don’t care where you’re from, your home is in danger. Extreme energy threatens us all.

I’m not asking you to come to fight fracking in Pennsylvania. I don’t care where you are, you’ve got a battle to fight where you are. If they aren’t extracting, they’re transporting, or processing, or burning, or disposing of the waste. I want you to fight your fight because you will then be supporting me in my fight. Your victories will be my victories. We’ve got to fight the extreme energy industry at every step of its death cycle. We’ve got to be prepared to meet them wherever they are. My thoughts turn to our friends on the Great March for Climate Action. I’ve followed their progress and know that they, more than I, are seeing just how our struggles are one. At the foot of West Virginia’s Blair Mountain, filmmaker Josh Fox (“Gasland”) said that mountaintop removal and fracking were just two heads of the same monster. I’ve come to realize that the monster has many heads.

And now I find, jarringly, that what I always knew but never really acknowledged has come to pass: My home is in danger. I’ve been there to support others, but now I feel very vulnerable, unsafe, fearful. It’s not a pleasant place to be and it’s uncomfortable to admit that I’m not ready for it. In my dealings with others, I’ve always assumed that I’d be ready, and now I find that working with others has not prepared me for what I’m facing.

My involvement in this movement has made me a better person (though I’m betting that seismic crew didn’t think so).  I am inspired by all my friends in this fight. Send me your energy, fight your fight.

mike with signs

As police helped FERC employees get around the blockade, Mike tried to cover as much ground as possible. //photo by elisabeth hoffman

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4 Responses to “we are all on the front lines”

  1. V Appalachia said

    Bless you, Mike. Thank you for living your convictions and for standing up for all who need brave people to stand for them.

    I’m so sorry the seismic crews are prospecting so close to your home.

  2. Candy Davis said

    Good for you, Mike! Stand strong! We need more like you to stand up to these fracking company bullies. Hang in there, and know that there are many out here in the U.S. who support what you are doing.

  3. lorischmitt said

    Please google my friend, Suzanne Matteo. She lives in Pulaski Township, PA. She is involved in a lawsuit for forced pooling and needs everyone’s support at her hearing in September.

  4. Lorischmitt,

    I “know” Suzanne. She’s working closely with some of my friends – Maggie and Lisa, among others.

    Candy,

    One of the things that encourages me is that there are more and more people engaged. Just a couple of years ago if you said, “fracking” people would think you were using a more socially acceptable term for the less socially acceptable four letter word. Now folks are aware and starting to take action.

    V Appalachia,

    I have been blessed many times over; it’s one of the reasons I can do what I do. However, I don’t feel very brave. I’d much rather be digging in dirt or running around with a grandchild (though that wears me out after a bit). On the morning of the action I woke up to 30+ messages of support from folks back home; I knew that I was supported by many and that my actions were more than symbolic.

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