Peacework
June 2004



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Peacework Magazine

Sara Burke, Managing Editor

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Pat Farren, Founding Editor

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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.

Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.

Activists Find Gas Guzzling Rappellant

Kate Berrigan an activist now living in Oakland, CA. For more information, please see www.jumpstartford.org.

"And Kate, do us all a favor: don't jump! Ha ha ha. And in other news, the traffic report…" I hung up the cell phone lanyarded to my harness and shook my head. I was dangling from a rope outside the 22nd story of the Transamerica Center in downtown Los Angeles, and the radio newscaster thought he was pretty funny.

It was around noon on January 8th and I was taking part in a nonviolent banner-hang protest of Ford's gas-guzzling vehicles sponsored by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Global Exchange for their Jumpstart Ford campaign. Our banner measured 40' x 60' and read, "Ford: Holding America Hostage to Oil," with a large graphic of the Statue of Liberty being held up by a gas nozzle in the hand of a cuff-linked executive. There were two of us on the side of the building, two on the roof where our ropes were anchored, and firefighters, police, and media everywhere. I divided my time between media interviews on the cell phone, listening to updates on our situation over the radio, watching the blocked-off street down below, checking out the view, and occasionally fiddling with the banner to assure the police we were coming down, with the banner, as soon as possible. My climbing partner, Hayden, was doing much the same. On the roof our anchor support people negotiated with the police and fire department rescue team members who were using our demonstration for training purposes. Helicopters circled, videotaping us along with the traffic backed up on the Route 10 freeway nearby. A red-tailed hawk kept us company.

We had been in Los Angeles for about a week, training on rock walls around Malibu, talking strategy and campaign message, practicing knots, and building anchors till our fingers ached, learning to trust each other with our lives. The organizations, RAN and Global Exchange, had brought us there during L.A.'s annual Auto Show, which draws tens of thousands of people and makes headlines every day during its week-long stay. The Transamerica Center was just two blocks from the Convention Center. Auto Show attendees had a front-row seat when we rappelled off the building around 11 in the morning.

Hayden carried the backpack with the banner inside; Lara and Matt, on the roof at the 30th floor, helped build our anchors, checked our gear and buckles, and helped us clamber over the ledge, then settled in to wait for security. We had practiced being able to set up and get over the edge within three minutes, our estimate of security's response time once the emergency exit door was opened on the roof. Once Hayden and I had caught our breath and checked out the view a bit, we rappelled down eight or nine stories where we set up the first banner attachments on the building. Normally, banners are simply anchored to the climbing ropes; attaching the banner to the building was a safety precaution. Banners of that size act as sails in the wind, and can pick climbers up off the side of a building - and drop them again. We figured we had enough to worry about without going for impromptu roller-coaster rides. Within an hour we had unfurled the banner with no glitches and were in communication with the police about our message, our commitment to nonviolence, and our intention to cooperate as soon as we felt we had gotten the word out.

A few hours later we were in custody. Hayden and I had each carried 450 feet of rope, the height of the building, so that we could rappel all the way to the ground instead of climbing back up to the roof. The police and especially the firefighters were impressed with our climbing systems and knowledge; the arrest itself went quite smoothly and we were out that evening on bail, facing misdemeanor trespass charges.

Our action saturated the evening news that night, in addition to the noon hour traffic updates. In conversations with Ford and the organizers of the Auto Show, Global Exchange and RAN highlighted the fact that Ford's vehicles account for almost one-tenth of annual US oil consumption. The typical Ford vehicle on the road today gets worse gas mileage than the Model T did 80 years ago. The technology exists to raise fuel efficiency for all Ford vehicles to 60 mpg or higher. Ford, however, seems unwilling to follow through on its claims of being a company of "environmental heroes," even though eight in ten Americans - including 84 percent of autoworker households - support tougher fuel economy rules. The Jumpstart Ford campaign continues, with more actions designed to place pressure on Ford and raise public awareness of the company's ongoing environmental abuses. More information can be found at www.jumpstartford.com.

At the end of March I found myself in a courtroom with five or six lawyers, a clerk, and a judge. The four of us were pleading no contest to trespass, agreeing to a year's unsupervised probation and 300 hours of community service. We found it preferable to accept this plea bargain than to go through a drawn-out trial facing up to six months in jail and a $1000 fine.

I'm pleased to report I have already completed about a third of the community service, working with RAN on its campaign against Weyerhaeuser Company's logging of old-growth endangered rainforest across North America. Criminal charges for those efforts are pending in Seattle.

Ford holding America Hostage to Oil banner

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