Risking Arrest to Protect the Environment

Ecosystem content is made possible by Organic Lawns by LUNSETH

Editor’s note: There are many ways to create change, take a stand or make a point. We are called to use our own skills, experiences and even privilege for positive change. One way of change-making is choosing to protest in a way that is likely to get one arrested. 

In Spring 2016, Ginner Ruddy, St. Paul risked arrest by participating in a non-violent, direct-action protest for climate change at a BP power plant in Indiana. She shares her experience of being arrested and why she thinks it’s important for people to use their privilege to take a stand in this way.

We are not going to stop global warming. It is too late for that, but we must keep working. That is why I participated in a worldwide protest to draw attention to breaking free from fossil fuels and making a transition to renewable energy. My partner and I decided that participating and learning more about non-violent, direct action was something we needed to do. We had much to learn. 

The night before the protest we received training required for those risking arrest. We did role-playing, discussed what we most feared about being arrested, de-escalation techniques, what to expect in jail and more. 

About 1,000 peaceful protestors came the next morning with colorful banners and drums. We chanted and walked toward the massive BP refinery for two hours. As we approached the entrance, the 41 of us risking arrest led the way in two lines, linked arms and walked slowly, chanting and singing. It was powerful. 

I saw about 30 police in full riot gear including helmets, face masks and truncheons. Holy buckets! We were warned that this might happen, but even so, I felt just a bit intimidated. 

We entered a gate onto BP property in single file, holding hands. We sat down in a circle, singing. We were then surrounded by the police. One read a notice of our pending arrest if we did not disperse. We were arrested one by one. 

Finally, THE tap on MY shoulder and the words, “You are under arrest. Will you come with me?” Two officers offered me assistance in getting up – having gray hair makes a difference. 

While waiting to be searched, I talked with the officer who would handcuff me about my concern for the future. This was his first time in riot gear for an actual event. The officers had arrived very early in the morning not knowing what to expect. He was surprised at how peaceful we were. I thought how exhausted the police must have been, too, after this long day. 

I was searched by the only policewoman there and then put into the wagon for a 15-minute ride to the East Chicago, Indiana, public safety facility – jail.

Twenty-two women went into a stark holding cell. Nineteen men were in the cell next to us. The youngest in my cell was 20, and many had gray hair like me. We had time to share stories as we waited to be processed. 

Our pro bono lawyer told us we were released without bail. He anticipated that the charges would be cleared – a misdemeanor for criminal trespassing – and that we would not have to return for a court appearance. 

On reflection, I think it is so easy to be in my own world and ignore what is happening; to let big oil win. I know that I cannot give up. I must keep fighting – so that there will be a future for humankind. 

Ginner Ruddy lives in St. Paul. 

To learn more about non-violent direct action: MN350.org