Opinion: Protesters were courageous

I sympathize with editors of newspapers who are challenged with the task of presenting fair and accurate perspectives on issues and events without being able to be everywhere observing firsthand what actually is said and done, how it was said, and what really happened.
Most of the media outlets (two TV stations and at least one major newspaper) got the story wrong when they reported on the Rising Tide protest at the offices of Vermont Gas Systems in South Burlington on Tuesday. The default story line most often was that an unruly group of radicals, making irresponsible demands, interrupted the business of VGS and hurt one of their employees. This is exactly what VGS would like everyone to believe. And, Angelo Lynn’s editorial statement in the May 29 issue of the Addison Independent shows that he believed exactly that, although he was not there himself.
I was there. I ask anyone with an open mind to consider the reality of the group, Rising Tide Vermont, how its members act in general, and what they did in South Burlington last Tuesday in particular. I was there because Rising Tide Vermont invited me to participate with them in the protest and trusted me to be one of their three media spokespeople.
In interviews on camera by both WPTZ and WCAX and speaking at some length with a reporter from the Burlington Free Press, I spoke about the reasons for the protest, namely the urgency of investing in other sources of energy and conservation instead of spending millions on infrastructure for fossil fuels.
The members of Rising Tide take seriously what James Hansen and most climate scientists are saying about the tragic consequences that are ahead for all of us if we don’t change our ways. Rising Tide members read Bill McKibben and admire him for the protests he has led and is leading in this country and internationally.
Nothing that I said to any reporter ever got on TV or in print, perhaps because I don’t fit the easily dismissed narrative of rebel youth. VGS cried “assault,” and that became the main story line. Before the protest began, I heard leaders of Rising Tide carefully explain what we were to do. I was on the inside with the group. I know how they acted and what their intentions were. They courageously put themselves at risk, understanding the ramifications. I do not believe they did any physical harm to anyone.
Now I will shift to “we” because I was one of the protesters, too. We engaged in an act of civil disobedience to call attention to an urgent matter. We were committed to peaceful protest, and caused no harm or insult to anyone. As is our right, we openly criticized a Canadian-owned utility company that is doing harm to some of our neighbors and potentially harming Lake Champlain and ultimately harming all of us by committing our future to dependence on fossil fuel rather than building sustainable ways of producing power. Our action followed the examples of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, both of whom paid a great price for protesting against injustice. The members of Rising Tide Vermont, mostly young college graduates, know they will pay a price for acting on what they believe and they are willing to do it.
As for me, I have been a United Methodist minister for more than 50 years. I may be twice as old as any member of Rising Tide. That their leaders trust me is one of the greatest honors I have received. I take encouragement by getting to know these bright young people who are not know-it-alls; they are figuring out how to be effective leaders and want most of all to care for the welfare of everyone, not just themselves.
Mr. Lynn’s description of “rude individuals who interrupt meetings with shouts of accusations, while shutting out the concerns of local residents” is an apparent reference to what happened at the Public Service Board hearing in Middlebury last September. I can tell you that the members of Rising Tide regret as much as anyone the actions of some of the audience that evening. The entire campaign, Rising Tide included, worked hard to be sure that at the next hearing (in Shoreham on May 7) everyone was respectful and courteous and gave a friendly welcome to anyone who was present.
Mr. Lynn’s editorial ends with a suggestion to Rising Tide about “what they could do.” Constructive direction is much more welcome than insults and critical put-downs. But his suggestions were unnecessary. I can report that, in fact, Rising Tide members have been tenaciously working on those very ideas since before I first met them about a year ago. I regret that Mr. Lynn was not aware of it all along, but how good of him to suggest that “the public would swing to their side on such specific interests.”
I believe that Rising Tide Vermont deserves a respectful hearing for all of their good work. Tuesday’s act of civil disobedience was necessary because many people with economic, political and social power don’t seem to be listening. To call it a “sophomoric act of defiance” is not worthy of anyone wanting to engage with the most dedicated, responsible members of coming generations.
Rev. George Klohck

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