Indivisible Charlottesville — a regional branch of an activism group aiming to “oppose the Trump agenda,” — drew a crowd of nearly 100 to the Downtown Mall Monday evening to protest Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s support for the proposed Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. The two natural gas pipelines would both pass through mountainous regions of southwestern Virginia and West Virginia and are both supposed to be in service by 2019.
Included among the speakers Monday were Theresa “Red” Terry and Theresa “Minor” Terry, a mother-and-daughter duo who protested the seizure of their family-owned land near Roanoke by occupying nearby trees for five weeks.
Red said she’s especially upset by the seizing of her land — property that’s been in her family for seven generations — for profit.
“This is our land, we need to protect it, and our representatives need to step up to the plate and quit letting the gas and oil companies run the United States of America,” Red said. “It’s supposed to be ‘for the people, by the people,’ not ‘for the profit.’”
The two pipelines will nearly double Virginia’s greenhouse gas emissions — which scientists say will exacerbate global climate change — according to environmental activist Katie Ferguson and a prepared by a retired scientist from the Environmental Protection Agency. At the same time, proponents of the pipeline say natural gas is a more environmentally-friendly nonrenewable energy source and pipelines are the safest way for it to travel.
The Terrys ended their demonstration abruptly Saturday after a federal judge threatened $1,000-per-day fines on both women if they continued to protest.
The fines were to be paid towards the firm building the pipeline — a concept which did not sit well with the Terrys. After leaving the treehouses, they began a statewide tour to build awareness for the cause, hoping to end at a Dominion Power shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday.
Monday, they stopped in Charlottesville, joining Indivisible Charlottesville and other local organizations gathering by the “Freedom of Speech Wall” outside City Hall.
Michael Payne, an organizer with Indivisible Charlottesville, began with a brief overview of current events — specifically, natural disasters happening both inside and outside the U.S., including power grid failures in Puerto Rico, water shortages in South Africa and unprecedented monsoons in Bangladesh.
"I just bring all these things up because these are the scenes of the climate crisis,” Payne said. “It's not theoretical, we are living it every single day now, and we are on the precipice of one of the most dangerous moments in human history. This is one of the moments where there is a clear moral choice. It is black or white.”
As a candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Northam called for a “stream-by-stream” analysis of all proposed pipelines, where permits must be granted each time a pipeline crosses a river or stream. Payne said Northam has since dropped his promise, though Northam’s office the Department of Environmental Quality is rigorously reviewing “every foot” of the proposed pipeline routes.
Northam has also the Terrys’ protest “unlawful,” though he did not order Virginia State Police to act. Instead, VSP is supporting local police officers — who had previously stopped Red’s supporters from delivering food and water.
“The way the Northam administration and the Virginia State Police have acted against Red and Minor, I think, is a display of enormous weakness,” Payne said. “This is just two people sitting in trees in their own property but they're terrified of it because they know if ordinary citizens start organizing and mobilizing and getting engaged that they're going to lose.”