Earth First protesters on Monday chained themselves together at the entrance to Florida Power and LIght (FPL) headquarters in Juno Beach disrupting company operations. They were making a stand against FPL plans for a giant new power plant on 3200 acres of land sitting next door to the Big Cypress Reservation of the Seminole Tribe. The chained up protesters were supported by over one hundred others.
Earth First! has called FPL’s plans “an act of environmental racism against indigenous people and an attack on the Everglades.” Calling the project a threat to their way of life, the Seminole tribe in June 2011 sued to block construction of the plant, in a case still being litigated. “Stop FPL and others who destroy the environment and resources, for the sake of our future generations,” says Sam Tommie, a Seminole tribal member who opposes the project.
“This proposal is an act of environmental racism against indigenous people and an attack on the Everglades. If we stand by and do nothing, we are also complicit in this injustice,” says Christian Minaya of Everglades Earth First!, a group based in Palm Beach County.
Earth First is also upset about the fact that the plant will utilize natural gas derived from fracking. Amongst the chants heard at the protest was, " FPL you can’t hide, fracking gases ecocide.”
Earth First Journal points out,
FPL’s plans in Hendry County have already been delayed by legal challenges to the rezoning of the land proposed for the site. Minaya, of Everglades Earth First!, says their group is familiar with the proposed power plant in Hendry County. The model is identical to the FPL plant they fought in Loxahatchee, known as the West County Energy Center (WCEC). Between 2007 and 2009 over 50 people were arrested in blockades and protests against the WCEC, as well as at the Barley Barber FPL plant in Martin County.
Each of these massive power plants, also in the Everglades, are known to use over 20 million of gallons of water daily and emit thousands of tons of pollution including, SO2, NOx, mercury and chromium, as well as millions of tons of greenhouse gases.
The activists also say FPL has a history of environmental racism, citing long standing complaints against their facilities in the predominately Black community of Riviera Beach, where the company recently expanded a gas facility amidst community opposition.
Betty Osceola, of Trail, said environmental contamination is already a problem in the Everglades. The sugar industry has been blamed for mercury in the water which, according to Sierra Club Florida, can be harmful to unborn babies and can cause brain and nervous system damage.
“We can barely hunt and fish anymore. They are killing our land,” Osceola said.
The Hendry County FPL site sits on proven habitat and mating grounds for the endangered Florida panther. It is also home to other threatened or endangered creatures, including the crested caracara bird, snail kite bird, wood stork bird and eastern indigo snakes.
Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, said the FPL plant could be stopped if the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior invoke the “jeopardy opinion” of the Endangered Species Act.
The provision directs federal agencies to refuse authorization and prohibit funding for projects that jeopardize the existence of any listed species.
“A project this size will lead to extinction. They can’t turn their backs on it,” Schwartz said.
The site is within a well-established migration corridor not only for species on the verge of extinction, but for deer, black bear, hogs and all animals that depend on the uplands for survival, he said. Part of the Florida Forever Project, called Panther Glades, the area is especially crucial during the wet season when water levels are too high to live or hunt.
Juno Beach police arrested 5 people at the Monday protest and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office assisted in transporting them after they were taken into custody, the sheriff's office said.
The following is from Because We Must.
INTERVIEW: ORGANIZERS AND PROTESTERS FROM THE LOCKDOWN AT FLORIDA POWER AND LIGHT
On Monday, five activists locked down at the headquarters for Florida Power and Light in Juno while one-hundred other protesters held a subsequent action protesting a proposed power plant in Florida. We have the great pleasure of having spoken with two organizers of the action, one of which locked down alongside four other activists using U-locks on the site, and was subsequently arrested.
In the following interview we speak with two individuals who were part of Monday’s action.
Wiley, an organizer from Earth First! Journal was interviewed by Because We Must about the overall action, and filled us in on some essential background information about the company they organized against. Wiley as well has explained their tactical strategy for this action.
Grayson, an activist from Everglades Earth First! and editor of the Earth First! Journal was one of the individuals who organized the protest and also locked down on site Monday. Grayson gave us a brief exit interview upon their release from custody.
BWM: Can you summarize for people the protest on Monday, where it took place, and what it involved?
Wiley: The demonstration on Monday took place at the headquarters of Florida Power and Light, one of the largest energy companies in the U.S. The headquarters are located in Juno, Florida, North of Palm Beach. The majority of the people involved in the protest held a legal (though unpermitted) rally outside of the headquarters. It was a very family friendly event—people held signs, danced, chanted, and found playful ways to disrupt the everyday business of the complex. Amidst the jubilant rally, five people sat down in front of a gate and locked their necks together with U-locks (bike locks), blocking the main entrance to the facility. As I write this those five individuals are in custody.
There were over a hundred people who participated in the action in a variety of roles both on and off site. The action was the culmination of the Annual Earth First! Winter Rendezvous, which took place in a cypress swamp East of Lake Okeechobee over the weekend. There were quite a few people at the rally hailing from Palm Beach County, but there were also Earth First!ers from all over the continent who came here for the “Rondy”. It was cool especially to see people who are fighting fossil fuel infrastructure all over Turtle Island connecting their struggles and working together on messaging.
BWM: Is there a reason you have targeted Florida Power and Light for this protest–do you have a history of action in Florida against this company?
Wiley: The main thing that makes FPL a target right now more than any other time is their plan to build a power plant next to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. This project has already been challenged in court by members of the Seminole Tribe, and there are indigenous folks (Independent Traditional, Miccosukee) outside of the federally recognized reservation lands who also oppose the new plant.
FPL wants to promote itself as the wave of the energy future, with its “Next Generation Clean Energy Centers.” But we think environmental racism, genocide, and development are old, dirty news for Florida. In addition to the new power plant proposal, FPL is working with Spectra to build a natural gas pipeline across Northern Florida and looking into building power lines across Everglades National Park.
To summarize, FPL is totally evil and it would feel good to protest them even if it wasn’t timely. Between 2007 and 2009 over 50 people were arrested in a variety of blockades and other protests against the West County Energy Center and the Barley Barber plant in Martin County. The Hendry County plant will be modeled after the West County and Martin County Plants. A strong coalition is already forming among Hendry County Power Plant opponents, and we expect the resistance to be even fiercer this time around.
BWM: Can you explain to us the significance of the location of the proposed power plant, and what kind of repercussions it’s construction might have to the environment and people nearby?
Wiley: We already have an idea of what the impact to people and ecosystems would be like from the the West County Energy Center and the Barley Barber Plant. Each of those plants use over 20 million gallons of water daily, and water is the basis of all life in the Everglades. Imagine a giant straw (or three) sucking the water out from under the last remaining ancient cypress swamps. The power plants emit thousands of tons of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, including SO2, NOx, mercury and chromium which poison the air and increase rates of asthma and lung disease in surrounding communities.
BWM: For people who may not be familiar, can you explain the tactic of locking-down and what it can achieve as far as goals and objectives are concerned when dealing with a corporation of this size?
Lock-downs are a way of holding space for a long time (usually hours, sometimes whole days) with a relatively small number of people risking arrest. In some situations this tactic can be very practical for actually stopping construction or extraction where it happens. When extractive industries have work stoppages it can cost them thousands, sometimes millions of dollars.
At a company headquarters, however, this tactic is mostly used in a symbolic way, to draw attention to the ecocidal criminals who like to hide in office buildings, country clubs, legislative offices, etc. It may still cost them a lot of money; the public image of a corporation is part of its bottom line. But essentially it is to create a really awkward spectacle that brings light to the bad decisions made by people in charge.
Today FPL public relations people actually responded to the press and tried to defend themselves against our media. Our rag tag volunteer-run movement can put the second largest energy company in the country on the defensive, and that’s awesome.
BWM: Aside from the five protesters who locked themselves together, what other forms of protest and types of tactics were employed on site? Can you describe the diversity of the day besides the lock-down?
Wiley: I was pretty amazed by all the street theatrics that multiple affinity groups pulled together over a fairly hectic weekend of action planning. There were radical clowns, a “panther block” with cardboard masks, and a conga picket line. I wasn’t there for it, but I guess people were having wheel barrel races in front of the entrance gate. Earth First!ers are natural pranksters because usually when we’re not thinking about how the Earth is dying we’re trying to figure out how to pull the rug out from under people who take themselves too seriously. The last few big Earth First! protests I’ve been to have had a notable element of mirth. It’s obviously fun, but I think it’s also strategic. It diffuses tension and keeps more people around to support our friends who have made themselves vulnerable to the cops. And it makes a protest a party that everyone wants to be at.
BWM: How are those people who did lock-down feeling about the day, what type of charges did they receive, and are they slated to be released, and under what conditions will they be let out of custody?
Wiley: We have heard from them and it seems like they are doing ok. But they are still in jail and that obviously sucks.[**Editors note, all five activists are now released and awaiting further information about charges and outcomes. We'll keep people updated on ongoing support calls and ways to help those arrested.**] We’re expecting misdemeanour charges, and usually people who do things like this get out within 48 hours. Mostly we just don’t know yet.
BWM: Is there any way that individuals outside of Florida can help you with your fight, or support your work?
Wiley: Right at this moment it would help if people donated to the legal fund. Bigger picture—research Florida Power and Light and Spectra and organize against them in your own community. If you live in the Southeast especially it is likely that there are targets around—banks, subsidiaries, contractors, frackers etc, who are connected to the struggle down here. The things that we did today are most affective as a part of a larger campaign and movement, and we all need to participate in that.
BWM: Grayson, as one of the individuals who locked down on Monday, how do you feel the protest went?
Grayson: I think the protest went excellently. It brought attention to one of the dirtiest energy companies in the nation, Florida Power and Light, and made public their plan to build a giant new frack gas refinery adjacent to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, and to damage critical endangered panther habitat in doing so. The protest was covered by local media and spread widely online, and the exposure pressured FPL to respond with a shallow public statement declaring their concern for human life. Obviously they only felt the need to go on the defensive publicly because their actions and plans contradict such a concern.
I was also pleased with the amount of disruption we were able to cause at FPL headquarters. The lockdown of the main entrance lasted over two hours and resulted in police closing off the road adjacent to the property–effectively shutting down the other two entrances that led out onto the street. Corporate executives may not open our letters or return our phone calls, but it’s hard to ignore frozen traffic and missed appointments.
The support for our group and action was also better than we could have anticipated. Seminole tribal members and independent traditional people expressed thanks for our action and for our solidarity with them. We have strong reason to believe that this action will inspire more like it to come in the future.
BWM: Since being arrested, how has the support for your group and your actions been? Is there anything you need from the community right now?
Grayson: Thank you for asking this–good jail support is one of the most vital components in keeping our movements strong and consistent. It can also make all the difference in the mental and emotional state of those arrested.
Our support has been amazing. Folks on the ground were available to answer our phone calls from inside the jail and update us on any information they had, as well as to share updates with arrestees who weren’t in contact with one another. They also called the jail constantly for updates on charges, bail and conditions. Thankfully, we were all released on our own recognizance (i.e. without bail). Although we don’t have bail to pay, we still have court dates to travel to (some of us from quite far away) and court costs to pay, so donations would of course be greatly appreciated. You can donate here https://www.wepay.com/donations/114656034.
BWM: What would you say to individuals who may be on the fence about using a diversity of tactics at demonstrations, the way your group did on Monday? Is this a positive or negative thing in your opinion?
Grayson: I think I would ask such individuals to consider what their goals are, and how to best accomplish those goals in a way that doesn’t conflict with their message. For instance, Everglades Earth First! is attempting to stop a violent company from embarking on a project that endangers ecosystems, human health, and the territory of people who have been resisting colonialism for over 500 years. One strategy for halting construction of this refinery is to bring attention to these issues in the media. Non-violent direct action tactics like lockdowns inevitably draw attention to the inherent violence of the state, which uses weapons to protect similarly violent corporations. In my mind, the use of these tactics is a positive thing. It has a natural flow to it, and all the images just fall into place. All we had to do was sit down in the road–FPL and the cops did the rest for us.
Of course, this is only one strategy, and I am by no means putting down others. Each group and individual should assess its own targets, goals, and boundaries, and then do whatever they feel comfortable with, and whatever they feel is necessary, to accomplish what needs to be done.
BWM: Do you have any future actions planned, either on site or online that individuals might be able to participate in?
Wiley: Yeah, probably! Everglades Earth First! has weekly meetings in Palm Beach County. If you live in South Florida and want to plug in, email firstname.lastname@example.org
+ + + + +
UPDATE: All five people who were arrested are out of jail. All were charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.